Neru: Mohanlal and Anaswara tower in Malayalam courtroom drama

Mohanlal towers in the Malayalam film, Neru, being directed by Jeethu ‘Drishyam’ Joseph. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Sara Mohammed (Anaswara) is blind, and is raped when alone at home. The culprit is Michael (Sankar Induchoodan), who is the son of a rich tycoon. The defense counsel engaged by Michael’s family is the habitually ruthless and unscrupulous top gun in his field, Rajashekar (Siddique), who leaves no stone unturned to prove his client innocent.

Rajashekhar makes capital out of the fact that the victim is blind, and therefore cannot provide concrete proof of her rapist. He also juices the fact that Sara’s mother (Sreedhanya) was in a previous unhappy marriage and her stepfather (Jagadish) is a well-to-do man. If the mother can trap a rich man, the daughter and her family too are victimizing a rich family, he claims.

As Rajashekhar is influential, and so is Michael’s father (Abraham Joseph), the honest police officer investigating her case (K. B. Ganesh Kumar) is taken off the case. No lawyer also is willing to be the prosecuting counsel, and so, once-banned and now-retired advocate Vijayamohan (Mohanlal) is appointed Special Public Prosecutor.

At first, Vijayamohan comes in reluctantly, but he soon becomes passionate about his mission: justice for Sara. Helping him mainly is a team of two girls, junior advocate Aswathy (Haritha G. Nair) and Ahana (Santhi Mayadevi, incidentally and interestingly also the film’s co-writer), while the cop too gives support when possible.

The judge (Matthew Varghese) is initially a fan of Rajashekhar but soon becomes neutral and then compassionate towards Sara. The evidence, even the digital ones, are fabricated by Rajashekhar in collusion with the boy’s father and friends, and soon it is time for the proof of the “truth” (“Neru” in Malayalam), as the gutsy rape victim had actually sculpted the face of her oppressor by touching his face, hair and head while being raped!

Yes, the girl is an expert sculptor even now, and had not been blind until she was on the verge of teenage. As conclusive proof that she is not fabricating a false case, she sculpts Rajashekhar by feeling his face and head for a mere five minutes!

The film passes the test that most Hindi films fail at nowadays—it gratifies the emotional requirements of a film viewer! Right from the first half-hour, the viewer wants justice for this girl, who is so innocent and sweet, and yet so upfront and brave. My mind is open on whether a blind person can sculpt in the way shown, but it does seem far-fetched.

However, as the (twisted) arguments against her build up, the viewer gets engrossed in her case. But the illogic of a crooked defense attorney cooking up or manipulating evidence (to such an extent as shown) going scot-free is quite absurd. How he is merely taken off the case for misleading the court while other witnesses are threatened with perjury and imprisonment, and how Rajashekhar remains in court while his daughter (Priyamani) is allowed to take over as defense attorney are not convincing at all. Additionally, even the cop is all the time on the case when he has been transferred out of it!

The film is co-written and directed by Jeethu Joseph, best known to Hindi film viewers as the creator of the Drishyam franchise. It is amazing how the entire South filmmaking tribe keeps invigorating their mainstream cinema with original plots and ideas and riveting screenplays with freshness and innovation within a commercial format. And Neru, in that sense, is another revelation in its simplicity.

The film is basically resting on the powerfully effortless and natural performance of Mohanlal as Vijayamohan. He is simply fascinating in his initial reluctance and later his seeming casual approach, his quiet intensity and humility and his self-effacing quality. Anaswara is a sheer delight as Sara, with her superb expressions as a blind girl who while being a rape victim is still doughty and undaunted. Great performances also come from Santhi Mayadevi, Jagadish, K.B. Ganesh Kumar and Sreedhanya. Siddique is excellent as Rajashekhar.

The key disappointments are Mathew Joseph as the judge—his expressionless demeanor is at odds with the case, and advocate Priyamani as Rajashekhar’s daughter, Poornima. Priyamani is a shocker of a disappointment and actually seems more than a shade uncomfortable in a cardboard (can’t blame her for this!) negative role. She seems to be caught in limbo between playing a heroine and the evil woman.

The technical values are apt though the subtitling could have been much better and accurate. But on the whole, even if this film lacks the repeat value of the Drishyam franchise, it is still a decent, if slightly overlong, one-time watch. And with its franchises and spin-offs now being planned, I also will not be surprised if some Hindi filmmakers lap this one off for a remake.

Aashirvad Cinemas present Neru  Produced by: Produced by: Antony Perumbavoor  Directed by: Jeethu Jospeh  Written by: Santhi Mayadevi & Jeethu Joseph  Music: Vishnu Shyam  Starring: Mohanlal, Anaswara Rajan, Priyamani, Siddique, Jagadish, K. B. Ganesh Kumar, Santhi Mayadevi, Sreedhanya, Haritha G. Nair, Abraham Joseph, Sankar Induchoodan, Sabbita George, Mathew Varghese, Dinesh Prabhakar, Krishna Prabha, Reshmi Anil, Nandhu, Harikrishnan, Aditi Ravi, Antony Perumbavoor, Rajesh Hebbar, Poojappura Radhakrishnan, Kalesh Ramanand & others






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