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Nayagan - Random Thoughts

Time, arguably the most popular weekly magazine today, has compiled the "All Time Top 100 Movies" list. I've read at least ten such 'Top 100' lists from respectable resources. Almost all of the lists would say that it is personal, because, no movie buff or human critic can watch all the movies released so far and pick the best from them. Time's critics Corliss and Schickel are presenting "All Time Top 100 Movies", which would mean that "Of all the films shot and made available for public viewing in this world so far, the following are the best...". Though I'd have liked a disclaimer mentioning that the list belongs in the heads of the critics and it's not a generic quanitfication of the artistic quality (what an oxymoron!), it doesn't surprise me that the presentation of the list is another example of the bloated ego of the magazine.

Now, the movie. I was a kid when I watched Nayagan for the first time, and I just knew that it was not another usual movie with stunts, comedy track and a smiling photo finish. In short, I was disappointed. My second and subsequent viewings were more effective - I was a teenager, and they were my movie formative years. There was a marked departure in the feel and style of the movie. The film announced the rise of Mani Ratnam to international cinema and provided Kamal an opportunity to push his envelope.

I once watched Godfather (I) and Nayagan in a single sitting. Nayagan's storyline, mood and tone has an undeniable similarity to Godfather. There is a striking resemblance in the character portrayal of the younger Kamal Hasan to Al Pacino and the aging Kamal Hasan to Marlon Brando. The wonderful baptism massacre scene, which, through parallel editing presented Micheal Corleone becoming a godfather to his sister's son and effectively symbolized the ascendance of Micheal Corleone as the successor of Don Corleone, the 'Godfather' in the sense that is used today. That scene is blatantly copied in Nayagan, but merely used as a 'direction tool'. There are other aspects that remind me of Godfather: the emphasis on family, trying to juggle family values and mob values, a love affair, etc. I'm not trying to belittle the efforts of Mani Ratnam and Kamal Hasan.

Nayagan, is an Indian masterpiece, but a flawed one. The narrative tone imparts an epic proportion to this movie. Only a few other movies I've seen come close to this level of story-telling, which it does with great flair. The production design by Thotta Tharani and photography by P.C.Sriram are world-class. I'm pretty sure that the kind of images seen in this movie would've guzzled millions of dollars had it been a Hollywood production. Every scene blended with the next scene seamlessly and it is quite difficult to hold the attention of the audience in such themes. Kudos to the editors (Lenin - Vijayan?).

Ilayaraja's sound track for 'Nayagan' is one of the best I've heard. When songs are considered as bathroom breaks, all the songs in 'Nayagan' are classics that have stood the test of time and fit perfectly into the movie (for which Mani Ratnam's screenplay should be credited) and my favourite is 'nee oru kadhal sangeetham'. The background music is an example of the genius at work. Re-recording is so full of life that it tightly embraces the whole movie and provides a new meaning which 'Nayagan' wouldn't have had without Ilayaraja.

I feel that Mani Ratnam hasn't equalled Nayagan through any of his latter offerings, and it's quite understandable. You simply can't churn out masterpieces. However hard Spielberg may try, he can't produce another 'Schindler's List'. But Kamal has managed to surpass this performance twice in my opinion - in Mahanadhi and Micheal Madana Kama Rajan. Almost every scene has been played and replayed that it has become quite impossible for us to see the movie with a fresh pair of eyes. The magnificent "neenga nallavara kettavara?" has lost it's emotional punch and is now only a cliche. Ofcourse, branding it as a cliche implies it's greatness. If I had a personal 'Top 5 Indian Movies' list, Nayagan would figure in that.

3 Responses to “Nayagan - Random Thoughts”

  1. # Blogger rationalhumanist

    "Nayagan" is a good movie by Indian standards...the typical problem of Indian movies plagues Nayagan too: Indian movies try to offer the viewer whatever-the-diretor-can-think-of...

    here is some violence...some good music here...and hey, here are some steamy scenes...some poignant scenes, here you go...

    It is not an accident that Kamal ends up portraying both Vito and is the manifestation of a sub-conscious desire to get everything done and displayed in one setting...


  2. # Blogger rationalhumanist

    oops...I meant Don and Michael...  

  3. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    I was wrong about the critics viewpoints on lists. Richard Schickel said: "100 lists are fun to discuss, fun to argue over. I don't think anybody should say, 'That's it, that's the final 100! No disputing this for the rest of eternity!' You know, stuff changes. Life changes. You change."  

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