‘Nizhal’ review: Kunchacko Boban-Nayanthara film is tightly scripted, with a few flaws

The film is directed by noted editor Appu N Bhattathiri, who keeps to the single-focussed pursuit of truth and never sways into boring territory.
Nizhal poster
Nizhal poster
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The mood changes from the gloom, created by a drizzle outside a hospital window, and the mystery of a man in a Batman-like mask, to the lightning up of it all by a joke shared between friends. But before all of that, Nizhal begins with a car crash in the dead of the night, awakening an indifferent owl perched on a tree. As far as suggestions go, this one seems to say you are going to be rudely woken up by unannounced noises, and unlike the owl, you can’t turn away unimpressed.  

Kunchacko Boban plays the man in the mask, looking gloomily out the rain-drenched hospital window. He makes a joke of it when his friend comes into the room and laughs at the black mask covering half his face. The actor, once typecast in cute romantic comedies, now comfortably fits into versatile avatars, the masked one in Nizhal repelling all the people he meets. Not many superhero fans in this part of the world, it seems.

The masked face only evokes a brief surprise in Nayanthara, playing Sharmila, mother of a young boy who triggers the whole mystery. Nitin (Izin Hash), the seven-year-old boy, has shocked all of his class and teacher with a scary story about a murder from years ago. Divya Prabha, playing the child counsellor at the school, tells the story to John Baby (Kunchacko), a judicial magistrate, who is a friend of hers and her husband (Rony David).

Sharmila is angry at first when the doctor and the magistrate walk into her office with the story. Like most protective mothers, she denies anything is the matter with her child and accuses the two of passing judgment because she is a single parent.

Though her character is well defined – single mother, protective, career-oriented – the attention sways away from Sharmila and falls heavily on Nayanthara. She is as usual gorgeous, fitting dresses for the office and elegant kurtas outside of it (neatly designed by Stephy Zaviour), playing to the expected styles of a woman in her mid-30s living in Kerala. Sharmila’s concern is unaltered – it is all about her son’s well-being. The only reason she lets John Baby and the school doctor get close to the child is because they are good with him, ‘Bebo’ aka John Baby especially. She is a serious woman, rarely even letting herself a laugh, her conversations to the point. Unless the lack of emotion on her face was intentional, it is not a concerned mother we see on the screen but a beautiful Nayanthara just being on the sets.

At the other end is a hero whose emotions have to be hidden half the time because of the cover on his face. Perhaps that’s the reason for the music that pops up ever so often – to let you know how John’s feeling underneath the mask. John has a really curious psychological problem of his own. Thinking that his and the child’s fates are somehow connected, he tries to get to the bottom of it all. But his pursuits do not go unnoticed and it brings unwanted attention. There are some interesting exchanges between John Baby and his senior, played by Saiju Kurup, who is wonderful at handling comedy-laced characters.

The film never sways into boring territory, keeping to the single pursuit of the origin of Nitin’s stories. But of course, the film comes from Appu N Bhattathiri, a proven editor of films, who is making his directorial debut with Nizhal. Appu also edited the film with Arunlal S Pillai. He has pulled in his father, renowned calligrapher Bhattathiri, to do the title fonts. So, unlike the usual credits at the beginning of a movie, which you pay half or no attention to at all, this one keeps you interested with the slanting writing of names on notebook pages.  

The script is by S Sanjeev, and very to the point. Everything leading up to the big reveal is delicately built up to, suspenseful, and quite satisfactorily explained. It takes a lot of imagination to connect the many different dots. Only, the abrupt back-story revealed at the end seems hurriedly written and patched up, shaking the comfortable order of things so far.

Another less appealing aspect is the background music that is played all too often and meant to be mood-lifting. But it will be forgotten by the thrills on offer, visuals of rain (cinematography by Deepak D Menon) and some lovely performances, especially by the child actor Izin. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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