Director: Ajoy Varma
Cast: Mohanlal, Nadhiya Moidu, Parvatii Nair, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Nassar, Dileesh Pothan, Megha Mathew
Neerali (Octopus), directed by Ajoy Varma and starring Mohanlal, is one of those films where a middle-aged man finds himself staring into the abyss. This is not a metaphor for an existential crisis. Thanks to his pickup truck that veered off the road and plunged down the slope, stopping at the edge of a cliff, the Mohanlal character, named Sunny, literally finds himself staring into the abyss. The Bond-ian opening credits, playing over Bond-ian bass, show some promise. There's a sense of style in the way the animated images segue into each other, and later, we discover that these images — the silhouette of a woman in a classic "temptress" pose, a cobra, a diamond — are part of the story. Sunny, for instance, is a gemologist. The temptress, I suppose, is Naina (Parvatii Nair), who, of course, is entirely to blame for initiating an affair with the much-married (and much older) Sunny. Heaven forbid we actually see the man taking responsibility for straying!
I kept imagining Mohanlal reading the screenplay of Neerali, and reaching the page where his character — who is clearly not named Jane Goodall — begins to "converse" with a monkey, using Jedi-level mind tricks to manipulate the animal
But the opening credits are as good as it gets. The rest of Neerali is unbridled idiocy. The plot gets into gear when Sunny's pregnant wife, Mollykutty (Nadhiya), goes into labour, and is admitted in a Kozhikode hospital. Instead of catching the next flight from Bangalore, where he is based, Sunny decides to drive down with his friend, Veerappa (Suraj Venjaramoodu). I kept waiting for Mollykutty to explode when she registers the fact that her husband is taking the scenic route while her innards are being ripped open, but I guess she's practical enough to realise that if Sunny did fly down, screenwriter Saju Thomas would have no basis for a movie. And so we proceed to a scene with a bee, a scene with a snake, a scene with a monkey — but no, there's no scene with the octopus of the title. That, actually, is a metaphor. It better be. Even a film as ridiculous as this one has to draw the line at dropping a deep-sea creature amidst the Western Ghats.
We also get several scenes with the two roadtrippers chatting about the Aadhar card, the Kohinoor diamond, and Charlie Chaplin — all of which gave me ample time to reflect on Mohanlal, or even Mammootty, for that matter. Given their largely underwhelming output, of late, what makes them say yes to scripts? I kept imagining Mohanlal reading the screenplay of Neerali, and reaching the page where his character — who is clearly not named Jane Goodall — begins to "converse" with a monkey, using Jedi-level mind tricks to manipulate the animal. If that doesn't make you demand a rewrite, then what will? Was he not bothered by the fact that Sunny's vertigo comes and goes, as it pleases? Did he not giggle when he came to the page where Naina says, "Don't you remember how you sang for me on a moonlit night in Mongolia, by the pagoda?"
A more intuitive filmmaker might have tried to push these connections (how, after Sunny dumped Naina, karma from that moonlit Mongolian night has come to bite his behind), or dug deeper (how Sunny's mental anguish mirrors his wife's physical pain, and how neither is remotely comparable to what the audience is experiencing). But no, we feel nothing. There could have been something in showing the frustration of a man unable to even improvise life-saving artifacts using the contents of his pickup truck (as Sunny cannot reach behind), but that's another idea tossed into the abyss . Neerali looks shoddy. The cinematographer, Santosh Thundiyil, seems to have been handicapped by green-screen necessities, and the obvious use of graphics is embarrassingly clumsy. By the time Dileesh Pothan lands up with a gang of goons and a one-eyed Nasser squats on the bonnet of the pickup truck to explain the title, you may begin to look longingly at that monkey. Humans may be more evolved, but we are also the only species that has to endure bad movies.