We learnt from Titanic that a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets. After his National Award winning Thenmerku Paruvakaatru, director Seenu Ramasamy returns with a love story set against the backdrop of a fishing community. Beginning in a present-day small town in Nagapattinam, a son goes to coax his reclusive mother into selling her house and come live with him in the city. We are told the son's fisherman father went into the sea twenty five years ago and never made it out. The mother refuses to move out of the house his husband lived in, protecting her memories and a secret. Soon enough, we have a whodunit on our hands when startling revelations are made. The mother is arrested and gives way for, what else, a flashback.
After getting arrested, Esther (played by the ever-dependable Nandita Das) sensationally confesses to having a committed a murder. The media attention is on her and a female cop with Forest Whitaker's eyes is assigned to interrogate her. Now this lady cop should only concern herself with uncovering the immediate mystery at hand. Instead of trying to know what drove her to take such an extreme step, she listens to Esther tell the story starting at a point which is of absolutely no significance to anyone! It made a little sense when Old Rose told her life's story in Titanic, but this is a frickin' murder investigation. And after around two hours in runtime, the cop finally gets to the question," Okay, but why did you kill him?"
The film consciously addresses two concerns: alcoholism and the general plight of fishermen. While getting political, we are told how under-represented the fishermen have always been. It never once explicitly mentions Sri Lanka for its unacceptable misconduct on the maritime border, but does a lot of finger pointing. It must be commended for tackling such a critical problem with enough subtlety, without ever becoming an "issue" film. There is never a sense of closure and a part of them always wishes for a miracle, and the film really captures the longing faced by families after losing their men to the seas.
Coming to our protagonist Arul's alcohol addiction, even when he was on the bottom-most rung of human dignity, it never felt like it was endgame for him. This lessened the impact of his withdrawal and subsequent rehabilitation. And once he has shunned his demons, the sail is very smooth till the very end. He zooms from zero to hero with no serious obstacles. No, the fight sequences felt very forced.
Couples in Tamil films embrace very awkwardly. They act as if they know there's a camera around and thousands of people will watch them. You know what I mean? There was this realism in Neerparavai as Vishnu and Sunaina don't hold back, keeping such notions in mind. As he playfully teases her, asking for another child, I instantly fell for them and wanted them to be happy. I wanted them to grow old together, all the while knowing what was in store. The feeling got washed away soon enough, when the older Esther appeared. Nandita Das is good, but I wish Sunaina had played that role as well.
One thing which bugged me a lot is how the film makes use of sensationalism to create fake tension. Immediately establishing a 25 year old murder mystery, it piques your attention to keep you interested in its long flashback, only to end things with an anticlimactic whimper. The religious presence is very superficial and reminiscent of Iyarkai. It's as if going to church is what Christians do all the time.
Neerparavai is more or less consistently even. It often reminded me of Sembattai, but is much superior in comparison. It's highs and lows are not easily distinguishable and that keeps our expectations in check. It may have failed to finish things off with an emotional knockout punch but it stays afloat due to its acceptably engaging screenplay. The humor is well infused into the narrative and the most of the actors are pretty decent. It's so-so.