'Nibunan' Review: A competent thriller that shoots itself in the foot
Arun Vaidyanathan's Nibunan is a cop film with an interesting premise - a serial killer is on the loose and he's taunting the police team led by supercop Ranjith Kalidoss (Arjun) to try and catch him.
And since this film offers little scope for patriotic display - the killer isn't a terrorist - the camera focuses on 'Action King' Arjun's tattoo in his introductory scene. Yep, it's the national flag. Thankfully, we haven't yet reached a state when we're required to stand up when the national flag is on screen, but the obviousness of picking such a symbol to establish Ranjith's character tells you what kind of supercop he is.
The one who scoffs at human rights activists and believes he should be given the power to kill anyone he's convinced is a criminal, a threat to society. Okay wait, Ranjith Kalidoss is NOT the serial killer. Remember the national flag? It's enough to set him apart from the kind of cops we saw in Visaranai.
Vandana (Varalaxmi) and Joseph (Prasanna) are his subordinates in the team but they are little more than cheerleaders, applauding the "chief" every two minutes for his brilliance. There's an 'encounter' sequence in the film which reminded me of the hunting contest between Devasena and Amarendra in Baahubali 2. Amarendra manages to shoot every pig on their way with his blue arrow before Devasena can get to it. In Nibunan, the pigs happen to be people.
Though she's stuck playing second fiddle to Baahubali...oops...Ranjith, Varalaxmi is impressive. She has good comic timing and pulls off the body language of a cop adequately. At least, when she's running, you don't feel like keeping a Glucose bottle ready as you do with size zero heroines playing cop roles.
If Vandana is Ranjith's lackey, Joseph is hers. So, Prasanna's character is reduced to saying things like "jetti kulla bomb vakkanam" and little else. Poor guy, he hasn't even heard of Jack the Ripper, imagine.
This is not to say that Nibunan is a bad film. It actually has a pretty decent plot and moments of revelation that take you by surprise. The film is heavily inspired by an unsolved real life murder case (I won't tell you which one, that would be too much of a spoiler) but it's a bit too clever for its own good.
It doesn't give the audience a chance to play the guessing game, to try and fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Nope, it's Ranjith Baahubali all the way, even when the man is diagonsed with a certain health condition. There is not a single silent frame in the film and the unbearably loud background score is an overkill (heh).
The truly delicious serial killer films are ones which get into the mind of the psychopath and scare you with how rational their bizarre actions look when you see it through their eyes. They build a tenuous emotional connect between the audience and the killer, making you want to look even as you are repulsed.
The Nibunan killer has a pretty straightforward motive even though it's dressed up with "serial killer" elements. You don't dread what's going to happen because the script turns him into a strawman who can be finished by Ranjith in a matter of minutes.
The only time I felt for someone on screen was when Ranjith appears vulnerable in a hospital scene and reaches out for his wife (an overly made up Sruthi Hariharan - seriously, who dresses like that at home?!). It's a tiny hole in his superman costume and I wish the film had offered more such moments.
Nibunan would have been much better if it had been less conscious of the fact that this is Arjun's 150th film. In making the film about the star and less about the story it wants to tell, it ends up shooting itself on the foot.