Neerali Review: A survival thriller that lacks tension
The artificial performances and unresolved plot strands weaken the film
Neerali begins with a road trip gone wrong, which is a fairly intriguing set-up. A red Tata 207 veers off the road and ends up on the edge of a cliff. The two passengers, Sunny (Mohanlal) and Veerapan (Suraj Venjaramoodu), are badly injured: they have lost a lot of blood. There is no one in sight to call for help. No one would dare approach a place inhabited by wild elephants and 8-foot long venomous cobras.
Director: Ajoy Varma
Cast: Mohanlal, Nadiya Moidu, Parvatii Nair, Suraj Venjaramoodu
After a short while, you begin to get the sense that this accident was orchestrated by someone. But, by whom? For what? The film then cuts to a few hours earlier, giving us intermittent flashbacks of everything that led up to this moment. These flashbacks run in parallel to the present. We learn that Sunny is a gemologist whose 35-year-old wife Molly (Nadiya Moidu) is in labour. They are expecting twins. There is an attempt to derive some tension from the complications arising from this, but it doesn't quite work.
So, on one side, there is Sunny trying to come up with ways to save himself from danger, and on the other, his wife is dealing with labour pains. Neerali is a survival thriller in the same vein as 127 Hours and Cast Away. Interestingly, Sunny mentions the names of few survival thrillers, including Cast Away, observing that they are all films and what he is experiencing is reality.
But the problem is Neerali doesn't "look" very realistic, and its quality is nowhere near the aforementioned films. Yes, some of the cliffhanger portions are quite convincing, but the artificiality in the performances is very distracting. The film is at its best when Sunny and Veerappan are discussing their families and there is a level of poignancy in moments where Veerappan reveals his broken relationship with his teenage daughter.
It's a pity then that this poignancy is not present in the scenes between Sunny and the women in his life. A track involving Sunny and a possessive female colleague (Parvatii Nair) who pines after him seems unnecessary. Also, what's the deal with a bunch of criminals, led by Rajan (Dileesh Pothan), who show up to steal some diamonds from Sunny? The film begins to get interesting when they show up, but everything fizzles out when the film goes in a completely different direction in the finale.
However, despite all this, the makers deserve some credit for getting Mohanlal to do an ordinary character that is devoid of any mass trappings. He is not a superhero: he is injured, weak, and desperate. At one point, he tries to get a monkey to help him. We know it's ridiculous to expect a monkey to fetch a mobile phone from the floor, but when a man is that desperate, he would try anything. When you look at it that way, this film is quite realistic. But the rest of the film isn't, sadly. I only wish the script had the ability to create anxiety and make us care more about the characters.