A hospital scene: The son is accompanying his mother for her first session of chemotherapy. He is nervous, the nurse reassures him, the mother shoos him away. All in good humour. Cut to the next scene: he is lounging in the waiting room, a girl nudges him, asks him to pick one of her two fingers—her father has been diagnosed with cancer and she needs assurance. And just like that, a love story begins. It is this all too flippant approach to such a weighty issue that marks the undoing of debutant Altaf Salim’s Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela.
Sheela (Shanthi Krishna) is a college professor who rules over her family, consisting of husband Chacko (Lal), son Kurian (Nivin Pauly), daughters Mary (Srinda Arhaan) and Sarah (Ahaana Krishna), son-in law, Tony (Saiju Wilson) and grandfather, with an iron hand. One morning, in the middle of her shower, she detects a lump in her breast. The film follows her battles with cancer and how her family comes to terms with it.
It all boils down to one question—how would you react if such a situation stares back at you? Would you, for instance, take your entire family for a dinner and try to break the news to the children and end up a mumbling fool like Chacko does in the film? Or texture it with humour about the upshots of consuming fiery chilly chicken? Or just let them assume you are deciding between vanilla or strawberry flavoured ice-cream?
Altaf Salim’s filmmaking style has the same alarming frivolity that Vineeth Sreenivasan showed when dealing the issue of human trafficking in Thira or a family battling with debt in Jacobinte Swargarajyam. In fact, Njandugalude Nattil...is peppered with broad nods to Jacobinte Swargarajyam—the happily knotted joint family, the son who is coming-of-age, the lovable siblings and loads of that now much abused ‘feel-good vibe’. Some of the characters are nice and quirky—like the mirthful doctor (Saiju Kurup) who sheepishly agrees to step out of his own cabin on Sheela’s orders; the greedy but harmless brother-in-law who has a heart of gold. And then, the many redundant Vineeth Sreenivasan/Alphonse Puthren throwbacks—a friend (Krishna Shankar) who runs a supermarket and a stuffy home nurse (Sharafudheen).
Nivin Pauly’s Kurian is an extension of his own goofy characterisations in Oru Vadakkan Selfie and Jacobinte Swargarajyam and has precious little to do. Kurian has been professed as a fatso who stuffs himself with Lays chips all the time. Srinda has been getting typecast in this part-funny, part-serious, part-dominating charade for a while now.
Amidst this chaotic insensitivity Sheela, as the nucleus of the family, is made to stand tall. A bit too tall, perhaps, if we consider this incredible anecdote about her fleeing away from Iraqi soldiers during the Kuwait war with her kids which Kurian narrates to cite her strength to his sisters. It’s of course not clear what Chacko was upto when Sheela was battling with Iraqi soldiers. However, one of the better sights of the film is her equation with Chacko, a weakling at heart.
That said, the film finally belonged to Shanthi Krishna, who makes a terrific comeback as Sheela. Quiet, dignified, stern and matronly, she brought a semblance of depth to the proceedings. The segment where they show her gradual hair loss and the reactions of the family is nicely done.
Some of the shots (appealingly tinted with sepia and mustard) that were intercut with flashback scenes could have been crisply edited to cut down the lag. The songs (scored by Justin Varghese) are likeable and also framed well. But then, somewhere, Althaf Salim realised that he had smeared the scenes with too much ‘feel-good’ and decided to topple us over with emotional montages to prove that grief has indeed happened. As a hasty postscript.
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