SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 15 AUGUST, 2021
Review of the anthology on Netflix
The Sanskrit word rasa has many meanings, including emotion, mood and feeling. They are joy (hasya), fear (bhayanaka), anger (raudra), love (shringar), courage (vira), pity (karuna), amazement (adbhuta), disgust (vibhatsya) and, peace (shanti).
Based on these nine rasas Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan produced an anthology of nine stories directed by different eminent directors through their banners, Madras Talkies and Qube Cinema Technologies.
The anthology – Navarasa, premiered last week on Netflix to mixed reactions. The production of this anthology has a social mission. This has been produced to help the daily-wage workers and other low-paid employees of the Tamil Film Industry in addition to other members from the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, by generating funds through this project.
However, one is constrained to point out that a nine-story anthology, stretching to a total of five viewing hours, does not suffice continuous viewing even for a passionate binge watcher. So, by the time you are watching the final story based on shringara rasa, you have almost forgotten what you saw in the first story elaborating on karuna (pity.)
Edhiri (Enemy), directed by Bejoy Nambiar, enriched by the outstanding performances by Revathy and Vijay Sethupathi suffers from a confusing screenplay which clarifies the story only on second viewing. The larger philosophy of the film is the reality of karuna being an emotion no individual has the right to exercise on another person because everyone is guilty of some wrong done some time to one. Does the story of the young man murdering the elderly woman’s husband in a fit of spontaneous rage truly call for pity from the wife of the victim? Or, does it talk more about revenge than anything else?
Haasya is narrated through a story based on an actual incident picked from the noted comedian Yogi Babu in Summer of ’92. It is a weak story about an actor visiting his school to be felicitated on his success as a film actor on the academy’s centenary.
In the speech, he not only narrates the stories of how he bungled in school in academics and got punished for his misdemeanours, but also spills the beans on one of his teachers Lakshmi, who, we are informed, is still a spinster. The poor teacher, no longer young, watches and listens helplessly as Velusamy (Yogi Babu) spills the beans about how he played the villain in destroying the last marriage chances of the teacher who is the principal’s daughter to the audience.
He apologises to the teacher but that does not absolve him of intruding into the privacy of a lady whose spinsterhood is mainly due to his prank with a smelly dog. What kind of haasya (laughter) the director has tried to elaborate on, God alone knows.
Project Agni: Adbhuta/Wonder, directed by Karthick Naren, is scripted and directed entirely on the sci-fi model popularised by Christopher Nolan. Though the performances by the two actors, Arvind Swamy as the scientist and Prasanna as his young friend from ISRO he invites to share his ideas about the human subconscious and its future impact on humanity and on the world are very good, the film is too confusing for one not attuned to sci-fi films.
Lighting, sound design, projections on the screen, are all brilliant not to speak of the tricks the cinematographer plays with different shades of brown and gold and amber can offer a model lesson to a novice cinematographer. How Prasanna’s “double” surfaces suddenly in front of him is not explained. The music is also very good.
Vasant S. Sai’s Payasam expressing Vibhatsa (disgust) weaves a strong story about a Tamil Brahmin who keeps comparing his bad luck with his luckier older brother whose daughter’s impending marriage forms the setting of this 1965-timed film. His complaint is about how easily his older brother could get his five daughters married while his only daughter had to wear widow’s weeds before her bridal attire had been washed.
But the daughter has accepted her destiny and does not share her father’s feelings. The way this jealous Brahmin goes to great lengths to destroy the festivities is not vibhatsa but is based on revenge, anger and jealousy. This is a weak film though the technical aspects fit into the period and the ambience.
A little boy who has lost his parents in a Sri Lankan ambush of a Tamil community, approaches Tamil rebels hiding in a LTTE bunker appealing to them to save his brother he has locked up in a room in his small home across the fighting fields. Shantih expresses peace in 28 minutes. Directed by Kartick Subbaraj, it narrates how despite severe objections of his Master and colleague, one of the Tamil rebels (Bobby Simha), motivated by the memory of a mother whose death he holds himself responsible for, promises the boy that he will bring his brother back. He loses his life but proves that peace is above all human emotions. The pace of the film is electric and the editing is wonderful, including the location chosen but it could have been more powerful.
Actor Arvind Swamy makes his directorial debut with Roudhram (Raudra-Anger). It is about a socially marginalised family consisting of a mother and her two growing children, a girl and a boy, both adolescents. Their father has deserted them. They live on the upper floor of dilapidated house filled with sex workers. One day, the son kills a middle-aged man with a single strike of a hammer and is arrested and tortured but refuses to divulge why he did it.
The girl goes missing and finally, we get to learn why he did it. The reactions of the two children to what happened and why are so polarised that the story gets a dramatic twist in the end. The chosen locations, the electric dynamism of the action, the acting and the evolution of the script makes this one of the best among the anthology.
Rathindran R. Prasad’s Bhaya (Fear) is another wonderful portrayal of this rasa. The film opens with lines from a Rumi poem which goes: "What is fear? Non-acceptance of uncertainty" and is built up brick by small brick, like a neo noir suspense thriller enhanced greatly by the performances of the lead pair – Siddhartha and Parvathy Thiruvoth who enliven every moment with their electric chemistry with the woman cowed down so much by fear of the man that she knifes herself to death while at the same time, listening to the secret of her life story from the mouth of this young man.
The drama is dotted generously with ample doses of violence that are graphic yet do not hurt our sensibilities as they are credibly told. The Muslim ethos, based on a foundation of Afghani calligraphy comes across in the designing of the credit titles, an innovation that adds to the aesthetics of the film. Siddhartha’s expression of cold-blooded revenge is matched frame by frame, with the rising fear in the eyes, the body language of the beautiful mistress as she slowly moves towards her bloody end.
Sarjun KM's Thunintha Pin (Beyond Courage) opens very well with a shot of a heavily pregnant young woman rising from the waters of a river praying for the return of her husband who went missing soon after his recruitment into the police service while trying to capture Naxalites in hiding.
Everyone including the police tell her that he will never come back but she is determined to see his return. The scene shifts into the deep forests where the young police recruit is shown capturing the head of the Naxalite gang who has been shot and hurt while the entire task force is killed.
This young man (Atharva) drives the grievously injured leader to the city but the captive pulls the steering of the police van to which his hand is chained and flees into the jungle with Vetri hot on the chase. Vetri is never seen or heard of again.
The last scene shows his wife waiting at her door with the baby in her arms. This critic feels that if the narrative had focussed on this wife than on her missing husband, “courage” would have been more expressively reflected. Based on a script by Mani Ratnam, the film will be remembered for its beautiful sound design where the hiding extremists have mastered the art of imitating bird calls and animal calls to identify themselves to their colleagues and to seek them out if they are in danger.
In Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru (Tugging at My Guitar Strings): Sringara/Love, director Gautham Vasudev Menon goes all out to capitalise on the tremendous star charisma of the matinee idol Suriya. Menon turns it into a tribute to the romantic film where love happened at first sight and this is the spirit that Menon sustains from beginning to end though the end has a happy twist.
It is a mushy, syrupy Mills & Boons romance in true musical style where there is a ten-year gap between the very hot rock singer and the very young and charismatic Nethra (Prayaga Rose Martin).
The best thing you carry home with you about Navarasa is the title, a beautiful collage in Black-and-White offering a strikingly dramatic cut-out of the actors who performed in the anthology closing with that tiny dot of red on Revathy’s forehead dissolving into powder.