More often than not, we have policemen divided into ‘good cop’/’bad cop’ roles in Indian cinema. They are either the bad guys, the ones taking bribes, foisting false cases, harassing families of the protagonists or they are portrayed as swaggering supermen saving the downtrodden and beating the system. The popularity of films like ‘Singam’ & ‘Dabangg’, both of which incidentally came out in 2010, saw a resurgence of hero-cop movies. Come 2021, there’s ‘Nayattu’, a cop movie that stands out from the crowd, where policemen are puny pawns of a twisted political system.
Written by Shahi Kabir and directed by Martin Prakkat, the film follows the story of three cops, who become unwitting victims of a complicated caste case embroiled in politics. They are wanted after their car meets with an accident, leading to the death of a young man. However, the man at the wheel, a civilian, flees from the scene, leaving them in a mess. Kunchacko Boban plays Praveen Michael, the protagonist, a fairly new cop at the bottom of the ladder at his local police station. Joju George plays his senior Maniyappan, a laid-back cop who loves to drink, but never drives drunk. And then there’s Nimisha Sajayan as rookie cop Sunitha, who is being harassed by some cousins who are political activists. How these three cops get framed in a murder case and are chased by their own fraternity makes for a gripping watch.
The first 15-20 minutes are a little slow and slightly confusing to follow for non-Malayalam speakers, despite English subtitles. A string of incidents constantly unfold, each seeming very disjointed. Impatient viewers might be tempted to switch off, because the plot takes time to come together and make sense. But once the pace picks up, director Martik Prakkat ensures his actors keep you intrigued throughout the rest of the film. The whole ‘cops versus cops’ chase, where loyalties are tested, and lives are on the line, is executed well.
All three protagonists are believable and deliver measured performances. Joju George as Maniyappan was the most entertaining of the trio, he is very convincing as the dejected drunk cop, although his character tends to get on your nerves a little. He is flawed and not a great asset for a team on the run from the system. Yama Gilgamesh as Anuradha, the lead investigating officer in the cop-case is a total boss-woman, despite not having any typical ‘killer’ lines. And that’s really the strength of ‘Nayattu’, everything that happens in this drama is steeped in reality. The theme of how caste-politics plays a major role in state elections is brilliantly done. As viewers, you feel a sense of frustration with the events, and that’s exactly the effect the director is hoping for.
In the quintessential cat-mouse chase, sometimes, it’s the cops that are the mice. That’s the message ‘Nayattu’ leaves you with. The pace slackens a little towards the climax, but an unexpected twist redeems the slow turn of events in the second-half. Prakkat and team don’t give us the ending one would typically hope for. The film might leave you feeling a little dejected, but it will be worth your time.
It’s a 7.5/10 from me. You can stream ‘Nayattu’ on Netflix.
Subscribe to our podcast on YouTube by the same name – Abstract AF
Listen to Episode 59 for 9 great animated film recommendations.