Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Gayathrie Shankar, Basil Joseph
Director: Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval
Rajeevan (Kunchacko Boban) committed his first theft as an early teenager. He was caught red-handed and punished, though no one checked the circumstances that pushed him to do it. Decades later, as a man with a receding hairline, sunburnt face, and so much anger piled up inside, Rajeevan avenges his younger self by bringing the court, the media and the government to reflect on the contexts of crimes and tragedies.
Ratheesh Balakrishnan's Nna Thaan Case Kodu (Sue Me), set in Kasaragod's warm-toned villages, is a satire centred on a thief who goes to the court with a petition against a powerful minister. A thoroughly unequal, dangerous battle, in real life, rarely ends in favour of the weaker party. But Ratheesh's film fantasises that justice will steer through the sludge of money, material and political power and find its natural course. The court in the movie plays by the book and gives the thief his due dignity, making for virtuous applause-worthy moments.
The plot's centrepiece is a road accident that leaves Rajeevan fatally wounded and falsely arrested for theft. The physical injury and the tarnished reputation severely affect his employability and personal life and pushes him to look for a solution. While the rest of the world trains their eyes on a CCTV footage that has him entering the premises of a local politician's house like a thief, Rajeevan draws their attention to the big picture and bigger criminals.
The writing is voluptuous. It grants every character, minor and major, quirks and moments to shine. Rajeevan leaves behind his life as a thief when he meets Devi (Gayathrie Shankar) in Cheemeni village. He settles down with her, doing odd jobs and dutifully nursing her bed-ridden father (Kokkad Narayanan). The village's roadsides and squares are adorned not with the faces of film stars but lifesize cut-outs of local politicians and banners featuring the face of Che Guevara. But Rajeevan and Devi live in a nook, away from the world of flags and slogans. They are the lesser others.
The narrative has a delicious fluidity; there is so much to discover and relish. Government engineer Samuel appears first as a coward in hiding, and next, among a group of churchgoers and nuns. Later, he has the guise of an evangelist who went from darkness to light and wants to preach the moral of his journey to the world. The courtroom scenes, foregrounded by comedy, are engrossing despite the element of repetition and the inherent dullness of the procedural. For the top-tier advocates who are hired by the party leaders to challenge Rajeevan, the courtroom is a stage to perform their best acts. The acid-tongued chief judge (PA Kunhikrishnan) has a fine sense of justice and an oddball heart that ignores the mean lawyers to watch the doves in the attic. The supporting cast, many of them auditioned and picked from Kasargod, is fantastic.
None of Rajeevan's decisions and actions seem thought-out, but are instinctive, coloured by his past. When Devi complains about poverty, he goes quiet and heads straight to the village ground to dance his pain away. When a rickshaw charges toward him, he scales a high wall in front of him like an expert. When a cop fumbles for a criminal code section, he fills him in. They deal in the same field, after all. Kunchacko Boban, who now boasts the most elegant acting career trajectory in Malayalam cinema, plays Rajeevan with heartwarming sincerity. He embraces the painted plainness of the character and helps the viewer empathise with his absurd quest for justice.
Rajeevan's petition against the minister might, at first, seem like one of those apolitical reactions to complex political battles, right up in the alley of Ranjith Shankar and Bobby-Sanjay. But Ratheesh's approach seems well grounded and his frustrations real. The giant Rajeevan takes on is not an individual but the arrogance of those sitting in powerful positions and the hierarchy within institutions. The verdict, in the end, is incidental; for Rajeevan, the real victory happens when the minister's chair in the accused's box is taken away, levelling the playfield.
But after this point, the narrative starts to scramble for drama. The animated interventions by the doves, the lawyers and the judge, begin to wear out, and the pressure to stay funny becomes painfully visible. Nna Thaan Case Kodu grandly mocks the elephant in the room, but it does not seem to know how to fill the episodes of stillness.
However, this flaw does not bring the film down. The deadpan humour brilliantly conveys the unjustness and corruption normalised over the years. No one is a saint – the first act of violence in the film is committed by the ordinary public, the locals who rush to the legislator's house at night to thrash the grievously bleeding thief. The clown who lightens up the mood is a young inexperienced cop who treats the thief kindly. Basic decency and empathy are strange and silly; chaos and callousness are the standards. Notwithstanding that finale which plays to the gallery, Nna Thaan Case Kodu is a rare Malayalam mainstream film in recent times that uses a language so legible to call out the grime in our system.