The most evident advantage of casting newcomers is that we don’t look at the characters they play with preconceived notions. The surprise element is so high. The person with an intimidating personality can be the friendliest person and vice versa. That doesn’t always have to be the case, though. Sometimes a sober look reveals a humourless person underneath, and someone with the most pleasant disposition could be the most accessible person indeed. But there, too, is a surprise element when it comes to a newcomer. What degree of sobriety or joviality should we expect? Can a generally funny character suddenly turn serious or vice versa?
Now some directors cast newcomers for budgetary reasons alone, and, most of the time, the actors don’t offer any surprises. But then there are the others who do it for all the reasons I mentioned above. Writer-director Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval belongs to the latter. His new film, Nna Thaan Case Kodu (NTCK), has many fresh faces aptly fitting their characters like a glove. The familiar ones may amount to four or five, including the leads Kunchacko Boban and Gayathrie Shankar.
Set in Kasaragod’s Cheemeni, the film has the actors speaking in all the dialects local to the Malabar region. As someone who hails from Malabar, I have to say that NTCK has the most authentic-sounding dialogues I’ve heard since Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam. Ratheesh, who has already established himself as a unique voice with regard to humour in Malayalam cinema, once again proves, with NTCK, that nobody writes comical situations—audible and silent; verbal and physical—like he does.
Now, I belong to the group that found much to enjoy in his last film Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham. If you belong to the camp that found it off-putting but adored his debut feature Android Kunjappan, you might be relieved to hear that NTCK doesn’t have the hyper-eccentric tendencies of KaKaaKa.
In fact, it’s not even like Android Kunjappan—meaning it’s not as emotionally overpowering. This is, of course, not a complaint because NTCK is one of those films where one sees a perfect balance between the serious and lighthearted moments. What begins as a simple robbery case—involving Kunchacko Boban’s burglar Rajeevan—evolves into something with far-reaching effects. (No comparison to Mahaveeryar either. However, they do have funny courtroom scenes in common.)
When trying to recall all the memorable moments in NTCK, I realised that the characters’ silent moments stayed with me more, particularly the hilarious deadpan expressions. You can’t tell what they must be thinking until they show you. And Ratheesh has imbued each of them with distinctive, standout character traits. Everyone has something to do.
Here are a few: a police inspector who moonlights as a theyyam artiste; a constable who always does things by the book; a magistrate with high BP who is often distracted by pigeons; a corrupt minister who isn’t as formidable as he appears to be; a ‘freakan’ who would return the favour to anyone who slaps him, including cops; and a TikTok-loving MLA with an amusing family.
Among the familiar faces are actor-casting director Rajesh Madhavan (as an auto-rickshaw driver in love with a teacher). We even get cameos from Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval and filmmakers Basil Joseph and Mridul Nair. In my review of Ariyippu, I mentioned that we are currently going through a Kunchacko Boban renaissance.
His performance in NTCK further drives home that point. He brings the necessary measure of vulnerability and mischief to Rajeevan, who gradually reveals someone with a vast reservoir of willpower, with ample support from another strong character, played by Gayathrie Shankar, with whom he is in a live-in relationship.
Yes, this is quite a progressive film, but this aspect doesn’t feel forcefully incorporated to please the ‘woke’ critics. I liked that. Gayathrie’s character is an active participant, appearing at her husband’s court proceedings, even when she becomes pregnant halfway through the film.
This is also a film unafraid of calling out some political and religious hypocrisies and malpractice. In one of my favourite scenes, a policeman asks about the cuss word that caused all the friction between two old ladies observing a Sabarimala fast.
In the background, three ladies in a burqa are watching this silently. Make of it what you will. I’m not going to give the joke away; it’s one of the many instances in the film where I laughed out loud, and I don’t want to ruin it.
Ratheesh has stretched his imagination to terrific results this time around. The lion’s share of NTCK’s humour— the script keeps building on the irony of a thief taking on a corrupt minister—belongs to the film’s early portions, which also establish Rajeevan’s character and his sweet little love story.
But Ratheesh doesn’t forget to add little touches of humour even when things get relatively serious post-intermission. Sometimes relief comes in the form of an 80s disco performance juxtaposed with a foot chase involving armed hooligans.
Compared to Ratheesh’s last two films, NTCK feels more big-scale given the number of actors and exterior locations involved. We also sense this in Rakesh Haridas’s camera work and Dawn Vincent’s music.
I loved how Ratheesh employed two classic Malayalam songs—‘Devadoothar Padi’ (already viral) and ‘Aayiram Kannumaayi’—to clever use. The latter is used in one beautifully edited montage of expressions and close-ups that make the characters and us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
While on montages, editor Manoj Kannoth, who also worked on KaKaaKa, once again displays his penchant for placing the most appropriate reaction shots in all the right places (another lost art, I’d say). The frames stay long enough to give us a depth of a character’s personality, particularly PK Kunjhikrishnan as the magistrate.
What a delight he is! He doesn’t have to do much to make us laugh. He can stay quiet and still achieve the desired effect. I believe some of the actors practice law in real life too. It explains the reason for their effortlessness in front of the camera. After all, they already have enough experience ‘performing’ in courtrooms. I don’t know any of their names, but they’re all terrific. NTCK is a rare, one-of-a-kind experience that only comes along once in a blue moon, with enough merits that lend themselves well to the big screen.
Film: Nna Thaan Case Kodu
Director: Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval
Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Gayathrie Shankar, Rajesh Madhavan, PK Kunjhikrishnan