By now Bala has earned a solid reputation for himself and is easily hailed as one of the torchbearers of the new wave Tamil Cinema movement. So it was quite surprising last year when he went on to make a relatively light hearted film,Avan Ivan. But now with Paradesi, Bala seems to have got back to his familiar territory. So at this juncture it is of course not surprising that I am reminded of Bala’s iconic Naan Kadavul.
After around 3 years in the making Bala returned with his 4th movie – Naan Kadavul. Riding on the commercial success and critical acclaim that his earlier movies- Sethu,Nandha & Pithamagan had garnered, Naan Kadavul had raised a lot of expectations from the day the project was announced. The very title- “Naan Kadavul” ( Aham Bramhasmi) which means I am God was very suggestive and took people by surprise. The project was steeped in controversies be it Ajith walking out of the movie, the spat between Bala and Ajith, Bala’s decision to cast Arya as Rudran the protagonist, the constant change of heroines, shooting schedules getting stretched ,the overall duration that the project underwent or finally getting the film to release.
Of course eventually with the release of the film I’m sure Bala and the producer K.S.Sreenivasan both must have been relieved people. I am not trying to do a review of the movie per se here, but instead I would like to comment on what I felt after watching Naan Kadavul. First of all I am of the opinion that one must as a viewer be able to more or less slot the movie that he/she is watching. It could range from a harmless time pass flick which you can enjoy while watching and maybe even forget about it later, a hard core spellbinding movie –( whatever be the genre ) which you keep thinking about even later or a mindless movie – whatever be the names connected with it, you wish you hadn’t seen it.
Naan Kadavul here easily falls in the category of a spellbinding movie- one which keeps you thinking about it for hours even after watching it. It won’t be a lie if I were to tell that I’m still thinking about the movie, having seen it last night. There are so many intricacies in the plot that the more I think about it, the more insights I’m getting in mind. So when a movie makes you keep thinking about it, I believe the director has indeed done a good job. In this case the credit goes in a big way to Bala.
The film starts off impressively enough in Kasi and though the Kasi scenes do not last long, you get to see glimpses of the place that you usually do not get to see. Incidentally even Anurag Kashyap recently had mentioned that he was ashamed of himself after watching Bala’s Naan Kadavul, as he felt that while he ( Anurag ) had lived in Varanasi/Kasi, Bala though not from there had gone on to shoot something so wonderfully over there. Arya’s character Rudran, is left behind by his father in Kasi 14 years ago due to a doomed prophecy by an astrologer. Now 14 years later the father wants to repent for his mistake and comes to Kasi in search of his son. But his son is now Rudran an ‘Aghori’ ascetic.Though Rudran comes back to his hometown, Malaikoil in Tamilnadu, he is not able to accept the typical domestic life & leaves home to live with other sadhus in a shrine atop a hill. Interspersed with Rudran’s story is that of a beggar’s group which also survives for living on the same shrine.
The group is managed by Murugan ( Krishnamoorthy ) who runs it for Thandavan, a cruel exploiter of the beggars and physically challenged people. Enters Hamsavalli ( Pooja) a blind singer into the fold of beggars and Rudran gets involved into this bad world of Thandavan and the beggars unexpectedly. How Rudran goes about fulfilling his mission as an Aghori is what the rest of the movie is all about. The movie is truly multidimensional. On one hand you have Rudran and his ways of living and the spiritual dimension, on the other hand you have a look at how hard life can be for beggars and how they are exploited. And in spite of the theme being so serious Bala has to his credit managed to infuse humour subtly in a lot of places.
Most of the actors are new and have all done a creditable job. If you thought Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal showed the plight of beggars realistically, watch Naan Kadavul and you will be blown away. Let me tell you that some of the scenes are quite gory and not easy to watch. But therein is the power of the movie- it hits you hard and the effect remains with you for long. The visuals by Arthur.A.Wilson are of great standard and Jeyamohan’s dialogues are of tremendous help to the movie. While I usually have a complaint that most Tamil movies are not cosmopolitan, Bala has heard my plea & taken care of it. Characters in the film even speak in Hindi, Sanskrit and Malayalam and look genuine.
The legendary Ilaiyaraaja has not let us down at all. Om Sivohom by Vijay Prakash and Pitchai Paathiram by Madhu Balakrishnan are songs which stand out even now. While the songs are mostly relegated to the background and situational, he scores majorly with the background score. Pooja’s good work not only won her awards but also made her even more popular in Sri Lanka ( Sinhala Cinema ), though I wonder why she isn’t doing any Tamil films of late. Coming finally to Arya- I think he really sunk into the character very well. Though he does not have too many dialogues to speak, he has done justice to his role. Having said all this if one was to ask me if this is a perfect movie and would it be tough for Bala to emulate this, I would say a loud no. The movie is definitely good and Bala needs to be credited for making such a bold movie, but there are a few points which I wish Bala had taken care of –
1. Editing by Suresh Urs looks haphazard at times- especially towards the climax.Certain scenes suddenly jump in & there is a lack of continuity. I probably guess that this is also due to the fact that the censors had found a lot of scenes to be objectionable.
2. The movie has been given a U/A certificate but in spite of that the movie is too strong for children anyways. I wish Bala opted for an A certificate instead and asked the censors to retain some more portions which would have made the story more meaningful
3. For all the talk that the movie has generated about Arya’s Rudran and the boldness, Arya does not have all that much screen time in the movie.
But all said and done Bala has stuck to his conviction and the movie is a another landmark for Tamil Cinema. Here’s hoping that Paradesi also turns out to be a feather in the cap for Bala.z
Note- This article was originally written in 2009 after the release of the film but with Bala’s Paradesi about to release both the film and the article have been re-visited and this has now been specially edited before being published.