It is perhaps fair to say that director Alphonse Putharen's boldest and most inspired move in "Neram" is to immediately quash any misconceptions and pretentions about the film.
A quote from Quentin Tarantino (the man who gave us the "original" Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) that reads "I steal from every movie ever made!" is flashed on the screen even before the credits start rolling. Though (most probably) meant in jest, there is also a sense that this disclaimer could be construed as an insurance policy for the makers, should they be met with cries of "plagiarism" and "copy cats".
Indeed, true to its word, Neram follows a long list of recent films in which all the events take place within a particular time period in a single day. Much like the recently released Aaranya Kandam, Chennaiyil Oru Naal and Soodhu Kavum, the film spawns several different characters and narratives that intersect and diverge during crucial plot points. Keeping with the title, the film wastes no time in getting straight to the point. A lengthy opening monologue explains that time is the only thing that is constant; and that good times will inevitably be followed by bad times, and vice versa.
If Aaranya Kaandam was about the characters' yearning for power and control over the course of the day and Chennaiyil Oru Naal was a run of the mill race against time episode; Neram is more of an antithesis to the above two. A quick Wiki search would tell you that the film is a "romantic comedy action thriller film". It is exactly that.
The tone of the film is considerably lighter when compared to its more serious counterparts, opting for a more youthful and energetic appeal.
That, for the most part, is where Neram scores. The film doesn't take itself seriously and the few times it does, it lags. It takes a while to get going, but once the premise is established and all the characters are completely drawn up, Neram makes for an engaging viewing.
At a time when Kollywood is laden with clichés and on the verge of frustrating cinema goers with convoluted tales of righteousness, justice, larger than life heroes and corrupt politicians; it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Alphonse Putharen lampoon the very same stereotypes that he enforces. Rajesh Murugan's (now raging) Pistah song, for example, makes sardonic references to the film's "main villain", "tall villain", "short villain", "white villain" and "black villain". Be it the traditional boy next door hero, the soft spoken (if not shy) heroine, the "evil" father-in-law, the English speaking flirt, the lax Sub-Inspector or the all-powerful don of the city; apt characterizations are a major plus for this film that is laden with newcomers and first timers.
Debutants Nivin and Nazriya have done their jobs well, while veteran Nasser's rendition of spoken English is a scream during his 30-minute cameo.
Deft cinematography from Anand Chandran and slick editing from Putharen himself keeps the transition between the different narratives classy and eventful, always switching tracks whenever the film is on the cusp of entering melodramatic territory.
Of course, that being said, while it will obviously be passed off as an homage to the Guy Ritchie school of film making, one does hope that film makers curtail their use of stylized slow motion shots. What started off as a savvy way of showing Sherlock Holmes boxing, has now given directors the license to shoot everything ranging from walking and running to thinking and speaking, in slow motion. It may be tried and tested, but it doesn't work. For a film that stresses a lot of importance on time, one does wonder how much could've been saved by the characters had they (mostly) walked at a normal pace.
But that is but a small glitch, in what is otherwise a rather neat and intriguing film.
Neram is entertaining, eventful, wicked and silently (if not obviously) funny. The film is hardly a path breaking trendsetter that people expect it to be and to be fair, the film doesn't pretend to be one either.
What it is however, is good, mature and engaging cinema. A rarity these days.
These are good times for Kollywood.
Verdict : One for the times.