Much madness is divinest sense/ to a discerning eye -/ much sense the starkest madness. The protagonist is this movie is a recluse, much like the author of those lines. But unlike her, he's no poet. His words don't rhyme; he often has trouble stringing two sentences together. But he's managed something very few of us do - he's made sense of his world. So what if it involves the throttling of the occasional neck?
Vinod - and this is offered by way of explanation, not as an excuse - is the abandoned son of a sex-worker, who sells him to a construction company. This company is owned by creatures so diabolical they had to be drawn from real life: a woman who works the children half to death in the factory, and a man who makes his way through their sleeping forms every night to pick his 'favorite girl'. Keeping his head down and not drawing undue attention to himself, Vinod plods on like the other children in the factory, till he meets 8-year-old Devi.
He teaches her his little tricks of survival and soon each becomes very precious to the other. So when this light is snuffed out by the prowler at night, Vinod sees his course of action pretty simply. The next morning he and his friends dump their burden of cement tiles, one by one, on the woman in charge, who dies from shock and, of course, the smashing of her skull. Next the children stream into the room of the man, close the door behind them and beat him to death. Then they escape.
The entire story of Nenu is told to you in this matter-of-fact narrative. There are no messy justifications or unnecessary complexities worked into the script. This is a huge relief, and the director earns points not for what he does with Nenu, but for what he refrains from doing. But then, this isn't bold experimental cinema, either. It conforms. It has songs, thrilling fights in the rain and even a campus love story.
Vinod, now all grown up and venturing out of his orphanage for the first time, comes to study in an engineering college in Vizag. And Allari Naresh as Vinod is so far from glamorized, he's repulsive. He receives the traditional college welcome reserved for nerds and other social retards; he's picked on, ridiculed and paraded for a laugh. And the students are mean too. All except one - Divya. She shares her lunch with him, he teaches her maths and thus begins what might have been a beautiful friendship, if it wasn't for all the killing.
Of the murders there are three; one, a guy who tries to rape Divya. Two, a woman who tries to seduce Vinod. And three, a doddering old priest who tries to warn Divya of the degree of her friend's desperation. Of which, by the way, she's blissfully unaware.
And, perhaps because of this, it is a touching bond that develops between the two. They have good chemistry on screen and this doesn't change even after he falls in love with her, realizes she's in love with someone else (Abhishek), kidnaps her and takes her his unsuspecting captive to the middle of a jungle. Here the very nearness of her drives him out of his petrified mind with desire. But she's so totally unaware of the damage she's wrecking, that sometimes you want to knock on the screen and ask her to open her stupid eyes.
But then, she loves him too. Very dearly, only heartbreakingly enough, 'not in that way'. So she has to choose between sanity - her boyfriend, the cops, the rest of the world - and him.
How the writer chooses to resolve this is what scores Nenu top league. And also what made the original Tamil version of this film such a hit the 'masses', as we like to call ourselves. Because our heroes don't always have to be good guys or even sane guys. Just someone whose starkest madness, even for the briefest while, makes perfect sense.