With still half an hour to enter the cinema hall, I sat in a little restaurant nearby with a drink, a book, but with wandering thoughts. I was going to watch Naan Kadavul, and I saw cinema patrons, Indians, and many of them women and children.
Whoa! Because I heard from many that this film is not suitable for children and the soft hearted. Alright, I thought, you people asked for it.
Of course, idiot that I am, these folks are there for the special Valentine’s Day’s screening of Varanam Ayiram. There were hardly more than 10 people for the 9pm screening of Nan Kadavul that I attended on Friday the 13th, 2009. I hope this will not be the case with the screening of this film in other cinema halls.
This is director Bala’s fourth film in almost ten years, and I have not fully seen Sethu or Nandha. I liked Pithamagan, but was not impressed with Vikram’s Zombie-esque stunts. Of course, who gives a shit on what I think, since Vikram won National Award for best actor. The award committees are sucker for those kind of stunts and gimmicks; they gave Kamal best actor award for a performance that can hardly be seen, blocked by layers of latex. In their entire history the Indian film National Award committee (then known as Bharath award) it never awarded Sivaji Ganesan for best acting performance. Yeah, the award committee is goofy that way.
Anyway, the film opens with a middle aged guy and his daughters trek in the wilderness of spiritual Kasi in search of his son whom he had given away to an Ashram due to astrological reason (“there were many deaths and my business flopped”, he said, which apparently happens to anyone, me thinks).
Soon, he, and we, find out that the song, Rudhran has joined a band of hardcore, fist-in-your face band of swami’s, the Aghoris, doing headstand yoga, meditation, prayers and being basically mean, irreverent, and smoking grass. I have no knowledge of the Aghoris, and the film does a bit of explanation of who these people are. At the end they are basically folks who think that they are the special, chosen one, with the ability to grant Moksha (freedom from rebirth) and even to take away life. Of course, that is a simplistic understanding, there is more to that, as I would discover later in my quick research on Aghoris.
Rudhran is later convinced to follow his dad back home to meet his mom, but he remains who he is, never missing the meditation, the headstand yoga and the drugs. While he is there worrying his mom, mystifying the neighbours, pissing off a local cop, and basically got us in awe (Arya is awesome), we get to see another rag-tag band of folks which will make you sink in your chair out of emotional disturbance.
Yes, these are group of beggars under the payroll of a local mafia, Thandavam, who runs the outfit without remorse, regret or any show of humanity. The beggars are all disabled people. Mind you, they are not actors trying to be disabled, these are real people with physical deformities and the film does no shy away from showing them the way they are. And that they were treated like commodities in the first scene will really knock your souls out. Very, very disturbing. It will make you angry, sad, and question your own moral standing.
Right after the patronising Pitchai Pathiram song which shows them making livelihood being exploited by Thandavam, we are immediately thrown into their world and that is where the fun begins.
You heard me right – fun. Bala did the right thing by showing how much these people have adapted the life and learned to have fun with it. They are colourful, witty, funny, and knows how to appreciate life better than, say, the miserable keyboard tapping, internet lurking, freedom speech giving, armchair anti-establishmentarians like some of us.
The camaraderie among them is wonderfully brought to the screen by director Bala. These are truly talented actors, and I am sure Bala took the pain to screen thousands of physically disabled people to bring the best in front of the camera. And it works. I especially adored the midget who has the best lines in the whole movie. His cackling laugh still rings in my mind.
Their scenes together are the best in this film, so much so that you want it to go on. Of course it won’t, because Pooja enters.
She plays a blind orphan, part of a cinema mimicry troupe, and she does the singing part. Made to look ordinary, dark skinned and with white lenses for her iris, Pooja is Bala in the background here. She is the main subject of this film as we discover later, and that is where I began to lose interest.
I mean, if it was about one of the real disabled people in the film I would have been rooting, roaring out loud and literally squirming my seat. But blind damsel in distress, who is clearly physically more beautiful than any of her cast members here, is part of cinematic cliché of past. Pooja is the Fay Wray or Tanya Roberts of a likewise honest, fun, down to earth, serious film. She takes away the fun in funny, and removes the iron in irony…if this makes sense to you.
Plight of beggars traded like an ordinary business transaction and the one man who can sort things out makes Nan Kadavul a bit of a superhero film. But mind you, Arya’s Rudhran is neither a typical superhero, nor is he a reluctant hero. He is a creature that has existed in many myths all around the world ( Joseph Campbell) – a man sent to save mankind, a man send clean us all of our sins, a man sent to rid of evil in this world. Rudhran can see evil and if he sees that in you , you better have a getaway car ready, coz he’s gonna make a meatball out of you.
Rudhran, in short, is an extended version of Deus Ex Machina with a back story. He appears conveniently in what the director wants to be the most needful moment in the film (when the other disabled folks gets snatched, nobody gives a shit, but when Pooja crawls over to him for help, well). He brushes with the law but loophole and his own displaced attitude get him scott free from the crime he committed, and I say “crime” by common law definition – your moral stand is at your own discretion.
My grouses aside, this film is an intellect’s dream. And imagine how much it aches a semi-intellect amateur critic like me. My brain was whirring and clicking (it’s still analogue, you see) throughout the film. You have issues dealing with parenthood, religion, spirituality, stand on rationale thinking, the morality on trades of any kind, modern day slavery, human trafficking and euthanasia, among others.
It’s a hard film to watch, if you have no grouses like I did with Pooja’s character. It’s a difficult film to digest, if you are emotionally disturbed with the disabled folks in it. It’s a complex film to dissect if you look at the amount of issues that cropped up with a story like that. In short, this is not the kind of film you are going to see that often in Tamizh film industry.
Most of the credit goes to Bala. This is certainly a better film than Pithamagan. It has well timed humour, balanced pathos, conscience triggering moments and, from artistic point of view, a well rounded performance for all worked in front of and behind the camera.
The cinematography is apt, Ilayaraja did not disappoint with his soul stirring background score, and the actors are great. They are such a find. All of them. A surprise was a comedian who appears as one of the group in many Vadiveloo comedy sketches, Krishnamoorthy, who gave a sterling performance as sympathetic caretaker of the beggars. I wish there were more scenes of him and his beggars, they really stole the show.
Pooja will definitely get lots of awards, that’s for sure. But she did not bring anything additional to the role. Arya, of course, is stunning. He has great presence, wonderful body language that defines his character (he speaks very, very little) and is a hope as far as upcoming great actors are concerned.
Add this one to the Tamil film industry’s cinematic milestone. Nan Kadavul is here to stay with us for a long time.