- Release Date: – 11/11/2022
- Platform: – Disney+Hotstar
- Cast: – Vineeth Sreenivasan, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Arsha Baiju, Sudhi Koppa
- Director: – Abhinav Sunder Nayak
In 2014 I was bowled over by a film called Nightcrawler which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and was written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film chronicled the story of Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a man looking to earn his bread and have a decent life and, in that pursuit, ending up doing some horrifying things. Even though that is an oversimplification of the complex and cerebral plot of the film, in essence, that is what it was about. Cut to January 2023, and I saw a little-known Malayalam film that is in soul and spirit a remake of Nightcrawler but is so different from it that it becomes an entirely different experience altogether.
Built on the endoskeleton of Nightcrawler, Mukundan Unni Associates creates an entirely different world and populates it with characters that we have all seen and experienced. The film then puts the protagonist in the middle of every foreseeable challenge to his aims and aspirations and lets the intelligence and unapologetic nature of the man make decisions that take him forward. Mukundan Unni silences his consciousness from the very beginning and only does things that he believes will earn him a respectable and comfortable life. He speaks a lot to himself and speaks with a such rich vocabulary that it is bound to make the audience laugh as the words in his mind do not complement his unassuming and unremarkable appearance. However, as the film progresses, we see him sink deeper and deeper into an abyss that is as dark as it is bottomless.
I generally start off my reviews by writing a few words about the plot of the film. I will not do that in this case as a word spoken about the plot is a perpetual spoiler. I would rather want my readers to experience the film firsthand without any prior knowledge of it as I did today. I would request my readers to refrain from even watching the trailers. I say this with the confidence that within the first five minutes of its runtime, the film will most definitely hook you with its arresting screenplay and quirky protagonist. The voice-over by the protagonist not only helps keep the audience at pace with all that is going on in his mind but also gives them crucial information about things that one cannot make out from his face which has all but one expression throughout. In some other scenarios, this might be a bad thing for the film but not here. In the case of this film, it works wonderfully to underplay the evil that Mukundan Unni is shown capable of in the end and renders some of the scenes in the end unbelievably shocking and uncharacteristically cruel of the character that we have spent so much time with.
Abhinav Sunder Nayak directs and co-writes this film with absolute authority and control. From his shot selection, choice of different aspect ratios, choice of editing speed or camera angles, the control of the director is visible in every frame of the film. The film starts with a 4:3 aspect ratio and gradually shifts to a 16:9 ratio. The first half of the film gains immensely from this choice as we can see a larger chunk of the faces and the actions on which the cinematography of the film concentrates and that helps the audience to form a lot more personal connection with these aspects of the film. It also allows the audience to see the expressions and the presentations of the visuals and make their own meaning out of it. While all these things are pretty straightforward, the special emphasis on Mukundan Unni’s face as he maneuvers through different situations and problems is a key element for enhancing the appeal and accentuating the drama that the character brings with it.
Vineeth Sreenivasan as the protagonist Mukundan Unni is sensational. He carries the entire film on his shoulders. It is not an insult to the supporting cast. On the contrary, this is how the film is written. The character of Mukundan Unni is at the center of everything that is happening in the film. The film is narrated by him from his own perspective. He is the hero of his story and he wouldn’t take it any other way. He justifies his own actions -good or bad in the most prolific manner possible. I just loved Vineeth carried the character throughout. He shows every trait of a pathological liar and a true sociopath. His emotionless face and absolute lack of empathy and sympathy make him a fearsome individual. The unassuming appearance of the man makes him even more dangerous. This was also the case with Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. It would criminal if I didn’t mention Suraj Venjaramoodu’s stellar performance as Mukundan’s rival advocate, Venu. He is a source of immense comedy and shocking tragedy at the same time.
The screenplay of the film is ceaselessly investing. The story can be basically divided into three major portions. Mukundan Unni’s search for the most efficient path to reach his life’s goal, Unni discovering his path and meeting with some success by walking on it and finally, the path taking him to a dark place, and yet him never bothering about the outcomes or impacts of his action. The proceedings are so engrossing and entertaining that it is hard to take one’s eyes off the screen. I was suffering from a severe cold yesterday night when I took to watching this film and I couldn’t leave it halfway through. Even with leaking eyes and a running nose, I completed it for the first time. Rested for a while and then rewatched it immediately. That goes on to show how wonderfully structured, engrossing, and investing the narrative must have been for it to have me so firmly in its grip.
The editing and the speed of the narrative are fantastic. The film clocks in at about 120 minutes and it was the perfect length for it. Some of the audiences might get a little edgy towards the beginning of the second half but the film very quickly takes up the pace and the narrative starts landing one surprise after another that again starts justifying the runtime. The editing is commendable because the film takes its time when it has to. The camera lingers on Mukundan Unni’s face every time turmoil or conflict is brewing within. It also captures the vicious nature of the man by keeping the focus on him when he is doing evil rather than showing the results of the actions that he has just committed. These are the little attention to detail that makes a good film great. The background score of the film that most people will not notice is fantastic. It is the perfect compliment piece to the proceedings and at junctures helps elevate the emotions that you are feeling in a particular moment.
Mukundan Unni Associates is the coming together of innumerable different aspects to create a cinematic equivalent of a piece of complicated and beautiful art. It will entertain you on multiple viewings. It will put questions in your mind. It will give you answers to those and at the same time make you question the answers. It will end in the most unexpected manner as was the case with Nightcrawler. It will make you hate the protagonist and at the same time, it will make you love him too. It has such an endless sea of emotions in it that it will be practically impossible to classify it into a specific category. Suffice is to say that for me it was one of the most entertaining, amusing, and thought-provoking movie experiences in a while.