One of the few Indian films to be included in TIME magazine list of ‘All-Time 100 Best Films’ in 2005, ‘Nayagan’, is a unique collaboration between director ‘Mani Ratnam’ and ‘Kamal Haasan’.
Released in 1987, this was perhaps the most critically and commercially acclaimed film for Mani Ratnam before he emerged on the national scene with Roja. Shot with limited budget and under trying circumstances the movie still showcased the talent of Mani Ratnam, Kamal Haasan, Ilaiyaraaja (Music Director), P C Sriram (cinematography), and Thotta Tharani (Art Director).
An underworld movie, albeit inspired by Godfather, was not a new concept even in Tamil cinema. The usual masala movies featuring crime, revenge and retribution with garish and over-the-top villains were the norm. Plotlines really didn’t matter and action scenes were a standard routine.
The movie came like a whiff of fresh air in the manner in which it approached the subject. The settings were authentic and there was outstanding work done in various departments including music, art direction and cinematography. More than the songs, it was the BGM that was such a masterpiece.
Kamal has shared his views about the movies where it comes out as a true labour of love. Innumerable challenges particularly in managing the film’s cost budget led to a lot of innovation and creative solutions being applied to the challenges posed to the team. His fondness to the team that managed to take the film across the finish line really comes through.
Nayakan was realism at its best – its iconoclastic image needs to be understood in its original context of late 80s. Neo-noir films of various hues have come since then and made the genre appear ordinary – they often end up being a tribute to the original ‘don’ movie in Indian cinema. Over the years it has gained a cult status and following with the audience.
Kamal the actor was impeccable as usual – certain scenes remain etched forever in our memories. The scene where he mourns the premature and gory death of his only son in a crime operation gone wrong, the innocent child asking him whether he was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ man are true landmarks.
It was not an art movie at all – it included all the elements that would be part of a masala movie. ‘Thenpaandi Cheemayile’ is a signature song that appears in varying hues throughout the movie – it was a master-stroke to have Kamal Haasan sing the same. Yet the don is unlike the any other – it is not a lavish and characterless life that Velu Nayakar leads. He struggles with life by staying with his people, he cares for his children so sends them away from a life that is implicitly a wrong path, he is not keen to see his son follow his footsteps, he is unable to face his daughter who walks out on him, he endures enormous pain and loss but is unable to walk away from the life chosen.
He doesn’t even know his true role in life – he helplessly answers a haunting question by his innocent grandson that he doesn’t know whether he is a good or a bad man. He ages immensely and visibly on being confronted with the most painful consequence of his choosing – the tragic death of his son who was in the prime of his youth. The role required a heft and gravitas that was delivered to perfection by Kamal Haasan making it a truly memorable outing.
It is a bit unfortunate that ‘Kamal’ and ‘Mani’ never collaborated again. It would have been magical to see them pull off a dual act again. Well the time is still not lost and you never know when some dreams may simply come true. Here’s hoping that we get to see an encore soon.