In continuation with the Thank God It Is “Thuesday” theme, another new release has trickled onto the OTT giant Netflix. And with that I finished watching the new Tamil film Natchathiram Nagargiradhu streaming on Netflix which is directed by PA Ranjith. Now if you are aware with the recent filmography of PA Ranjith then he seems to be inclined towards exploring complex themes and dynamics. The drama might be simple from the outset on the top layer but its underlying layers often tackle issues which are complex by addressing the politics behind it. Not many filmmakers have the acquired skills of weaving a compelling and thought provoking drama which may seem to be much deeper than what it was perceived to be initially.
So PA Ranjith’s previous two works Sarapata Parambarai and a story in the anthology Victim has deeper themes in the name of a sports drama and a story of a labourer in a farm respectively. So his newest directorial outing Natchathiram Nagargiradhu did promise to be nothing short of a roller coaster. This was again one of those films which I missed watching theatrically and then had to wait for about a month for its OTT release. Now that I have finished watching Natchathiram Nagargiradhu, here are my two cents on it.
Story & Screenplay
Natchathiram Nagargiradhu follows the story of a bunch of artists, a part of a theatre group who explore various themes of love and the prejudices of the society surrounding it. The story itself is abstract and complex given the emotion which it is dealing with. Love is such a complex emotion in many ways where there are layers of judgement, politics and prejudices which are engrained within us, some by the society and the surroundings. And the same is tackled in a thought provoking screenplay which stands at almost 170 minutes. In my review of Cobra, I had mentioned how a long screenplay does seem daunting in many ways. But here it just passes off like a breeze! And this review will have spoilers with underlying explanations, so viewers discretion is advised.
The drama opens with a man and a woman in bed who seem to have a routine conversation about Love which eventually spans to their individual preferences in the field of music(Read : Ilayaraja). But in this conversation, there is a racist slur which is mouthed by the man which is when you realise that the woman is from a lower caste. The scene ends with a verbal fight but it sets the ball rolling for the theme of the film. The story is not specifically about them but much broader.
Soon you are introduced to the protagonists, all who are a part of the theatrical group. Theatre as a medium is neutral and liberal and a perfect platform on which there are several questions asked in the film. The members of the group range from a male chuvanist, an LGBTQ couple, a transgender woman and members of the lower caste. Yet, the one thing common between them is love. But things aren’t that simple either. Love as an emotion which is explored through these characters is different for each individual.
The politics behind the emotion is perfectly showcased in a thought provoking scene wherein all the artists sit in a circle to discuss the theme for their play. One of the characters dismisses the emotion of lust(a by product of love). But that same character asks for a selfie from his partner often. Yet time and again, the discussion brings to the conclusion that Love is often dictated by the politics of the society.
The idea of a play within the movie is a genius idea as it allows the audience to be a quieter by-stander in the various discussions by the artists. The measure of an emotion like love is equated by the fact that how willing are you to look past the flaws of an individual. And that is often based on either our past experiences or even in a way a caste of a person. While one of the characters, after a breakup with his colleague finds solace in someone else yet doesn’t look yo amend things with his ex partner, his ex-partner is willing to give another character an additional chance after an assault, this when that character is truely sorry. She cites it by saying that as long as that character is willing to improve, she is okay with it. This might seem trivial but her background of being a Dalit and years of being looked down upon, does make her more empathetic towards others.
In a totally different scene, a character from the upper caste wants marry the character who is a Dalit. This until all hell breaks loose at his place referencing to the fact that even prejucides surrounding love are passed through generations. Things work out eventually owing to the ailing grandma who is hell bent on not making her grandson go through the pain and sacrifice which she had been through. This again is a mindset with free flowing discussions doing the rounds.
The proceedings are interesting and extremely immersive and cerebral. The discussions are neutral. The final act is again a brilliant metaphor. While there are political clashes in the name of love, signified in the movie by a person from the rival theatre group, love will survive by togetherness and universal brotherhood, represented by all the members of the theatre group. Each one was ousted individually but on combining forces, they did overcome the challenge. Which brings me to the final scene – the one with the shooting stars(literally translated to Natchathiram Nagargiradhu) which is a metaphor for hope. Every time, we see a shooting star we do wish for something(which is a ritual). So some part of it(actually all of it) is hope which also is a form of love. Such a brilliant screenplay which makes you want to ponder over it. Yet, it also expands your horizons towards accepting the emotion globally even with its flaws!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are rich in content(the nature of the drama is conversational) and the lines make an instant impact. Some beautiful gems are hidden and waiting to be discovered. This might be niche considering the format but it is so effective that you wish to continue to dwell on it. The music is outstanding and goes perfectly with the mood of the drama. The cinematography and editing are top notch with the BGM doing its bit in enhancing so many scenes and sequences. Director PA Ranjith has done a phenomenal job in putting his thoughts all across the drawing board in a wonderfully woven drama. His direction is top notch and he gives the viewer a glimpse into his creative mind. He is a master of abstract themes and he absolutely hits it out of the park here.
The performances are top notch here. Sherin Celin Mathew as Sylvia is excellent and it broke my heart when I got to know that she is no more. Vinsu Rachel Sam as Roshini looks pretty and has her moments to shine. Dharani Selvam, Gnanaprasad as Ayya Durai, Shabeer Kallarakal aa Sagas, Regin Rose as Subeer and Arjun as Praveen are first rate. Manisa Tait as Madeline has a stunning screen presence and does a fabulous job. Hari Krishnan Anbudurai as Yashvandhiran is outstanding and definitely makes his presence felt.
Kalidas Jayaram as Iniyan is brilliant and there are so many layers to his character which are complex and conflicted, and expertly portrayed by him. Kalaiyarasan as Arjun has a beautiful character arc, the changes in his persona was depicted through his theatre life which was so wonderful to watch. Cinema and theatre has also taught me a lot and that is where I did find the character slightly relatable. And he does an astounding job. Dushara Vijayan as Rene is the best written character and she is stupendous to say the least. There are so many shades to her character and to more you dwell, the more you will discover about her. And every emotion was just so brilliantly portrayed!
Natchathiram Nagargiradhu is a trippy concoction of love, theatre and politics making it one of the finest films of the year. Available on Netflix and Highly Highly Highly Recommended.