Director: Lal Jose
Writer: R. Venugopal
Cast: Deepti Sati, Vijay Babu, Ann Augustine
A married couple finds tension in their relation and life due to the intervention of an alcoholic and impulsive young woman. That IMDB synopsis don't quite capture the essence of the film as the tensions in the marriage remains in the background while it is more about the dynamics of the relationship between the boss (Vijay Babu) and his tomboy colleague Nina (Deepti Sati).
Lal Jose is an old school director in Malayalam who has managed to get quite a few super-hits under his belt by adhering to the tired old cliched formula of the industry which he manages to gloss over by making people feel that the outer skins of his films are a bit different. Upon scratching you will realize that most of them are the age-old melodramatic moralizing bullshit. I have never been a fan of his and the only films that I thought to be half decent were 'Classmates' and 'Arabikatha'. The title 'Nee-Na' is supposedly after the names of the two female characters and the film is considered to be Lal Jose's attempt to get with the times by adopting the so-called 'New-Generation' approach. It has an alcoholic female lead and some mature handling of certain situations without the melodramatic nonsense and so in that sense it is indeed a step forward for Lal Jose.
The first half of the film can best summed up as a retelling 'Ulladakkam', a film directed by Kamal to whom Lal Jose himself had served as assistant director for quite a few years, It is done quite well with convincing performances. The back-story of Neena is given by the end of the half and she is apparently a kid born to parents who wanted a son. Her father dresses her like a boy and she grew up being friends with boys from a slum near her home (kind of inverse of Lal Jose's transvestite film 'Chandupottu'). As she grows up her father, who had encouraged her tom-boyishness while she was young, starts trying to control her life while she hates being a girl. Along the way she picks up her addiction for drinks and smoke and an irreverence towards authority and people in general. Neena sees her new boss as the cooler version of her dad from her younger days and she falls in love with him- a subtle allusion to Freudian Electra complex. The film develops from there with a trip to de-addiction center after an attempted suicide and ends with a resolution to its triangular relationship.
Second half of the film has Lal Jose going back to his default old school methods to some extent but overall it is a very good watch. There is one scene where the wife talks to her crying maid, who surprise surprise is in a similar situation, and it is pure cringe. This is another one of those cliched situations in Malayalam films. There is also a stream of 'interesting' personalities in the de-addiction center which again is Lal Jose going back to his default mode. But overall he does it with enough restraint that you come out of it with a good feeling. There is a slight twist in the end which I thought was totally unnecessary and completely alters our perception about it. I would've preferred it going with the idea of Neena losing the infatuation she has for her boss when the latter becomes more controlling like her dad did.
Unlike most Lal Jose films, there aren't many songs in it and the ones that are there moves the story forward. At around 150 minutes it is slightly longer than it should be. Cinematography is exquisite and the background music and recurring music themes are stunning. Vijay Babu, whom I am seeing for the first time, is excellent and Deepti Sati, who is making her debut, as Neena is good even though dubbing is quite problematic in some places. Ann Augustine doesn't have much screen-time but handles her role well. There isn't much to talk about the other characters who are just there to support the main characters' stories. Lal Jose could have done plenty of things with a little more subtlety since the film is not gonna be commercially that successful anyway. So to sum up, it is a good watch with some fine central performances but some of Lal Jose's old habits prevent it from being a great film. I hope he goes full retard next time and don't get spooked if the film don't do well financially.