Sunday, 25 December 2011
Nayakan (Nayagan) 
Mani Ratnam has often been referred to as a ‘popcorn auteur’, and Nayakan, regarded by most as his best work, provides a great elucidation of that. He infused elements of both arthouse and mainstream in it, thus making it appear as a highbrow film from a popular standpoint. This is a tale of how Velu, a young Tamilian boy, goes on to become a powerful gangster and a ‘Robin Hood’ figure for poor slum-dwellers in the city of Bombay. Kamal Hasan provided a superb and layered performance as the mobster with a heart – especially in his seamless portrayal of Velu’s journey from an idealistic young man to an all-powerful patriarch via personal tragedies. But the movie doesn’t seem to have aged very well. Further, it provided enough moments of déjà vu for someone like me who has watched Coppola’s Godfather trilogy. Though based on the real-life story of Varadarajan Mudaliar, the number of sequences and themes ‘inspired’ from each of the three Godfather films made it seem like a compressed and Indianized version of the Corleone-saga. It suffers from a few more pitfalls as well – poorly developed characters apart from that of the protagonist, incoherence and abruptness in some of the plot developments (as in the police officer who’s chasing Velu with such fury as to make one wonder if there’s some bad blood between the two), convenient usage of deux ex machina to create emotional tension, a rather lackluster background music by the renowned Illayaraja, subpar production values (specifically, editing), etc. Thus, despite the copious concoction of melodrama, and standard mainstream tropes and clichés, with faux-realism, moments of grittiness and violence, and the epic nature of the storyline, made this a reasonably engaging film, and also provided an apt illustration as to why the director has earned the rather pejorative epithet mentioned earlier.
Director: Mani Ratnam
Genre: Drama/Gangster Film/Family Drama/Urban Drama