Movie Name: Ninnila Ninnila
Cast: Ashok Selvan, Ritu Varma, Nithya Menen, Nasser
Director: Ani I.V. Sasi
The trailer for Ninnila Ninnila had the vibes of a slow-burn relationship drama. It turns out to be the case, except that this film is also a quasi-food drama. Exotic/gourmet food is the leitmotif the film doesn't shake off. Characters bond over yummy food, which midwives conflict resolution. One of the scenes comes across as a rip-off of a moment from last year's OTT release, Middle Class Melodies (Hint: It has something to do with a father and a son).
Dev (Ashok Selvan, the Tamil actor debuts in Telugu) is in London to welcome a new dawn. He joins an upscale restaurant run by a star chef (Nasser). The initial scenes leave no one in doubt that he has got a painful past. Dev is grappling with muscle spasms - all while sporting a smile on his face. His colleague Tara (Ritu Varma) reluctantly takes interest in him. Slowly, we learn that Maya (Nithya Menen) has a special place in the story.
While he is relegated to doing cleaning work at the workplace, Dev is fine with it. He learns that there is a hierarchy in the kitchen that he has to follow. The scenes between him and Tara can't be categorized as romantic. The characters are mere cogs in the wheel, stumped by the deadlines set by the grumpy chief. As the titles rolled, we saw Dev singing away his loneliness. He is not as empty from the inside as he comes across as. Beneath the no-nonsense persona, there is a hidden genius who sumpgradually defies the playbook that everyone at the restaurant has come to see as the gospel.
Ritu Varma, whose complex performance in last year's Kanulu Kanulanu Dochayante was enjoyable, puts in a subtle performance here. She may sound insensitive when she asks Dev about the rare medical condition, but her character otherwise exudes warmth.
Nasser plays the subtly agonized old man with dignity. The scenes involving him in the first half brim with mild tension. But when this one of the best chefs gets easily upstaged by the greenhorn Dev, it all looks simplistic.
The second half is where the drama stops drawing the viewer into its world. The film's self-image seems to be that it's a magical drama and the audience will buy into the characters whenever they are entranced by their lip-smacking world, which is replete with food, food and more food. That's not the case, though.
Nithya Menen's character leads to an idiosyncrasy that gets resolved just like that. The film doesn't attempt to take itself too seriously and wants us to revel in gold-crusted fish and Turkish chicken and a dozen other foods. The characters find redemption in food. But since it's all 'maya' for the audience, we have no such luck.