Subtle politics of unravelling secrets: Watching ‘1001 Nunakal’

In his interview with Cue Studio, Malayalam director Thamar K.V. talked of how he was always adamant about making a movie set in the Middle East without compromising on the premise. Premiered at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) last year, ‘1001 Nunakal’ (1001 lies), whollyset in the UAE, is about the lies one weave in every relationship, what ensues when it unravels in a fairly public setting and the anticipation it creates.

Directed by Thamar K.V. and backed by the award-winning producer Salim Ahamed, the movie holds slight resemblances to the format of the 2019 movie ‘Theerppu’ and the Mohanlal starrer ‘12th Man’. Although the similarities end there, ‘1001 Nunakal’ stands out, thanks to the strong characterisation.

Set in the backdrop of normalcy, the movie presents Vishal and Divya opening their home to two couples when a fire breaks out in their apartment. The former, celebrating their ten-year wedding anniversary, has other friends over for a small gathering. Amidst the camaraderie and celebration, a lawyer friend, who gets flak for being the troublemaker, suggests a game where the couples tell each other a secret they’ve kept since the beginning of the relationship.

The pacing of the movie is well-balanced, with the plot twists or, rather, the lies unravelling at perfect intervals. The wonderfully written script guarantees that each character has a unique voice and doesn’t resemble another; this is evident from their different backgrounds down to their accents. A certain diversity, both economic and cultural,usually seen in the Malayali-Middle Eastern circles, are reflected among the characters. The script written by Thamar and Hashim Sulaiman ensures that there is never a dull moment in the slow-burn nature of the movie.

As the game continues, and the couples are compelled to share their secrets, the house help, Indhu, faces her own dilemma of gathering money for her husband. The cinematography by Jithin Stanislaus, with many tight frames where the characters interact in close quarters, forces you to question the closeness of the friendships and the loyalty of the marriages.

And where both the movies like ‘Theerppu’ and ‘12th Man’ fail, ‘1001 Nunakal’ succeeds with its performances. The perfectly cast actors showcase fabulous skills, demanding your attention. The acting prowess of every artist on screen forces you to indulge in the affairs of the movie. Although set mainly at Vishaal and Divya’s house, the movie isn’t monotonous by any means. The subtle background music only helps strengthen the scene and not hinder it.

What makes the movie different and enjoyable is that in times of shows like ‘Made in Heaven’, ‘1001 Nunakal’ doesn’t try to force politics down your throat, instead serves it on a platter and leaves it up to you, the audience, whether or not to consume it. In the subtlety of conveying the themes of trust and the human instinct to lie, the movie’s message only sounds louder.

And though there is a lag in certain places, it doesn’t waver your attention too much. The slow-burn chain of events leads to a climax that is pretty understated yet thought-provoking. The fizzled-outending is the perfect climax to a movie that wants to leave you hopeful. While some might find the less dramatic conclusion unsatisfying, ‘1001 Nunakal’ prompts us to inquire into our own relationships and the lies yet to unravel.

Hiba is a poet and a student of Journalism and Creative Writing.