Njandukalude Nattil Oru Idavela, On Disney+ Hotstar, Is An Extraordinarily Versatile Feel-Good Film

The film brims with a soothing sense of familiarity that almost feels therapeutic
Njandukalude Nattil Oru Idavela, On Disney+ Hotstar, Is An Extraordinarily Versatile Feel-Good Film

Mind mapping my way through all the feel-good, inspiring and heart-warming films I often snuggle up to, the list feels endless. From celebrated ones like Pursuit of Happyness and Little Miss Sunshine to regional gems such as Bhooter Bhobishyot, Kakka Muttai and  C/o Kancharapalem, they have all triumphantly managed to not only  cheer me up but also enrich me as a viewer, as a human being.

But a film, closer to home, lies as snug as a bug in a rug in a rather chummy corner of my heart. Much like a warm morsel of comfort food, Njandukalude Nattil Oru Idavela (transl. An Interval In The Land Of Crabs), brims with a soothing sense of familiarity that almost feels therapeutic. Directed by Althaf Salim, it stars Shanti Krishna as Sheela Chacko, a college professor who gets diagnosed with breast cancer. The film is an extraordinarily versatile take on how she and her family journeys through the illness. Her somewhat dysfunctional family essentially includes – a caring but fidgety husband Chacko (Lal), a lethargic son in the Lays-loving Kurien (Nivin Pauly), a seemingly detached Sarah (Ahaana Krishna) and an overbearing Mary (Srinda Arhaan) as her daughters and the adorable Appachan (KL Anthony), their grandfather who suffers from dementia.

At the onset itself, we spot this pragmatic, level-headed woman at a rather vulnerable time where she silently falters as the seed of cancer-suspicion gets planted in her mind while in the shower, one fine morning. The film effectively follows her through the day showing us how the air of stability and clarity that surrounded her till now slowly begins to shatter. I absolutely loved this life-like, realistic perspective to storytelling that the film takes and its perfect pacing which continues rhythmically till the very end. It imbues an authenticity to every character, caught off-guard in a real and difficult predicament. Embracing new routines, each of them change slowly, in their own way, while adapting to a new way of life.

But, watching Sheela gracefully move through this chaotic charade with such strength was the true highlight of the film for me. She exudes confidence and courage, even in her body language, with a striking calmness that permeates through her. Tested by an unprecedented and frightening discovery, even when she feels less in control of life, being the remarkable woman she is, Sheela gracefully picks herself up and manages to maintain her composure.

There is a particularly touching moment where Sheela shaves her head as she starts losing her beautiful long hair, which was a huge part of her identity till then, due to the chemotherapy sessions. It almost felt as if she was covertly keeping all the unpleasantness completely to herself – protecting the family she nurtured, like always (the dutiful mother and wife that she is); even at a time when one would normally require unconditional support from the family.

But, in the end, we learn that the exasperating journey was not hers alone. Rachel, Kurien's girlfriend (played by Aishwarya Lakshmi) asks him, "Do you all not cry?". As Kurien rightly puts it; it is impossible not to, especially when engulfed by the thought of someone so beloved turning into a memory. Sheela's diagnosis does open up a huge spectrum of complex feelings and uncertainties in every member of the family. They too had fought their own battles and dealt with personal moments of emotional outbursts, but always behind closed doors and never once in front of her as nothing is more important to them than her happiness. This revelation, that builds itself up so aesthetically, truly uplifts the film.

What makes Njandukalude Nattil Oru Idavela even more engrossing is its take on how their bond, as a family, gradually changes for the better in the course of the cancer journey.  The smallest of things suddenly find a larger place in their lives. They take a long-awaited vacation to Kodaikanal while waiting for her chemotherapy results. The eager wait ends with Kurien's genuine and warm smile that speaks to us in its silence. I could almost hear it saying with a great sense of relief: though cancer with its mighty grasp could invade into a person's life, it needn't necessarily end up being their entire life story.

Travelling beyond an outpouring of emotions, misplaced sympathies, false optimism and unfounded guidance to help overcome a tricky disease, the film takes a sincere, thoughtful but a rather risky path. It is particularly hard to infuse humour into a situation, a term riddled with negative connotations. But the writers (Althaf Salim and George Kora) sublimely handle a delicate matter, lacing it with light-heartedness without downplaying the seriousness of the issue in question. Even in its consciously optimistic tone, it embodies a deep and intimate understanding of the gravity of this disease.

Granted, we do not get to see the challenges in its entirety. Rather, we find a view peppered with humour on coping with and healing through cancer by way of an unconventional lens, one that spreads light on a beautifully soulful and admirably well-balanced film. As the soulful 'Nanavere' plays on, cracking open the hard shell of a rather nasty crab with a strong spirit, a lot of belief and a bit of magic; Sheela, her family and the chemo warriors ultimately leave us with ladoos of hope and optimism.

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