Martin Prakkat's neo-noir thriller Nayattu is all about how the system preys on the hunters to cater to the whims and fancies of a few individuals with clout. The film happens to be quite the abrupt shift in genre for fans of the director's earlier comedy dramas like Best Actor, the buddy comedy-political satire hybrid ABCD and of course, the hugely successful romance-fantasy Charlie. While those flicks were feel-good ones, Nayattu – scripted by Shahi Kabir, who is himself a civil police officer – has none of those elements and instead, opts for a rooted and morally grey zone for its leads. The three officers have their shares of troubles, and are not beyond bending the law for a little benefit. However, they do resent the fact that they do not have the option to reject the extra-legal "assignments" coming from above when goons do. And all it takes to have the tables turned for them are a few glasses of drinks and a nasty coincidence that follows. One can call the film a road movie, but there is a strong undercurrent of tension seldom seen in the genre. The laser-focused narration also helps a lot, not having to veer away for unnecessary subplots.
Looking back, the film's buildup to its central conflict can be called the extended version of a memorable scene from Shankar's Mudhalvan/Nayak where the corrupt Chief Minister stalls police action against a few rioting bus drivers, in order to appease his lucrative vote bank which the said drivers are part of. Here though, the CM goes a bit further with his vote-bank-pleasing tactics by going on an arm-twisting spree upon the police force in order to have the three cops – framed for murdering a goon – booked before the upcoming election. How the ramifications of his machinations trickle down the ranks is deeply unsettling to watch, as even the reasonable officials have to resort to being ruthlessly practical just to save the force's pride – not to mention how the leads' families are affected as well. There are also a few seemingly fleeting moments which reveal hidden layers upon closer inspection, like the one where Praveen wordlessly handles the torn dhoti situation.
Nayattu boasts of an impressive array of performances, headlined by the ever-dependable trio of Joju George, Kunchako Boban and Nimisha Sajayan. Joju has been making great strides since his career-defining performance in Joseph (again, scripted by Shahi Kabeer), and he delivers a deeply affecting performance as Asst. SI Maniyan who is well-versed with the ways of the system, but is also emotionally unstable to the point of having to keep a strip of anxiety pills with him at all times. Kunchako Boban nicely underplays Praveen Michael, the designated audience surrogate who is unexpectedly flung into an alien situation and has to eventually figure things out, just as everything is about to go out of hand. Sunitha is an interesting character, content to be a passive observer for most of the time only to ultimately be the one who takes the right decision. Nimisha being Nimisha, handles the role with effortless ease. Jaffer Idukki, who usually plays comedic side characters, gets his moment to shine as the nefarious CM and so does the debutant Dineesh who plays Biju, the goon who manages to get under one's skin with just a sly grin. Theater actor Yama Gilgamesh is terrific as Anuradha, the no-nonsense crime branch SP who leads the hunters' team, only to be eventually overwhelmed with some harsh truths.
Kumbalangi Nights, Anjaam Pathira and Joji had already established Shyju Khalid as a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to nighttime shots, and the guy doesn't disappoint this time too. Also elevating the picture higher is the airtight editing, by Mahesh Narayanan and Rajesh Rajendran. The minimalistic background score (Akhil Alex) and sound design (love the way a particular sound effect is used to show how close the 'hunters' are to their 'prey') manage to enhance the proceedings being distracting.
Though originally released in cinemas, the film's theatrical run had ended way too soon despite the positive word of mouth, thanks to the sudden onslaught of the second wave of the pandemic. However, Nayattu has managed to find a new lease of life on Netflix, and is currently one of the highest-rated Malayalam films on the OTT platform.