Director: Althaf Rahman
Cast: Mamta Mohandas, Anoop Menon, Baburaj, Sreekumar
When all of us are claiming that Malayalam cinema is currently going through a great phase, it's a pity that some filmmakers are still churning out cringle-inducingly regressive and outdated material. The latest example is Althaf Rahman's Neeli, which is nothing more than a B-movie.
Neeli, which claims to be a horrory mystery, doesn't make you uncomfortable with its scares -- they are ineffective, few and far between -- but rather some of the male characters who get excited when they are around a woman or when a woman is coming to see them.
To give you an idea of how uncomfortable this film makes you, take the opening scene where a character looks at a dead girl in the mortuary and remarks,"Raped girls have a special kind of beauty". He is not the only one who behaves this way. In one scene, a male police officer asks his sub-ordinate if the woman coming to his station is a "piece"; at a temple festival a photographer takes pictures of all the women present there; and a paranormal investigator laments about the fact that he is unable to impress girls residing inside a ladies hostel.
The entire movie revolves around the search for the missing daughter of a woman (Mamta Mohandas). She is joined by two thieves (Baburaj, Sreekumar), the aforementioned paranormal investigator (Anoop Menon), and the photographer.
The film's title is a reference to the popular fictional ghost Kalliyankattu Neeli, whose modern iteration is present in the background, serving as a guardian angel to women and occasionally playing peek-a-boo and trying to scare people Conjuring-style. But none of these scenes are "scary", because other movies, especially from Hollywood, have done it better. Let's remember that The Conjuring is one of those rare Hollywood movies which was a huge success in Kerala; it ran for weeks. When you take this fact into consideration, you have to step up your game.
What can you show the audience that they haven't already seen before? This is where Neeli fails horribly. It makes stops at unnecessary places and wastes plenty of time there. A lot of the scenes seem forced. For instance, the temple festival is seen as an opportunity to stage an unmemorable item song.
If all the songs had been taken out, the film would have been more tolerable. But I doubt it. And there are attempts to insert strange philosophical voiceovers that sound out of place and pseudo-intellectual.
Overall, Neeli is a cliched product that suffers because of the Malayalam TV serial-level direction and acting. All this demands a huge amount of patience from the viewer. I can only point out one positive aspect: the presence of Baburaj and Sreekumar. Their comical scenes -- not all of them successful -- are a welcome distraction from the awkward and plodding narrative.