Imagine for a moment that you are on top of the World; you are doing well professionally and perhaps received the promotion or the dream job that you were aspiring for. Your personal life also seems to be going very well, with a relationship being totally in control and providing you with joy and satisfaction. Now what if someone/something were to come along the way and in the process bring about a shift in the scenario; what if this was to go on to create ripples in your life in a manner that you would have never envisioned? Wondering what’s wrong with me? Don’t worry as I am still reeling under the impact of Lal Jose’s latest Malayalam film, Nee-Na. After the lacklustre Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal (2013) he bounced back commercially with Vikramadithyan (2014), but there wasn’t anything novel about the film as such. Considering the success of the film though, I wondered if he would continue on the same track but was surprised when I heard of his new film Nee-Na, as it certainly didn’t sound like another Vikramadithyan like attempt.
Nee-Na refers to Neena (Deepti Sati) and Nalini (Ann Augustine), 2 women as different as chalk and cheese. Nalini is married to Vinay Panicker (Vijay Babu) who is an advertising professional and they live in Mumbai with their son. A transfer to Kochi as the branch head of the ad agency makes them relocate and that’s where their lives get intertwined with that of Neena, an extremely talented creative director in Vinay’s office. Neena is great at her work but is an alcoholic who follows her own principles in life, she has very few friends as well and definitely this doesn’t include anyone from office. But all this changes when Neena meets Vinay and they get close as Vinay recognizes that for her talent she could go places if properly encouraged. Soon Neena’s interest in Vinay appears to be something more than just friendship, something that even Nalini notices. But when Neena admits her love to Vinay and he fails to accept it, things take a different turn. What happens from thereon in the lives of Neena, Vinay and Nalini is what the rest of the film is all about.
The film doesn’t take much time in establishing the premise and we are soon watching a vibrant Kochi through the eyes of Vinay and Nalini. Like a lot of Malayalees who have been living outside Kerala for a long time and return back only to be surprised at the development there, Vinay and Nalini too marvel, not just at Kochi’s development but also at how someone like Neena exists there in the first place. Neena is an enigma of sorts, someone who is at odds with her parents as well, preferring the company of a select few like a local goon Jaljo (Chemban Vinod) and in her own words someone who doesn’t get along well with women. She doesn’t mind taking up the cudgels with an autodriver in public view, even at the risk of getting hit back in return. She also knows that while she maybe second to none, including guys, there are occasions when she has to willingly take the support of someone else, like requesting Vinay to get her booze on New Year’s Eve.
While we do get to know Neena’s past and her reasons for treating life in a different fashion, not much is known about her personal life except the fact that she drinks whenever and wherever she feels like. In sharp contrast are the characters of Vinay and Nalini, who are reasonably straight forward. They share a wonderful bond among themselves, Vinay never finds it difficult to discuss Neena and his opinions about her with Nalini and she too reciprocates by lending more than an eager ear to Vinay. There is a wonderful moment in the film when we see Nalini taking an initiative to meet up with Neena in attempt to get friendly with her, only to see Neena declining interest openly. Following this there is a big difference in the way both of them mention the same thing, that there is nothing in common between the two of them. If the first half of the film is all about establishing the characters and the premise and a look at how the lives of Neena, Vinay and Nalini get intertwined, then the second half takes a totally different turn.
Call it a case of great timing or strange coincidence, at a time when the closure of bars and the (ill) effects of alcoholism on society is not a mere topic but has received a major political dimension to it in Kerala, we see Neena going through the process of detoxification/de-addiction in an order to bring her life back on track. While Lal Jose and writer R.Venugopal deserve credit for the novelty they have brought into the tale, all is not well especially in the second half of the film. The film’s pace goes slightly for a toss and the proceedings get a little questionable at times. Also why is the film being promoted as a ‘tale of two women’? Sure there is a strong connection between the characters of Neena and Nalini and both are equally relevant to the tale, but at the end of the film it is clearly Neena who ends up being under the spotlight mostly, followed closely by Vinay who compliments her well. Nalini is more like the third segment to the tale, which helps in making it well rounded and complete.
Lal Jose’s films including those which didn’t work commercially have usually had good music and the songs have gone on to become very popular. For a change here he has turned to young composer Nikhil J.Menon for some unusual songs which fortunately go in flow with the film. Jomon T.John’s cinematography is highly effective, bringing to life both the bright outdoors and dark interiors extremely well. As mentioned earlier the second half appears a little stretched and it would have been great if Editor Ranjan Abraham could have done something to take care of the pacing. The film has quite a huge supporting cast, though most of them do not get much presence as it’s a tale that is focused on 3 main characters. Chemban Vinod as Jaljo, referred to as ‘Kari Oil’ (crude oil) by Neena leaves a mark, while writer-director Martin Prakkat as the doctor heading the de-addiction centre, Vinu Mohan as ‘relapse’ Sunny Kuttan, an inmate at the de-addiction centre and Sunil Sukhada as a businessman all have their moments. But the one to impress the most (apart from the 3 main actors) is Lena who plays the therapist with a lot of dignity. Despite limited screen time Lena impresses, playing a character who ultimately helps both Neena and Nalini take an important decision in their lives.
Ann Augustine plays the part of Nalini with a lot of grace and dignity, supporting her husband Vinay totally and also staying true to her emotions at the right time. She plays the ideal foil to the characters of Neena and Vinay, bringing out a wonderful contrast with that of Neena, someone who breezes into her life, creating turmoil unknowingly. Vijay Babu who is usually seen in character roles, even as the antagonist at times plays the male lead here and I must say it is a good option that Lal Jose has gone in for considering that it is casting against type hence bringing in novelty. As the devoted husband and father and good boss and friend, Vinay’s character slowly undergoes changes, thanks to the presence of Neena and Vijay Babu brings out this transition very well. Deepti Sati is a great find and does well in her debut role of Neena. Despite the role having its own complexity and despite being her first movie Deepti has tackled the role with great relish and its fun watching her play Neena with all her antics and histrionics.
Ultimately Nee-Na turns out to be an interesting attempt by Lal Jose, not flawless of course but definitely something that’s not run of the mill. The merits far outweigh the negatives making the film worth watching indeed.