Revenge is almost an expedition that throws several lives - both of those seeking it and of those suffering it - into irreversible states of turmoil. Lijo Pellissery's directorial debut 'Nayakan' gets off to an astounding start with these words scribbled over it. Barely had the impact sunk in, than we get to see a Kathakali artiste in the midst of a chuttikuthal, engrossed in a conversation on the mobile phone. The voice at the other end talks of vengeance and murder as the face contoured with layers of color tolerantly listens.
'Nayakan' would have ended up as another routine study on the spirit of retribution, had it not had an enterprising director at its helm. Lijo makes an imposing debut with the film that prickles our senses with plenty of smart moments.
The structural dynamics of Nayakan is what interests me the most. That it deals with the story of an actor who has to come to terms with a surging desire for reprisal, perhaps places this demand on the film that it swerve away from the conventional. It all starts off with Purappadu, and in a few brilliant sequences the color canopy falls off to reveal the hero in all his (lack of) glory. Varadan (Indrajith) finds a new life on the cold mortuary bench and the story zooms ahead with a flamboyance that leaves space for neither thoughts nor judgments.
Kelikkai and Thodayam soon follow, and in brief flashbacks we learn of how Varadan had lost his sister and dad to crime. There are no excuses for what has happened, and Varadan on a payback spree finds an accomplice in Vincent Karanavar (Thilakan) and his daughter Maria (Dhanya Mary Varghese). The action is never shorn of drama as the Aattam progresses even further and with Kalaasham, the frenzied dance of wrath finally draws to a close.
It's interesting to see how Lijo often leads us by hand to a shady corner and leaves us stranded there. It takes a while for the eyes to get accustomed to the darkness around, and then you start seeing those several elements that had always been there, but which you had never taken note of in the first place. At other times, he takes you on an engaging ride and as you get lost in the fast fleeing sights, slams the brakes and disappears without a trace.
Indrajith firmly grabs the opportunity in his career to be born again with a resolve, like Varadanunni whom he gets to play. There is a strict border line that he doesn't cross, and his performance is without any of the clamor that you would associate with his character. Subdued, and quite restrained, the actor achieves a razored precision in his portrayal. In striking contrast, the paranormal air that the anti-hero magician JS (Siddiq) has about him is disturbingly eerie. The cold gaze that emanates from his cat eyes talk volumes of a persona that refuses to be captured on camera (much to the astonishment of a photographer who sees a blank LCD screen on his camera even after repeated clicks).
This is a dark and twisted fable that could never have worked out without its several characters. The incomparable camaraderie that the two policemen (Lalu Alex & Kiran Raj) share could be quoted as an example. The pony tailed Karanavar does not always cook up a reaction through his tongue, as the wily Inspector Saravanan realizes in one of the most amusing scenes in the film. Forget those mainstream faces, who would be able to forget that high profile escort who starts giving her customer a shave, while his assailant waits nearby to slit his throat?
The non-intrusive background score and a remarkable musical score by Prashant Pillai that gels adeptly with the murky mood of the film gets under your skin as much as the film does. Manoj Paramahamsa's camera is nothing short of savage, and probes into every nook and corner when it's not lurking around unnoticed.
Nayakan is an exceptionally polished film, a strange combine of a creepy drama and a jet-black thriller that gradually builds to an almost chimerical climax. There wouldn't be much trouble to let off those minor slips hence, since there is no escape from the feverish intensity that Nayakan exposes the viewer to.