There’s a certain beauty to how the story slowly unfolds, but the slow theatrical shots make it hard to follow or understand the message it’s trying to convey.
We review the 2022 film Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, which does not contain spoilers and was released on Netflix in February 2023.
Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (English: Like An Afternoon Dream) is the highly acclaimed feature by the Indian auteur Lijo Jose Pellissery, who’s known for 2021’s Churuli. The movie marks the first collaboration between Pelissery and the veteran actor Mammootty (who also served as producer). After its premiere at the International Film Festival of Kerala in late 2022, the Malayalam-Tamil bilingual drama enjoyed a limited global theatre release in January before finally landing on Netflix in February.
The film’s tagline, “Death is sinking into slumbers deep. Birth again is waking out of sleep.” is borrowed from the Thirukkural, an ancient Tamil-language text. Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’s true story inspiration was an old advert in which a young boy on the bus wakes from a nap and starts speaking a different language. Mammootty stars as James, a man who awakes from a slumber into a trance-like state, believing he’s a different person.
Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam Review and Plot Summary
Mammootty’s character, James, is a middle-aged man on a pilgrimage trip with his wife, Sally (Ramya Suvi), his young son, his father-in-law (T. Suresh Babu), and their friends. The group of Malayali tourists went to visit Velankanni in the Tamil Nadu area from Kerala. James is introduced as the de-facto leader of the group. He’s portrayed as a killjoy who doesn’t drink and enjoys bossing people around. Despite his flaws, he’s also a kind husband and very generous to those around him, as it soon becomes clear he’s the one who paid for the entire pilgrimage.
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As the bus returns to Kerala, the group tries passing the time by singing. Killjoy James gets immediately annoyed and orders everyone to be quiet. Soon enough, all the passengers fall into slumber, including James. When James wakes up, he asks the bus driver (Rajesh Sharma) to stop; he gets off and starts heading towards a nearby village. At first, the other passengers think James is just answering nature’s call. Instead, he heads straight to one of the houses, feeds the cow, pets the dog, and wakes up the lady of the house, Poovally (Ramya Pandian), with an inappropriate familiarity that leaves the poor woman stunned.
Piece by piece, as the narrative unfolds, we find out that Poovally’s husband, Sundaram, disappeared less than two years before, and somehow James is acting as if he is the man returned. He does his errands, drinks with his friends, and speaks his Tamil language to perfection. Things James normally dislikes, such as Tamil cuisine and the customary sugary tea, he now loves. Despite no one recognizing him, James continues to move around the village as if he’d lived there his whole life.
Both James and Sundaram’s wives are heartbroken and confused. The other group members try working out the situation with the village elders and Sundaram’s father. Only one person recognizes her son in James, and that’s Sundaram’s blind mother.
The plot is secondary in Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam. Pellissery uses mainly static long shots to tell his story, which can become distracting and even headache-inducing. Using background television noise as a narrative element would have been more effective if it wasn’t a constant part of the run-time.
There’s a certain beauty to the way the story unfolds, but the slow theatrical shots make it hard to follow or understand the message it’s trying to convey.
Is the movie Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam good?
If you enjoy slow art-house cinema, you’ll probably like Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam. Some will love this feature, while others will find it’s a pretentious snooze-fest.
What did you think of the 2022 film Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam? Comment below.