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18 Pages Movie Review: Heartfelt as a drama, engrossing as a thriller- Cinema express

18 Pages Movie Review: Heartfelt as a drama, engrossing as a thriller

The Surya Pratap Palnati directorial is a human drama with a lot of heart

Published: 23rd December 2022

The opening scene of any film is sacrosanct. There’s a particular joy in discerning that the filmmaker is trying to punctuate the film’s themes seconds after the first frame comes up. It happens in 18 Pages when we first see Siddhu (a confident Nikhil Siddhartha), in his dim bedroom, with the screen of his phone lighting up his face. The rock score in the background might announce the introduction of a ‘hero’ but here’s a man whose entire life seems to be only lit up by his phone, like many of us. We then see his activities—from using the toilet to walking on the road, albeit recklessly—  with his phone as a constant companion. He is constantly in touch with his girlfriend virtually. The opening few minutes, even if they spell it out with no subtlety, neatly set up his character and paint a clear picture of the contrast we will eventually see once the conflict is introduced. Expectedly, when his lover breaks his heart, Siddhu is pushed into darkness and this time, he needs some real light—not the one from his phone—to bring him out of the sorrow. And it happens when he stumbles upon a dusted, two-year-old journal that introduces him to Nandhini (a fabulous Anupama Parameswaran). Her words from the past begin to influence his present and what follows is a tale that is about love and many larger and deeper themes.

Directed by: Surya Pratap Palnati

Cast: Nikhil Siddhartha, Anupama Parameswaran

On an idea level, 18 Pages might seem a little conventional. In fact, going the old-school way is one of the primary themes of the film. At points, it does remind you of those ‘90s films in which the leads fall in love by posting letters to each other, or films where the couple are unaware of their identities till the very end. Do you get an idea? Although its ideas might be old-school, 18 Pages is a timely film that posits a timely, modern conundrum in our lives: lack of human interaction. And the film spins its whole script around this concept, without ever getting preachy.

Sukumar's script uses many elements, from Siddhu’s profession—which involves virtual interaction—to a minor but terrific character, that of a young boy who sells pens at a traffic signal, to make its point and this paves way for some beautiful moments teeming with love and kindness. Nandhini, the polar opposite of Siddhu, believes in living life rather than simply navigating through it. She doesn't use a phone. Her introduction is pleasantly done and although it’s done verbally (it is a verbose film and voice-overs play a major role, considering journaling is a central theme), it encapsulates everything about her, the way she perceives life, and how she processes every tiny thing. It is, in a way, Nandhini’s movie—the frame freezes when she smiles at the camera and then the title appears.

In fact, the film is sprinkled with such lovely, heartfelt moments stemming out of the script’s attempts to underline the importance of forging a human bond. The character of a bus conductor (played by Middle-Class Melodies-fame Goparaju Ramana) is one of the best things in the film, both as a plot device and as a means to present the humane attribute in the script. His brief interaction with Nandhini and how this dynamic is later used to further the plot is one of the best facets of Sukumar’s script. On the strength of Sukumar's script, Surya Pratap Palnati does try to incorporate many elements—in the form of characters and sub-plots—but never chews more than what he can bite and gives closure to all the arcs.

While the script does answer most of your questions, especially after it ventures into the thriller territory, it does leave some questions but thankfully, they are not glaring. The script also bridges the tonal unevenness smoothly and one really doesn’t really feel distracted when the film jumps from being a feel-good romance (although it is not a romance) at one point to a serious thriller, and then back to a light-hearted zone. The film’s biggest strength is perhaps its ability to sell both the lightness and darkness with ease. As a drama, it is heartfelt and encourages you to ponder on your relationships; Siddhu’s non-relationship with Nandhini also leads to a couple of hilarious gags. And when it’s a thriller, you are really invested in it and crave to know more about it. And one has to mention Navin Nooli's editing. At first, they effectively juxtapose the lives of these two distinct humans and then slowly begin to draw parallels between them. 18 Pages is one of those films in which editing and storytelling are inseparable and complement each other.

It’s fitting that a character identifies Nandhini with a crossword puzzle. She really is a puzzle, one that Siddhu and 18 Pages try to solve. And 18 Pages is really as engaging and satisfying as solving a puzzle.

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