The film opens with a game of Tug-of-war. The police team is facing off against a team of underdogs in the finals. A former member of the police team is now a part of the opposition, and the people who used to be his teammates once do not look upon him kindly. With the very first scene, the tone is set – In a battle against institutional might, changing loyalties can do a lot of damage.
KP Maniyan (Joju George), Praveen (Kunchacko Boban) and Sunitha (Nimisha Sajayan) are three low-level police personnel. The station they are serving in has suddenly become important because of the by-elections in that area. Getting each other’s back, and flirting around, their life is uneventful until a chance event ties their fates together. Now they’re on the run from the very department they used to work for, from the colleagues and friends they used to work with, from disgrace and crucifixion.
The premise is a simple one, but it isn’t exactly the plot of the movie that keeps things engaging, even though it looks like that on the surface. Each character’s personality is revealed by the actions they take, and this imbues the story with life. The detailing is immaculate both in the writing and the acting. In one scene early on in the movie, Joju George asks an underage couple for their names. When he hears “Albert” and “Krishnapriya”, he flinches, just a bit, just enough to signify that he’s displeased, without any melodrama. He’s a guy who doesn’t talk much. He’s been in the force for 20 years, he knows how things are done, and he acts accordingly. But none of this is explained through dialogue – There are situations, and people react to them.
The economic nature of dialogue makes it land all the more powerfully in the places it is used as a weapon. When a policeman accidentally drops a Dalit youth’s phone, the youth asks him to pick it up and the policeman asks him to just bend down and pick it up himself. “We are not going to bend any more,” he says. A similar line by a farmer, about why his community resolves its conflicts without involving the police achieves in a couple of lines what could easily have expanded into a monologue if the writer had indulged in it.
Shahi Kabir does a phenomenal job of taking us into the inner workings of a high profile manhunt. It’s easy territory to demonize individuals and create callous villains, but all the actions taken by the politicians and the senior officials are properly motivated. The lack of a strong antagonist also makes it falter a little towards the end, and there are chances that the viewer will be left scratching their head once the credits roll.
But at no point is it boring. Nayattu pits the fugitives with a head-start against the long arm of the law, and it makes for a very interesting tug-of-war.