Review: 1001 Nunakal is an engaging chamber drama that lacks mastery over the content

Though the film wants to be as sharp as a scalpel in dissecting the intricacies of married relationships in our contemporary society, it falls short and fails to deliver the sharpness and depth it aims for.

1001 Nunakal

At times, those who lie to their partners support their dishonesty by arguing that it was done with the intent of protecting the person’s feelings and maintaining harmony in the partnership. Such individuals are often seized with the belief that sometimes revealing the truth might cause unnecessary pain and damage the emotional bond between partners. Such moral quandaries are the spine on which the premise of the Malayalam film Aayirathonnu Nunakal (1001 Lies) is structured and explores these aspects surrounding lies and secrets to raise potent questions about the sacrifice of truth involved in forging and sustaining relationships. While some of the scenes in the films merit our engagement, they lack a cohesive narrative and fail to effectively tie together their exploration of ethical conundrums. Though the film wants to be as sharp as a scalpel in dissecting the intricacies of married relationships in our contemporary society, it falls short and fails to deliver the sharpness and depth it aims for.

The story of the film is set in the UAE and the dramatic events unfold in an evening when friends, who depend on each other during crises, gather for a celebration. A fire breaks out in the apartment building. As a result, Salma (Shamla Hamza) and Mujeeb (Sajin Ali), as well as Sowmya (Anusha Shyam) and Rajesh (Sudeep Koshy), who were staying in the now burned-down structure, temporarily relocated themselves to the spacious house of their friend Divya (Ninin Kassim) and Vinay (Vishnu Agasthya’s). While having dinner, it is revealed that next Vinay and Divya will complete their 10th wedding anniversary. The group of friends plan to celebrate it together with a common acquaintance. Bency (Rashmi K Nair) and Elwin (Sooraj K Nambiar), Alina (Vidhya Vijaykumar), and Joffy (Noufal Rahman), as well as their lawyer friend, aka Vakeel (Sudheesh Scaria), drop in. To add some zing to the night, Vakeel comes up with a plan and they unanimously agree to play a game in which each individual will tell a lie that they have concealed from their partner for a long time. Though the game begins with cheerful disposition, it quickly takes a dark turn as the disclosures become more serious. Some revelations strengthen particular relationships, while others sever them. The situation intensifies to the point where the group starts to harbor suspicions of one another. Tensions rise as secrets begin to unravel, exposing the fragile facade of seemingly perfect relationships.

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Throughout the film, fire is used as a symbol of trust and the willingness to believe in one’s partner, mirroring the tumultuous nature of the characters’ emotions and a metaphor for the potential consequences of misplaced trust, adding an extra layer of tension to the storyline. It is the breaking of the fire that brings the friends together and sets up the plot of the film. Secondly, the fire in the barbecue grill highlights the characters’ moral quandary and underscores the complex dynamics of their relationships as they navigate the blurred lines between loyalty and betrayal, representing not only trust but also the transformative nature of forgiveness and redemption. 

The film vividly depicts the structures of class and the power that comes with it in a way that is depicted with complexity and falling into the traps of being didactic. This subtle approach becomes evident in the scene where Vinay and Divya annul the suspicion theories postulated by their friends and accuse the housemaid of theft. However, the host couple remain unwavering in their support for her. Moreover, the young and progressive couple in the group, Joshy and Aleena, represent a more modern perspective on marriage and the place of women in families. The youthful Aleena examines gender equality, rejects the idea that women should not be viewed as victims, and pushes for women to exercise their right to divorce more aggressively. Salma and Soumya, who defend the institution of marriage as conventional, obligatory, and enduring, do not agree with such viewpoints. Such contrasting viewpoints highlight how women from different strata of our society have diverse opinions on the topic of divorce and marriage. Some women embrace the freedom and empowerment that divorce brings, while others prioritize the stability and commitment of marriage, even if they have to endure humiliation. The climax of the film becomes a testimony to this attitude.

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The screenplay by Thamar K.V. and Hashim Sulaiman is carefully crafted and weaves together complex storylines and explores the depths of human emotions, providing thought-provoking dialogue and well-developed characters. From beginning to end, the script keeps an uninterrupted flow, carefully avoiding any unneeded detours or meandering. The film delves into themes of betrayal, infidelity, and moral dilemmas, forcing its characters to confront their own actions and the consequences they bring. However, despite its promising premise, the execution lacks the necessary nuance and emotional resonance to truly captivate audiences. 

Despite the skillfully composed frames by cinematographer Jithin Stansilaus, the lack of directorial finesse in framing from as well as staging the events prevents us from fully immersing ourselves in the characters’ woes and sufferings. The absence of strong authorial command over the material hampers our ability to connect with the story and its characters on a deeper level. As a result, the pace created by the editor Nishad Yusuf struggles to find a rhythm, thereby undermining the tension and impact of crucial moments in the film. It leaves us feeling disconnected from the story. Neha Nair and Yakzan’s compositions enhance the emotional depth of each scene, creating a captivating and immersive cinematic experience for the audience.

Each member of the ensemble cast brings a unique perspective and skill set to their character, creating a dynamic and believable portrayal of the story. Their on screen chemistry enhances the overall impact of the film and their ability to seamlessly connect with each other makes it even more compelling. Their dedication and passion for their craft shine through in every scene, leaving a lasting impression on viewers. While the film has its flaws, it still manages to deliver heartfelt performances and a thought-provoking tale that will leave audiences contemplating long after the credits roll. Aayirathonnu Nunakal showcases Thamar K.V.’s potential as a filmmaker and leaves room for growth in future projects.

1001 Nunakal
Review: 1001 Nunakal is an engaging chamber drama that lacks mastery over the content

Dipankar Sarkar

Dipankar Sarkar is a film critic, regularly contributing reviews, interviews, and essays to various publications all over the world like and He was one of the panelists for the selection of world cinema at the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala in 2022. He is a Research Fellowship from the NFAI, Pune India. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.


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