Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela is a delicious mix of light-hearted moments and profound insights that gently push you to indulge in some introspection with a smile on your face.
Debut director Althaf, who has regaled us as an actor in films like Premam and Sakhavu, executes the script like a master puppeteer, pulling the strings of the audience and drawing laughter and unexpected tears with equal aplomb.
Though the film was sold as a Nivin Pauly-starrer, the character around whom the story revolves is Sheela, played by the spirited Shanthi Krishna. It's her discovery of something alarming one morning that unsettles the family -- her husband Chacko (a hilarious Lal), daughters Sarah and Mary (Ahana and Srinda), Kurien, her son from London (Nivin Pauly), and an aged grandfather.
To reveal more would be to give away the meaning behind the intriguing title of the film. As the family battles the crisis that came uninvited to their doorstep, life does not come to a screeching halt. Indeed, there's time for people to fall in love, think about business plans, and even eat plenty of Lays and Little Hearts (I didnâ€™t know they still make that sweet poison that was such a significant part of a '90s childhood!).
There are also the little tensions and the selfishness of human nature that come to the surface in the middle of this battle. And yet, nobody is chastised for being the people they are â€“ the son-in-law (Siju Wilson) who is more bothered about who will cook his meals if his wife leaves to her mother's place, the son who expects his mother to do his laundry even if she's unwell, the daughter who can't make a cup of tea for herself. Everybody displays a bit of unthinking insensitivity which makes them real and thus, lovable.
Without making a big deal of it, Althaf gives us a glimpse of the quiet strength that many women â€“ who are rarely considered to be heroic â€“ possess. In one scene, Kurien explains to his siblings how their mother packed up her three children and left to Kerala when the Gulf War broke out. Nivin Pauly plays it just right, not going overboard and bringing to the table just what is necessary. A lesser actor, more conscious of his own need to dominate the scene, would have made it about himself and forgotten that the scene is really about Sheela who isn't present.
The subject of Njandukalude could have turned the narrative maudlin, but Althaf masterfully keeps the film deceptively light and simple. A death scene, for instance, is actually among the most hilarious scenes in the film.
Dileesh Pothan (who is, of course, a genius at doing precisely this in his own films), Saiju, Sharafudheen, and Krishna Shankar pitch in with delightful performances. And Althaf makes a barely-there cameo, too.
Aishwarya Lekshmi plays Kurien's love interest, Rachel. They meet in unlikely circumstances and the relationship blossoms through difficult times. The clumsy Kurien and the confident Rachel make a lovely pair and the chemistry between them is especially palpable in the â€śEndhavoâ€ť number which has become such a hit. Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela gives you the satisfaction of having read an insightful short story. With its believable characters and plenty of heart, it's a perfect entertainer for the festive season.