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Mani Ratnam’s Navarasa on Netflix – a Miscalculated Medley of Emotions

Film Review – written by Rupa Rasagna , a 2nd year journalism student.

Navarasa was one of the most anticipated anthologies in the Tamil Film industry with its star-studded cast, direction, and production with the evergreen producers Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan…

By I Kid You Not , in Film & Book Reviews , at September 12, 2021 Tags: , ,

Film Review – written by Rupa Rasagna, a 2nd-year journalism student

Navarasa was one of the most anticipated anthologies in the Tamil Film industry with its star-studded cast, direction, and production with the evergreen producers Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan.

What’s it about?

The anthology was a collection of nine stories dealing with nine different emotions: compassion, laughter, wonder, disgust, peace, anger, fear, courage, and love. Each episode interprets an emotion that runs for 30 mins except the last episode, which is 45 minutes. The emotions dealt in this anthology are a broad range of emotions; however, after weeks of its release and upon deconstruction of the rasas, you release that not every emotion was portrayed to the fullest extent in those 30 minutes.

The first story

The first episode, directed by Bejoy Nambiar, titled Edhiri, talked about a man (Vijay Sethupathi) so drenched in anger that he commits a murder (Prakash Raj) to cool down his fiery soul but eventually ends up facing the guilt of his actions. At the end of the episode, we see him seeking the forgiveness of the victim’s wife (Revathy). The story had a strong background score which elevated the emotion in the scene.

The story mainly revolved around the theme that compassion towards a fellow individual is the least one can do to be a human. However, it left the viewers with a lot of unanswered questions. Nevertheless, Edhiri may not be the complete portrayal of the emotion compassion. The story, which had strong casting – Revathy, Prakash Raj, and Vijay Sethupathi could have added more depth to the story and the emotion, which was not entirely reflected throughout the episode.

The second story

Summer of ’92, directed by Priyadarshan and starring the comedy king Yogi Babu dealt with the emotion of laughter. In the story, Yogi Babu visits his school as a chief guest and reminisces about his 9th standard school days. This story connected with many of us because of the feelings of nostalgia as it took us back to our school days. However, though the emotion for the story explored laughter, one does not burst into laughter. Albie, the story talks about Yogi Babu’s school days; it heavily relied on the idea that a woman is not happy or complete being a spinster. It gave the wrong idea that marriage is the ultimate happiness for a woman, and one cannot be happy or satisfied without engaging in a relationship. The teacher’s role portrayed this.

The third story

Project Agni, directed by Karthick Naren and starring Arvind Swami and Prasanna, was one of the best shorts of the anthology. The story’s title was reflected in the colors of the film with its hues of red and orange. The story with just two characters did an excellent job of producing a solid punch to the viewers and keeping them hitched till the very end to get a twist in the climax. The story did a justification to emotion is intended to explore. I want to point out here that the story did not just awe us with its jaw-dropping theories about evolution. It also subtly explored the idea that too much knowledge can do harm and that it is better to enjoy every moment of the present rather than brood over the past or worry about the future.

The fourth story

The fourth story was set in the late 1900s interior Tamil Nadu (Kumbakonam), where there was still a hush around widows and loud talks on child marriage.

The story has five main characters, and throughout the story, we see the old man (the Brahmin) being envious of his older brother’s son (Subbarayyan), who is successful in his life. The old Brahmin refuses to attend Subbu’s daughter’s marriage, but his dead wife convinces him eventually to attend it. It was one of the stories that expressed emotion at the end of the story. The expressions of disgust were seen on the face of the old man’s daughter when he knocked the payasam down, which was considered auspicious during a wedding. We find that the depth of the emotion was not explored enough for such a storyline. The screenplay and costumes did a convincing job of representing the ancient Tamil style. The story directed by Vasanth fell short of portraying the rasa, especially for a rasa that had several deeper layers to it. The payasam in the title nevertheless bought different emotions, and among those emotions was disgust.

The fifth story

Peace was Karthik Subbaraj’s attempt at depicting the Shaantha (peace) emotion which had multidimensions to the episode. The story was set in the Sri Lankan Civil War between July 1991 and January 2009. Four militants are seen reinforcing their line of defence near the Elephant Pass. They come across a small boy who claims that he had lost his brother while running away and seeks the help of the militants to get his brother back. The entire episode revolves around the mission of bringing the boy’s brother back. What the story also shows are the pangs of human separation that occurs during wars. The ending of the story shows a sharp contrast to the title.

In the end, we do not have a scene of peace but a scene of firing. With this, we understand that Karthik Subbaraj does not just present the story to the viewers but makes them ponder on the rhetorical question – Peace? Are we achieving peace through wars, and what are wars really for?

The sixth story

Roudhram marked the debut direction by Arvind Swami. The story talked about a family of three, a mother who worked day and night to run the family, a teenage son who was good at playing football, and a daughter who studied hard at school.

The story opens with the scene where the boy gives in to his anger and tries to injure a middle-aged man with a hammer, previously introduced as a money lender. The mother of the two gets caught in a compromising position with the moneylender, later discovered by both her son and the daughter. This sudden realization of the truth forces the boy to commit the murder. The best part of the entire episode was the striking well-suited colors. The director had a perfect representation of the emotion through the hues of red and other bright colors in the story.

There are several other sub-themes that the story deals with. It talks about the status of women in the society and how they are still looked at as an object of possession. The story also touches upon the subtle theme of how one’s childhood can have serious impacts on adult life, in the case of the daughter (Anbu), who refuses to see her mother when she is on her deathbed. The emotion of anger was characterized by characters in different forms and different situations. On the whole, the story does justify the emotion it intended to depict.

The seventh story

The episode Inmai, directed by Rathindran R Prasad, opens in a rich bungalow decorated with Islamic art and calligraphy in Puducherry, the house of Waheeda, the protagonist. Her usual day was interrupted by Farooq (Siddarth), who claims to be a worker from her husband’s house, asking for a signature. Little did she know that it was her death that knocked on the door. A story of vengeance which began like a calm sea and later burst open into a lava of truths. One of the striking features of this episode, apart from the excellent acting from both Parvathy and Siddarth, was the color pallet throughout the episode.

The warm, cool colors in the beginning and the bright, striking colors during the flashback gave more power to the emotion. It was sheer acting brilliance that brought the emotion, fear into place. Apart from this, the story also revolves around subtle themes of Karma. The fact that no number of religious performances or good deeds can make one escape their Karma. The quote used in the beginning – “What is fear? Non-acceptance of uncertainty”, was painted through the characterization of Waheeda.

The eighth story

The eighth episode of the anthology scripted by Mani Ratnam explored the emotion of courage and valor from the standpoint of a new police recruit, who is caught in an ambush with the Naxalites within a week of his training. During the ambush, several men of his team die, and he is left with the task of safeguarding an injured Naxalite to the nearest police station. At the beginning of his career, can he make it? Does he have the courage in him to safeguard a Naxalite? That is the question that the story deals with. On the contrary, we see that his pregnant wife is seen sitting outside a police station and asking about his whereabouts. She shows an act of undeterred courage to find her husband. The story and the screenplay justify the emotion intended to depict in the episode fairly well.

The ninth and last story

The anthology’s last and penultimate episode concludes with Gautam Vasudev Menon’s story Guitar Kambhi Mele Nindru starring Suriya and Prayaga, which explored the emotion of romance. Kamal (Suriya) in the story is an aspiring singer based in Chennai who lives with his mother, looking to shift to London. But his life takes a turn when he meets Nethra (Prayaga) and is instantly attracted by her. In the next course of the episode, we see the initial days of their love with those butterflies and jittery feelings. Gautam depicts a very raw form of love through this story. The episode had a few stunning crafted frames and screenplay, but the story was the downside. This turned out to be disappointing from Gautam Vasudev Menon, whose sweet spot is romantic films.

Navarasa came out as a mixed bag with few hits and few misses. It is a sight to the eyes regarding its scenes and the wide range of colors used in the episodes; however, for few stories, that was not enough, as it fell short of the depiction of the emotion through the story.

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