“We send him to college to study,” says Steve Lopez’s mother. Being wife to an influential high-ranking police officer, she understands the gravity of the situation her son, a young and carefree college student, has just stepped into. What had started out as a regular day for Steve (Farhaan Faasil), with him leaving home for college and waiting for his girlfriend, had turned into one he would never forget when he witnesses a gang fight and saves the life of one of the victims. “Isn’t all this also a learning?” Freddy (Anil Nedumangad), Steve’s uncle asks in reply to the mother’s statement. “What is the point of educating people who have no conscience?” This line is said in passing in Rajeev Ravi’s Njan Steve Lopez. It comes from someone who is an alcoholic and seemingly does nothing useful with his life. But just as in real life, the moment passes, the dialogue does not echo and none of the characters hit upon a life-changing revelation. That is Njan Steve Lopez for you. Simple, realistic and unassumingly beautiful.
Steve Lopez could be any teenager you may have come across. A slacker, he spends his time WhatsApping his girlfriend Anjali (Ahaana) and drinking with his friends. This, until Steve’s notions of right and wrong are challenged the day he sees death in close quarters. He does what he thinks is rightfully expected of him, but the reactions of those around him confuse Steve. He gets drawn deep into a world unknown to him and ends up not knowing whose side he is on. Steve soon realises that his idea of the world and his understanding of the people inhabiting it is too straight. Too black and white. The film introduces us to the underbelly of the goonda-police nexus, which, like the proverbial elephant in the room, is known, yet never discussed, and is accepted and brushed away without any questions asked. It tells the story of Steve’s exploration of the grey and what his quest for answers leads him to.
Set in the capital city of Kerala, Njan Steve Lopez is that rare gem that portrays life as it is on screen. Backed with a strong screenplay and a completely fresh cast who, except for the lead pair, come from a theatre background, the film does not feel acted in. As was in Rajeev Ravi’s directorial debut Annayum Rasoolum, the dialogues in this film (credited to Santosh Echikaanam, Geetu Mohandas and Rajesh Ravi), too, are crisp and spoken as if in real life. There are long silences that are left undisturbed and sometimes fed on by soulful music. There is no cinematic acting, not an eyebrow raised a bit too high or a line said a bit too loud. The locations shown look lived in, the music (by Shahabas Aman) is organic and the cinematography (by Pappu) fuss-free.
Njan Steve Lopez brings to us a slew of characters we can easily relate to and places them in a way as to let the story unfold on its own. The beauty of this film lies in its sheer simplicity and Ravi’s brilliance as a filmmaker is comes through from the genuine performances he extracts from almost every member of the cast. However, a more equipped, flexible and sensitive lead actor could have taken Steve Lopez to yet another level making it a perfect cinematic experience.