After Soodhu Kavvum comes another film brimming with great characterization and narrative style. What more, it shares some of its actors with the former. The pick of the lot is probably Simhaa who played the playful, simpleton like Pagalavan in Soodhu Kavvum and turns in a character completely the opposite in Neram, but with the comic touch intact. He plays Vatti Raja, a loan shark with two bodyguards and possibly parodying scores of villains before him. He essays this with just the enough scenery chewing this role would demand and at the same time with enough restraint when required. For this, you should just see the scene where he discovers touch screen phones for the first time and asks one of his thugs to dial a number for him. Pure fun.
This characterization is the strength of Neram, a Malayalam-Tamil bilingual by debutante Alphonse Putharen that opens with a vote of thanks that is longer than the grocery list in Michael Madana Kamarajan. It starts with God (I assume to be Sachin Tendulkar), Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and so on that even includes Vijay Sethupathi, the lead from Soodhu Kavvum (looks like the guy has a chronic issue of associating himself with debut directors’ films somehow) and a popular quote from Tarantino. The leads here are the least interesting of the lot though I concede Nazriya Nazim looks super cute. The names of the main three are almost alliterative – Vetri, Veni and Vatti (It has something to do with Veni Vidi Vici? Maybe not). Then there are Saravanar, Katta Kunju, Manick, Light House.
The best scenes in the film involve John Vijay and Thambi Ramiah who plays Saravanar. It is a pity that there aren’t all that many and most are reduced to phone conversations. They have a superb exchange in their introductory meeting and it is tough to pick the performer in this one. John Vijay is brilliant as usual in these roles. Again an interesting parallel between the police inspector of Neram and that of Soodhu Kavvum. Great roles, superb performers though nothing savage like Brahma about Inspector Katta Kunju. Here again the writing behind the scene and character is key. Where else could you find a police inspector, with makeshift office inside a lockup, listening to Aruna Sairam and speaking in metaphors pertaining to carnatic music? Nasser has a brief but extremely effective role towards the end and has some of the best lines in his presence. A line here, Google tells me, is possibly stolen from a Vijay TV serial called Kana Kaanum Kalangal (actors of which are, I think, associated with Neram and SK) and Alphonse’s Tarantino quote in the beginning comes to mind. Sly.
The theme of time is kept pretty consistent throughout the film. Not only is everyone racing against it – with their loans or police complaints or kidnapped daughters – but also in the flashback when Vetri narrates the beginning of his love life, it is Veni’s persistence with Vetri as he gradually struggles to muster up courage that allows for their union to blossom. Also the coming together of all the characters into a shared story seems organic and doesn’t feel forced like it usually threatens to be in such films. It has also has a nice bit of symmetry about the little story threads like how a sexist remark to the housewife in the beginning gets a rejoinder in the end following a role reversal.
Selective dispensation of details is a smart move to keep you hooked throughout the film even if some parts can sag. Neram has nothing great about its story but the narration and characters have enough meat in them to carry it from start to finish. The Pistah song along with the rest of the background score (maybe a bit consciously stolen but reinvented) adds to the chase sequence towards the end. Things may get resolved a little too easily and all in time, but that’s not the point. Or maybe it is.