Nibunan: A gritty whodunit that tapers off towards the end

One of the earliest shots in Nibunan is of the Indian flag. I understood it as something of a tribute to Arjun. The film is his 150th, and his tireless efforts in his films towards the protection of our country are all too well-known. In Arun Vaidyanathan’s Nibunan though, he has to settle for something less grander in scope, less patriotic. He has to track down a serial killer, who reminds detective Vandhana (Varalaxmi) of the famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Jack was known to mutilate his victims after killing them. The serial killer in Nibunan too does something similar: he likes to shoot them after killing them through hanging. He also likes to leave behind clues about his next victim, and even the date in which he plans to execute them. The policeman tasked with nabbing the killer is DGP Ranjith (Arjun), who is so consumed by his job that he sometimes spots crimes even when there are none, like in an innocuous painting by his wife (Sruthi Hariharan). He’s almost Holmesian in how he observes the minutiae. When Vandhana wears new earrings, he notices. When his brother lies about his girlfriend, he knows. I wish this aspect of his character were better utilised in the film.

Nibunan
Director: Arun Vaidyanathan
Cast: Arjun, Prasanna, Varalaxmi, Vaibhav 

Nibunan’s a whodunit, and a film generally loyal to its genre. It ticks off most elements usually associated with the genre. It’s a landmark case for the protagonist (his 100th). There are red herrings, chiefly caused by some of the clever casting. With actors like Prasanna, Varalaxmi, Vaibhav, Suman and Suhasini all playing decent parts, you’re constantly trying to guess if it’s possible that one of them is the killer, as is usually the case. And in these stories, the hero usually has to fight a debilitating weakness. Here, it’s an early onset of Parkinson’s. In a poignant scene, Ranjith and his wife, who have just learned the shattering diagnosis, see an old man with advanced Parkinson’s being tended to by his wife. The otherwise steely Ranjith, in a moment of vulnerability, clasps his wife’s hand. It’s a touching moment. Another is when Ranjith talks about the murder of his father, and explains why he wanted to become a policeman. I liked that he is driven to solve crimes because the one that happened to his father went unsolved.

The problem though isn’t really Ranjith. It’s the serial killer, and his motivation. It’s just not intriguing enough. While I liked what they’ve done with the casting, the final reveal and what ensues is all rather underwhelming. A film like Seven attained cult status largely on account of the serial killer’s fascinating conceit. In comparison, Nibunan’s killer and his theatrics just come across as juvenile and even a bit annoying. He tries to be menacing, but simply ends up being a bit of a madman. It really leaves a sour aftertaste.

I also had a problem with the flashback that’s clearly inspired by the Noida double murder case. At one point, Ranjith, investigating the murders of the 14-year-old and the house help, tells the parents that their sexual activity seemed consensual. But when it’s a minor involved, does consent matter? For a film that clearly takes pride in its attention to detail, this came across as a, er, minor bother.

 Ultimately, if it is true that films about serial killers are only as intriguing as their serial killers, then Nibunan isn’t particularly exciting. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t work for the most part.

This review was written for The New Indian Express.  All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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