Nadikar Movie Review: Moments Of Meta Brilliance In An Otherwise Soulless Pinocchio Retelling

Despite an overall shallowness to scenes before or after the high moments, there are instances in Nadikar that will remain with the viewer
Nadikar Movie Review: Moments Of Meta Brilliance In An Otherwise Soulless Pinocchio Retelling

Director: Jean Paul Lal aka Lal Jr.

Writer: Suvin S. Somasekharan

Cast: Tovino Thomas, Soubin Shahir, Bhavana

Duration: 136 minutes

Available in: Theatres

In one of the many meta scenes in Lal Jr.’s Nadikar, we get gentle touches that show us what the director does behind the camera. The scene in question is a funeral in which superstar/actor David (Tovino Thomas) must perform as he walks into the sight of his deceased sister. As the director of the film-within-the-film shouts action, we witness the invisible director in Lal Jr. take over. The aspect ratio gets a shift and DI takes over to turn a bright, cheerful day into one that’s as gloomy as the scene they’re shooting. In a film that observes cinema through the lens of a thriving superstar/ struggling actor, we mustn’t overlook the directorial touches that go into making a scene come alive. Such scenes are few and far between in Nadikar, but when they come together, you see all the magic of filmmaking and the tiny pieces that must work in tandem to make it happen. 

Unlike earlier meta films in Malayalam, including this director’s own Driving Licence (2019), an unusually large number of dramatic high points are written around such film-within-a-film sequences. In one such scene, we see David getting humiliated when a celebrated director (Koshy, modelled after Joshiy) exposes his lack of emotion during the shoot of an extremely sensitive sequence. This scene is the inciting incident, the moment David sets off on a new journey after years of pointless indifference to his career. But when this very scene gets a call back later on, David is a different person and it turns into a scene about his catharsis and his redemption. This is where he sheds all notions of a superstar despite the many figurative coats he wears here. He is stripped of the shiny trappings that cinema has given him and it leads him to the real power of the art form—the power to heal.  

A still from Nadikar
A still from Nadikar

In essence, the spirit of Nadikar too can be observed in a scene in which Bala (Soubin), the acting coach, gives David some tips to improve his performance in what appears to be a very simple scene. After coaching him to use his body a lot more, he insists that David perform the scene with his chappals removed, with his feet stuck deep into the mud. Even these tiny details add an element to his performance and it's hard to look at acting as a craft when you see these scenes play out. 

These scenes form the basis of Nadikar and these are the instances that will remain with the viewer despite an overall shallowness to scenes before or after these high moments. Ironically, for a film that aims to expose the veneer of artificiality with which commercial films are made, we get a similar adulteration in the way an action sequence is forced into the narrative. Not only does it contradict David’s low self-esteem he is wrestling with when it happens but it also takes away the momentum with which we’re invested in his journey and his friendship with his coach Bala. This feels like a genre shift the film never fully recovers from and it dilutes its essence even during important scenes that follow right after. 

A still from Nadikar
A still from Nadikar

This includes a dramatic event that exposes David to his friends, the audience and himself. Along with David, we too get to see the core issue of a man who has taken his superstardom too seriously, to the point where he is unable to look at anyone as an equal. But with the way the scene plays out, we feel the same soullessness director Koshy felt when he was directing David in the film at the beginning. A reason for this might have been the uneasy mix of comedy and drama they’ve tried out for this sequence. Another reason also could be the sync sound that makes it a tad difficult to follow dialogues, especially those of Soubin. And when this scene ends with a rather cheeky one-liner, it’s robbed of the emotional wattage we needed to care for David, to care for Bala and most importantly, to care for Lenin, David’s most trusted lieutenant.

With that aspect missing, we sit through what’s mostly a passable comedy with an entertaining lineup of pop culture references and fourth-wall-breaking jokes the director is already known for. Despite the misses, Nadikar, with its many meta moments, handholds us through the coming-of-age story of a boy who had to become a superstar to find love. But a plot this rich needed a film even richer.

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