Ratheesh Balakrishna Pothuval likes to keep it minimalistic. In his last two films ('Android Kunjappan' and 'Kanakam Kamini Kalaham') he loved telling stories about the fragility of humans and relationships, smearing them lightly with humour. The frames always capture the essence of the thematic elements and add to the film's character and identity. It takes time to enter the world but once there the familiarity is what makes it fascinating. Look how warmly he created an incandescent bond between a lonely old man and a robot or in tinting marital disharmony with sardonic strokes. The humour is very conversational but gentle and effective. Though his latest 'Nna Than Case Kodu', revels in such lighter moments, it isn’t as simplistic as his earlier films. There is a stinging socio-political issue at its core, which he chooses to play out through a courtroom drama helmed by an unlikely protagonist—an almost reformed thief.
The narrative unfolds in a town/village in Kasaragod. Without much ado, the leading man, Rajeevan Kozhummal (Kunchacko Boban) is introduced bang in the middle of a nightly theft. But Rajeevan and his friend flee the minute they realise that they are about to be nabbed by the cops. It’s also easier to figure out Rajeevan from the scene.
Rajeevan doesn’t really come across as this devious, greedy thief, rather he seems to be a regular, unassuming guy who loves breaking into impromptu jigs at festivals. There are hints that it was desperation as well as the vindictive system which resulted in his choice of profession. One of the most charming passages involves Rajeevan’s romance with a Tamil girl. The song montage framing their silent romance is a beauty. She is also someone with agency and is clear as to what she wants out of the relationship.
There isn’t anything remotely valiant about Rajeevan, including his brown makeup and protruding teeth. On that note, it’s baffling as to why we still stereotype certain people on screen. Kunchacko Boban’s prosthetics only aim in depicting thieves and a certain economic group as unappealing, grimy people. Even without the external bulwarks, it would have been as convincing.
The plot thickens when Rajeevan is caught trespassing into a house at night and the dog brutally attacks him. From then on it’s a David v/s goliath tale where the thief is determined to prove his innocence and to bring the real culprits to court. Priyadarshan’s 'Vellanakalude Naadu' was a scathing commentary on corruption and despite the undertones of humour at regular intervals, it hits you hard. But 'Nna Than Case Kodu' is a more realistic (deadpan humour) take on corruption, bringing other layers (fundamental rights in Indian constitution) into the conflict.
The writing is sharp when it shifts into the courtroom, keeping the proceedings, to the point. At times the tonal shift reminds you of 'Thondimuthalum Driksashiyum', especially in how the actors are handled. Perhaps the best part has to be the brilliant casting. Except for the principal actors, rest are all fresh faces, and they are spot on. Look out for the Judge who nibbles almonds, and gulps down pressure pills during trials, is immensely pleased with flattery and knows how to keep things in control. His compassion towards fellow beings is skillfully masked in deadpan humour.
There is a superb scene when he calmly, but deliberately, puts a Minister in his place. And his hilarious verbal exchange with Rajeevan and lawyers are a hoot. The detailing given to small and big characters is what keeps the narrative from drifting into a dreary courtroom drama. So when a witness, who is the local milk vendor, talks earnestly about smuggling drugs in milk cartons, it is instantly turned into a brilliant satire. Another lovely bit involved the romance between an auto driver (Rajesh Madhavan who is very underrated) and a school teacher (superb casting there).
The decision to place it in the dry lands of Kasaragod where people speak with a special rhythm and twang enhances the storytelling.
Rajeevan is the voice of dissent in the film. And his arc is persuasive. It’s the voice of a voiceless citizen who is struggling to salvage his reputation and existence, knowing very well that he has a long battle ahead. Kunchacko Boban despite his inconsistent Kasaragod slang and prosthetics compellingly portrays Rajeevan and his internal conflicts. The desperation writ on his face every time things don’t swing in his favour in court was so easy to buy. Gayathri is a very soothing presence on screen. There is an intrinsic vulnerability in her, yet it’s a face that looks determined. That’s a fascinating combination in an actor. Adding two iconic Malayalam songs of the 80s was a nice touch and even better as to how they are blended into the narrative. After a not-so-great 'Kanakam Kamini Kalaham', Ratheesh Pothuval is back on track.