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)