Agni Natchathiram – Fire, Lots of it!

Agni Natchathiram
This movie. Yeah, THIS movie! Even today, I laugh when I think of how I ended up discovering it. Thing is, I’d just watched Kaakha Kaakha and wanted to check out the Telugu remake called Gharshana. So, I go to my local video library where I see a DVD with the same title. Without even looking at the cover, I just grab it, ask the clerk to enter it and rush home. That’s when I see the cover and go “WTF, Which crap movie did I pick up?” (Mind you, Back then, I only knew Mani Sir as the guy who’s about to make some movie called Yuva). Anyways, I figured, Chalo, must be some old masala movie. Dekh lete hai. 2 hours and 20 minutes later, I emerged, Stunned out of my wits. True Story. Of course, Now I do own the original DVD in Tamil, Thanks to Moserbaer of course.

Agni Natchathiram is the story of Ashok (Karthik) and Gautam (Prabhu). 2 step-brothers. Both extremely angry young men. Angry at themselves, Angry at the world and around them and especially angry at their father Vishwanathan (Vijayakumar). It is the story of their relationships with their mothers (Sumithra and Jayachitra) and their respective lovers (Nirosha and Amala).

Gautam is the legitimate son. A cop in the making. A man led by heart more than head. Sensitive, yet Tough. Angry at his father for all the neglect he has suffered. Angry at seeing the tears of his helpless mother. Angry at his step-family for their mere existence. He masks his hurt with a surly demeanour, only to show his sensitive side to his girlfriend. He may be angry at his step-family, but doesn’t hesitate to spring to his step-sister’s protection when she’s harassed by goons.

Ashok is the illegitimate son. An unemployed graduate on the lookout for a job. Fiercely independent. Short tempered. Tough. Loyal. Somebody you’d want on your side in a street fight. He too is angry. At his father. At the way society looks at him and his family owing to their status. At his unemployment. At the general unfairness of life. If you see Ashok’s character, you would be reminded of Sunny Deol’s Arjun. Both good men in the worst possible circumstances. You see it right in the beginning when Ashok roughs up his prospective boss for asking inappropriate questions. You see the hurt in his eyes when his father asks him not to mention his name at another interview for obvious reasons or when his grandmother harangues him for coming over again and again. But even he is soft hearted which is evident from his bonding with his girlfriend who comes from a somewhat similar background.

Now on paper, the story would sound pretty dry to you. And 5 minutes into the movie, when I realized that I’d seen the Hindi remake of this movie(Vansh), I was about to switch it off and go to bed, but for some reason, I figured I’ll watch the whole movie. And that my friends, happened to be one of the smarter decisions I’ve made in life. Trust me, I have no idea what the cultural significance of this movie is or any stories about it or how it did when it released back in 88 before I was born.

The 1st thing that strikes you about this movie is the rage and the energy. What I’ve always loved about Mani Sir is, he fleshes out the characters in his movies beautifully. Be it the protagonists or the supporting character, nobody comes off as a one-dimensional character. Each character is etched out so well. Here too it’s the same. Even the supporting characters are quite well done. Vijayakumar’s character of the Father could’ve been shown as a weak person, but other than this one indiscretion, he comes across as a very kind and gentle person with strong moral values in him. He is honest and will not be swayed from the path of duty. He is equally affectionate towards both families and is hurt by the antagonistic relationship between his sons.

The same goes for the characters of both mothers. Sumithra’s character could’ve come across as a bitter and weak housewife, but the goodness in her is shown when she willingly helps her souten to bail out her erring son from jail. Another notable sequence here is when she bonds with the daughter(Tara) in the hospital after the attack on her husband. Even Jayachitra comes across as a very bold and courageous woman whose only cause for despair is her impetuous son.

But to me, the real stars of this movie along with Mani sir are P.C Sreeram and V.T Vijayan, the cinematographer and editor of this movie respectively. This movie is technically way ahead of its time and even the flashy blokes of today in Bollywood and Kollywood could learn from the masters. Each and every frame of this movie is this brilliant cocktail of restraint and energy. Some scenes like those of the protagonists with their lovers are sheer poetry, especially Karthik and Nirosha in the basketball court. But some sequences where P.C really makes the camera move are just brilliant. . Every cinematographer should watch and learn from these.

My favourite sequences from this movie include
• The confrontation between Karthik and Prabhu culminating in Karthik’s arrest
• Prabhu coming to Tara’s rescue in the train
• Karthik tearing up the visiting card of a prospective company handed to him by his father
• Both sons going and threatening the villain in his home separately
• The final hospital sequence which many think was overdone, but to me was brilliant.
• Karthik’s friend telling him that his brother is the new cop in their area and the entire gang gleefully setting off to intercept him in the middle of the street.

I’d love to make a special note of the songs here as each song has been shot extremely slickly and with MTV style choregraphy. My vote especially goes for Raajadhi Raaja, which superbly showcases the anger and hopes of the unemployed youngsters with absolute panache and Vaa Vaa Anbe Vaa which is shot beautifully (If somebody knows which beach it was shot on, please let me know here). Ilaiya Raja’s music is just perfect for this movie. And here, I’d like to commit a slight bit of blasphemy by adding that to me, the background score was much much superior than the actual songs. The background score consisting mainly of bass and drum gels perfectly with the raw aggression of this movie.

To me, Agni Natchathiram defines aggression and machismo much much more than any regular action potboiler. It is living evidence of the fact that even a clichéd commercial masala story can be done brilliantly if you add the right ingredients and show a little restraint and not feel the tendency to go over the top in every alternate sequence.
P.S – I have deliberately left out any mention of Janagaraj’s comedy subplot as it totally ruined the flow of the movie the 1st time and I ALWAYS fastforward those particular scenes 😉

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)


13 thoughts on “Agni Natchathiram – Fire, Lots of it!

  1. Fire Fire and lots of it in this post too…Brilliant.
    Your experience of watching this one is what makes film enthusiasts proud.

    Lots of thoughts and it qualifies as a rage film along with Agneepath for me…Bring them more…

  2. 80s golden time for tamil cinema definitely, of bollywood i would be a bit less sure(70s for them i would say).Agninatchatram is the grammar of modern day masala cinema. Something filmmakers are much better getting inspired from and not ripping from(unsuccessful even by a subsequent mani production ‘naerukku naer’) Background score , raja sir’s success rate makes six sigma look pale. Technically way ahead of its time.

  3. Wow! Plot is like a typical masala film. Very eager to see the treatment given by Mani Ratnam. Fantastic review Vikram. Straight out of the heart stuff.

  4. I totally loved this series on Manirathnam. You guys are totally awesome.

    P.S: Although a large portion of what you said is true, it is subtly embedded in the screenplay that Prabhu’s family have a contemptuous attitude towards Karthik’s.

    1. The Scene where Sumithra comes to bail out Karthik is not because of her love for the other family, but simply because she does not want her husband’s name to come out.

    2. Vijay Kumar towards the end of the movie shouts at his sons and admits his mistake. He however says that he has never differentiated between them and has always been open about having 2 families. This is largely untrue – The Scene where Karthik tears up the visiting card is one example. Second is – he sees Tara and his second wife in a market, wants to go out and meet them, but refrains on seeing Sumithra. Similarly in the marriage scene, karthik’s family are treated unfairly.

    This off course changes towards the end of the movie, when the families join together.

  5. Ajay,

    I like your writing about films that were born before you! I suggest you to see Mahesh Bhat’s ‘Janam’ released in 1985 starring Kumar Gaurav, Anupam Kher, Anitha Kanwar. You may want to update this writing.


    • Prashanth I am sorry to say but it is Vikram Bondal who has written this post and all due credits to him and only him.

      I was born in 79 so my janam is before the film “Janam” got released. I am sure one of the authors here will seriously consider your wish in future and I will intimate you or you can follow it regularly for future updates. BTW i know where are you coming from, for the step son angle and its sensitivity dealt in that film.

      Thanks for the read and once again Vikram deserves all praise.

  6. This is a very important film for directors and cinematographers to study. Filmmakers nowadays seem to have lost the idea of how to establish space. On a subconscious level, failure to establish space for characters to exist creates a disconnect with them. That is one of the reasons why a majority of modern films that look good on a script level fail to connect when shot, because directors and cinematographers have either forgotten or are not aware of the basics. Cinematographers are obsessed with pretty lighting and framing, and a director wants to move his camera all over the place to scream, “Look at me! I’m a fucking director!”

    That said, watch the scenes where each house is shown for the first time. A lot more is set to take place in these locations. So the coverage that Ratnam and P.C. Sreeram shoot puts each room, the entrance, the kitchen, everything into relationship. Equally functional is the editing, where the shots and characters are carefully shown. You really understand the space, and this is the kind of technique that can really make the viewer a part of the scene. Nowadays, all filmmakers want to do to draw a viewer into space is shoot with a steadicam, shake it a little and follow actors around. Pah!

  7. Hey Vikram, that is one amazing write up on Agni Natchathiram. I don’t know if this is coincidence, but every single blog that I’ve been reading on Maniratnam here, has been tastefully written and wonderfully analysed by each one of you bloggers. Ajay and the rest of the Admin members must have taken great pains to select the best of you to blog on Mani’s films.

    So, a small mistake in getting the correct version led you to a great discovery? 😉 Well, I for one am so glad that you got to see this film despite the mistake 🙂

    I have to agree with Ilayarajarerecording with regards to Sumithra’s decision to bail out Karthik. She probably comes across as someone who is demure and dignified but deep down, she’s just as hurt at the existence of the other family. Which is why she doesn’t think twice before pointing out to Jayachitra that the only reason why she came to help them is due to the fact that she doesn’t want her husband’s name to come up to the police station. And before parting, she even manages a “Pullaiya parthu vazhanga,” (Do take more care in bringing up your son properly) comment. Though the manner she says it was subtle but the contents were very much filled with sarcasm, I feel.

    In fact, earlier on the film, she uses the same tactic on her husband. When Vijayakumar says that he has forgotten all about Gautham’s police training, Sumithra casually remarks, “If only you has shown interest to the members of this house as you do to the outsiders, then probably you might remember these sort of thing”.

    But that’s what makes this character beautiful, I feel. As the legitimate wife, Sumithra knew she has an upper hand compared to Jayachithra. Nevertheless, due to the hurt she has towards the existence of the other family, she never misses an opportunity to channel her anger through subtle words and actions.

  8. Pingback: Kannathil Muthamittal- An Innocent Journey of a Girl | mad about moviez

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