The slow-burner indie drama leans on a few familiar plot devices but offers a fresh perspective on marriages through a new lens
Story: When an apartment building in the Middle East is destroyed in a fire, a few Malayali expats take sanctuary in their affluent friends’ sprawling mansion. With the hosts organising their 10th wedding anniversary party around the same time, more friends visit the mansion. Over the course of the function, one of the guests suggests a game where the couples confess their biggest secrets to their spouses. As one would expect, things quickly spiral out of control.
Review: Films set in a single setting often require a near-perfect screenplay to reel in the audience to be invested in the story from start to finish. Director Thamar K.V., on his feature film directorial debut, has delivered a compelling tale that explores the bedrock of Malayali marriages. The narrative weaves through relatable issues involving married couples — without exasperating the audience with an overindulgence exposition. It is an impressive effort from the writers considering the narrative rests heavily on dialogue between its vast ensemble. Each character is unique and pivotal to the overarching plot. There is a good mix of characters including a young progressive couple, an older conservative couple, an interfaith couple, and couples from various faiths.
Unlike most representations of marriages in Malayalam cinema, the film has veered into something closer to an authentic reflection of contemporary society. Of course, films since the 2010s have attempted to rectify flawed representations of marriages, while some have succeeded, others have fallen short. 1001 Nunakal has gone one step further by exploring Kerala’s vastly diverse society. And to the film’s credit, it has succeeded in doing the same through a captivating tale. While the shortcomings of being an indie project are evident at times, the film manages to overcome them with clever editing and camera work.
Sudheesh Scaria, who plays the role of a divorce lawyer, is essentially the unwitting manipulator of the game that spirals out of control. The game does begin with the youngest couple who each reveal relatively innocent secrets or lies about themselves. But as the other couples, the ones who have been married for a more extended period, begin to reveal their secrets, the game takes a more unrestrained turn. It signifies how secrets or lies carry more weight over time. The film also focuses on the maid of the household, Indu, played by Remya Suresh, whose loyalty to her employers is tested when she is forced to choose between her abusive husband and her kind employers. Through Indu, the narrative also highlights the plight of underprivileged women who are forced to conform to archaic societal norms.
Another interesting dynamic is the ideological conflict between the progressive newlywed Aleena (Vidhya Vijayakumar) and the conservative Salma (Shamla Hamza). They represent the tug-of-war between the old and the new in contemporary society, and the narrative does not take a neutral stance on the debate. The entire film navigates through the various issues that affect marriages across demographics. While the story does remain mostly grounded, it is guilty at times of elevating the melodrama ever so slightly.
Verdict: 1001 Nunakal is a taut drama that places Malayali marriages under the microscope. The slow-burner indie film leans on a few familiar plot devices but offers a fresh perspective on the subject through a unique lens.