Yavarum Nalam

Synopsis: Madhavan plays an active middle class Indian who moves into a new apartment – 13B on the 13th floor with his family. Right from the very first day they stay there, the women folk in the house are hooked on to a new TV show. The show is about a family eerily similar to theirs and according to the story in the serial that family had also moved into a new house.

As the TV show unfolds, all the incidents that happen in the show start happening to Madhavan and his family. Initially, a number of happy events take place and a lot of good things happen, both in the show and with Madhavan’s family. Then things take a sharp turn for the worse and shocking incidents start happening in the TV show… Will the same happen to Madhavan and his family? Will be able to solve the mystery in time before it consumes him and his entire family?
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Yavarum Nalam 6.75

eyelights: the film’s “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” quality.
eyesores: the irrational behaviour of the characters.

So far, I can’t say that I’m a fan of Bollywood films. It doesn’t mean that I dislike all Indian films, of course, but I’m really not enjoying these musical/comedy/romance/drama/action/whatever hybrids one bit.

For starters, they’re musicals. And musicals make me want to peel my eyelids with a cheese grater. Secondly, they’re so all-over-the-map that it’s like letting a sugared-up toddler loose with paste, scissors and paint – it’s an out-of-control mess.

But when I discovered that ‘Yavarum Nalam’ was also a horror movie, I decided to take the plunge. It is, after all, the blog’s Hallowe’en fest (full disclosure: I also figured that it would likely be one of the only ways I could get my partner to watch something more-or-less spooky)

Turns out that I was genuinely surprised by the quality of this picture: the acting is relatively solid in most cases, the production was decent for what it is, and the dialogues felt natural, real – at least at first, before the characters all became dunderheads.

The exchanges made me think of how people are in groups: talking quickly, over each other, in short bursts. I like that; I like it true-to-life. The downside  is that, since the actors fired off their lines at light speed, it made reading the subtitles a veritable challenge – we had to be on our toes for this one.

I was also pleased by the fact that there aren’t a lot of musical numbers in ‘Yavarum Nalam’ (which, translated, means “Everyone is Well”. However, it is known to Anglophone audiences as ’13B: Fear Has a New Address’). And thank goodness for that – the last thing you need is a serial killer doing a jig. Although… I might pay to see that. Kidding.

There are only two numbers, plus a closing music video. The first one was inserted in lieu of a love-making sequence. It was funny because it ended with a freeze-frame of water droplets tumbling down over the woman before wrapping up the music video with the couple in each other’s arms. Snicker, snicker… I guess that one might consider subtle erotic symbolism.

The second isn’t even worth mentioning, but the end credits music video for “Oh Sexy Mama” was notable for actually being more titillating than the “lovemaking” sequence – in a Britney Spears kind of way. Actually, I sort of enjoyed that video (the sexy, half-undressed dancers probably helped), even though its inane lyrics were repeated tirelessly by the lip-synchers. We giggled as we watched.

‘Yavarum Nalam’ produced a lot of unintentional laughs along the way. In trying to be eerie or thrilling, the filmmakers frequently went the theatrical route and produced results that were quite funny. It all started with the milk going sour every day, which was peculiar enough, followed by Manohar’s phone taking distorted pictures of him – but no one else.

Then everyone began to have difficulties with the prayer room, being unable to hang their pictures on the wall. It also started giving people inexplicable shocks that hurt or propelled them across the room. And yet no one tried to do anything about it. Then the television acted up and no one really questioned it – they simply accepted that they could only watch the one show at 13h00.

In fact, that part is so ridiculous that it’s impossible to take seriously. Obviously, no one in that household is a trouble-shooter: they couldn’t change channels, but they didn’t try unplugging the cable, the power, …etc., to see what would happen. And the notion that only Manohar (the greatest cookie of all time!) realizes that the story being told on the show is a carbon copy of what takes place in the house, and predicts future events, is patently absurd.

I mean, are they all idiots in that house?

It could very well be: as the film carries on, the characters’ behaviour unravels gradually – for no other reason than because they were poorly written. For instance, when Manohar sees himself carrying a sledgehammer on the television, he begins to believe that he is losing his mind and has been the killer all along.

So what does he do? He asks his friend and his doctor to kill him.

No, he doesn’t ask them to restrain or seclude him first. He ask them to kill him.

That type of unfathomable hysterics or the cartoonish delivery of the actor playing the mentally handicapped Senthil had us in stitches. I have no idea if this was the filmmakers’ intention but they turned what could have been a relatively spooky ghost story into a campy affair.

Thankfully, the zeal with which it was put together by everyone involved actually made it fun, instead of deeply frustrating. Still, a horror movie is not a horror movie when you’re laughing at it, really – the whole point usually is to tap into people’s deep-seated fears for ninety minutes.

But that’s impossible if they’re not taking you seriously.

And it’s impossible to take you seriously when you keep showing props that are shaped like the letter “B”, as though we were watching a demented Sesame Street sketch: “Look! the trail of blood is shaped like a “B”! B: Blood. Look! the jungle gym is shaped like the letter “B”! B: Bars. Look! The….”

I have no idea if the letter “B” is supposed to look like a smooshed number “13” in these situations, or if it’s simply an exceptionally weak reference to the family’s home address, which is 13B. Or maybe it has some cultural significance that I didn’t get. But, either way, it was pretty hokey.

But it had us chuckling, and that made it okay. I mean, you have to love it when someone’s trying really hard to be obvious with their symbolism, and end up doing the opposite: we had absolutely no idea how this tied in with anything else in the movie. What was it supposed hint at or convey?

And that was another problem with ‘Yavarum Nalam’: nothing tied together. Why did the milk go sour? Why did the camera take funny pictures of only one person? Why did the elevator not work… for only one person? Why was the prayer room being so difficult? Why did the TV serve up a carbon-copy of the current family’s life instead of replaying the life of the family that was murdered? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Who knows?

What I do know is that I actually would watch ‘Yavarum Nalam’ again. It was complete, utter cheese, but I got some good laughs out of it, and it had a small share of eerieness as well. I may not watch the whole thing in one sitting, however, given its length (2h20m!!!) – but, in the right company and with loads yummy snacks (as well as plenty of fresh milk), it could make for an enjoyable time-killer on a dreadfully boring Sunday afternoon.

Story: 6.0
Acting: 7.0
Production: 6.5

Chills: 6.5
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 3.0

Date of viewing: October 10, 2012

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