Nee Naan Nizhal: Shadow play 

A still from the movie 'Nee Naan Nizhal'

A still from the movie 'Nee Naan Nizhal'   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

On the face of it,  Nee Naan Nizhal is fairly far-removed from the typical Tamil movie. The young hero (Rohit, played by Arjun Lal) and his Coimbatore-based friends are part of a pop-rock group, and in one of their practice sessions we hear them performing ‘Tum Hi Ho’, the ballad from  Aashiqui 2. Clearly, the director, John Robinson, is not one who thinks along the lines of “Oh but will the B and C centres get it?” 

And he proves this decisively by filling his frames with techspeak. Facebook. Gmail. Chat. Wikipedia. Orkut (may it rest in peace). I counted only two sops to that nebulous mass that we like to call the “Tamil film audience” — MS Baskar shows up in a comedy track with very little comedy. (He thinks ‘amnesia’ is a country.) And Sarath Kumar, the biggest name in the cast, gets an ‘entry scene’ — on a Harley Davidson that's less bike, more boat.

Despite this hero-entry, Sarath Kumar isn’t this film’s hero. He plays a Malaysian cop named Anwar Ali, and he’s investigating a series of murders in Kuala Lumpur — all the victims are Indian males. And yet, the most interesting scene involving this character occurs at home, when he barges into the bedroom of his teenage daughter Mumtaz. She’s sitting in front of her laptop doing a project, and he just wants to say something like “don't work too hard”, but he doesn't get the chance — at least not at once. She’s annoyed with him because he didn’t knock. So he steps out, knocks, and re-enters the room. At first, the point of this scene appears to be her Westernised nature — her mother wears the head scarf, she doesn’t. But as the film unfolds and we see what its concerns are — neglected youngsters who seek affection on the Internet, and the predators swirling around them — we look back at this scene differently. Was Mumtaz really working on a project or...?

Genre:Crime thriller/Romance 
Director: John Robinson
Cast: Sarath Kumar, Arjun Lal, Ishitha, MS Baskar
Storyline: An online romance that goes awry
Bottomline:A good idea that doesn't quite translate on screen

And we slowly realise that  Nee Naan Nizhal isn’t so alienated from the Tamil film ethos after all. It just updates the older plot device of the leering man licking his lips at the sight of a young girl — earlier, this sort of thing needed a ‘broker’; now, thanks to the Internet, the girls become available a lot more easily. The film, thus, is about the consequences of being in thrall to the Internet. And it isn’t just young girls — Rohit, too, is a fly in the web. He gets a friend request from a stranger named Asha (Ishitha) — she’s in Kuala Lumpur — and he accepts, unthinkingly. It’s surely some kind of irony that immense brain power has brought about this technology that makes people behave so foolishly. And creepily. He’s 22. She’s 17, maybe younger. Agreed, it’s not as bad as imagining her with someone in his 50s, but still, when she takes her laptop to her bedroom and offers Rohit a glimpse of her bare shoulders...

No wonder he is infatuated. He keeps checking his phones for messages from her — even while driving. He almost runs over a child. At some point, he insists they meet. He says he’ll fly over. Now, she hesitates. For the first time in a Tamil movie, we see a heroine who’s comfortable with flirting with the hero virtually but is hesitant taking this relationship to the real world. At least she can tell these worlds apart, which is more than can be said about Rohit.

Nee Naan Nizhal, too, exists in two worlds. It’s is a weird love story and a crime thriller — and its big problem is that it can’t balance both. Too much time is spent on the Rohit-Asha romance, and it’s not very exciting because it’s made up entirely of chat sessions, which are presented as voiceovers with scrolling text. By the third chat session, we’re bored. 

What’s needed is a David Fincher-like ability to infuse electricity into scenes with lines of text on a computer monitor — that’s asking for too much from this director, who is better with ideas than with staging them convincingly. The villains needed to be a bigger presence, the character transitions aren’t convincing, and worse, halfway into the second half the film morphs from a whodunit to a howwillhegetcaught, which is never as exciting. 

Still, the germ of the conceit is infectious. In an airport, Rohit looks around and sees all around him smartphone-carrying people, each one a potential predator or prey. That’s the nizhal of the title, the technology that shadows us every second. And we can never shake it off.

A version of this review can be read at  >

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2020 8:22:44 PM |

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