Netrikann review: Nayanthara is superb in a thriller that loses steam halfway

While the first half is mostly taut, setting up a cat and mouse game, the second half is overly long and sentimental.
Nayanthara in green kurta in Netrikann still
Nayanthara in green kurta in Netrikann still
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Mysskin gave us Psycho in 2020. A film about a blind man Vs a serial killer. Milind Rau's Netrikann is about a blind woman Vs a serial killer. I'm inclined to make these statements at the outset because it has been my observation that many viewers (and some critics) who may accept leaps of logic in films led by men, don't extend the same generosity to a film led by a woman star. The two are, of course, very different films beyond this connection, in terms of the plot, characterisation and finesse in execution. But to get to all this, we need to buy the premise. So yes, this is a film about a blind woman who hunts down a serial killer, reportedly an adaptation of the Korean film Blind.

Nayanthara plays Durga, a CBI officer who loses her eyesight and her adoptive brother in a car accident, and blames herself for it. Over the course of a song, she learns Braille, gets a service dog called Kanna (an adorable Labrador), and slowly picks up the shattered pieces of her life. Parallely, a psychopath (Ajmal Ameer) is abducting and sexually assaulting women but the police have no clue about the case. Durga and the psychopath have a chance encounter and she suspects that something is deeply wrong.

Unlike several films that make the big reveal about the serial killer's identity at the end, Netrikann shows us his face a few minutes into the film. This approach accomplishes two things — one, the director does away with the pressure to 'wow' the audience with a killer they never suspected (most times, the 'surprise' falls flat because it is clumsy and wholly unconvincing); and two, the audience is hooked into a straightforward cat and mouse game without unnecessary red herrings in the plot. The emphasis is not on who the killer is but how he will be caught.

Despite the bland background story of Durga as an orphan, Nayanthara carries the film on her shoulders. To Milind's credit, though he gives her a superstar introductory scene and a goddess's name, Durga isn't all-knowing and makes quite a few mistakes. The stumbles (literal and metaphorical) give us a vulnerable hero, someone we hope will survive. As a result, the close shaves that Durga has with the serial killer make us care. The first half is mostly taut, and is helped immensely by Manikandan's presence as an SI (he goes by his real name for the role) who has goofed up a case and is looking for redemption. Saran, who plays Gowtham, an irritable delivery boy, also does a good job.

However, I was deeply uncomfortable with the camera's gaze on the abducted women. Sure, this film is rated for a mature audience, but the objection is not to sexually explicit or violent scenes. It is about the voyeurism of the lens. Instead of making the viewer shrivel at the killer's violence, the camera almost seeks to titillate, showing us close-up shots of the killer licking a victim's face, unzipping himself and also lashing at the (blurred) naked bodies of women. A psychopath does not see his victims as humans, he sees them as objects. The writing and cinematography should accomplish the opposite -- show the victims as individuals to the viewer. But other than one victim who gets a scene (unfortunately, she's compared to mutton cooking on the stove here), the rest are just a bunch of young women whose faces we don't even register.

Ajmal Ameer's performance as the psychopath is inconsistent, possibly because he's been directed to play the psychopath in exactly the same way as many other screen psychopaths in Tamil cinema before him. Light eyes and a sneer a psychopath do not make. The photograph in his wallet, which is supposedly an important plot point, is also not explained properly in the film and is a loose end.

Watch: Trailer of Netrikann

There are a few other glaring loopholes in the plot too. The complete absence of the media's interest in this sensational story, for instance. And nobody is saying that the police in India is exceedingly competent, but would they be such big duffers that when they have a suspect whom they think has abducted women, they would inject him with truth serum (inadmissible as evidence anyway) instead of searching the premises of his home and other places he frequents? The psychopath's MO (method of operation) is also unclear. Does he randomly pick up women or is it through his profession (Redin Kingsley is hilarious)?

Nayanthara gets some mass punchlines in the film that are truly whistle-worthy (the one about women and morality, in particular). But the second half visibly sags after a point. Milind seems to have run out of ideas, and as characters keep getting grievously wounded and waking up at the right moments, the film becomes like a zombie apocalypse. The final stretch (and it's really stretched) is unnecessarily sentimental and convenient, forcing the film into a happy ending that ruins the atmosphere of the first half.

Netrikann could have been one of those rare psycho thrillers that keep us glued to our seats right till the end. It does the job till halfway point, and more's the pity.

Netrikann is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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