The great Kamal Hassan as Velu Nayakar in the Mani Ratnam classic "Nayagan".

The great Kamal Hassan as Velu Nayakar in the Mani Ratnam classic “Nayagan”.

 

In life it is said that destiny of a man takes shape only by the choices he makes and there has been no better movie in Indian cinema than the Mani Ratnam directed masterpiece “Nayagan” which beautifully reflects this aspect of a man’s life. This movie basically tells a poignant tale of the rapid rise of one man played by the great Kamal Hassan in the underworld and has over the years not only become a cult classic in Tamil cinema but also in Indian cinema.

 

The basic plot of this movie which is simplistic and begins with a young boy Sakthivelu “Velu” Nayakar who happens to be the son of an anti-government union leader in Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately for Velu his father gets killed by the police which compels him to kill the same officer responsible for his father death and the escape to Bombay i.e. Mumbai.  With Velu now being alone and homeless he is adopted by a kind hearted Muslim fisherman also a part time smuggler who lives in a suburban slum. It is years later that Velu(Kamal Hassan) now an matured adult shows first signs of rebellion. At this time the people in the slum are being continuously harassed by a corrupt police office Kelkar who also happens to be the main reason for the death of his adopted father. This unfortunate death of his adopted father forces Velu to kill Kelkar and thereby become a force to reckon with in the eyes of the people of the slums.  It is out of guilt and sympathy that Velu decides to adopt the mentally challenged son Ajith  (Tinnu Anand) of officer Kelkar. It is around this time that Velu falls in love with a young prostitute Neela(Saranya Ponavannan) and eventually marries her. It is this marriage with Leela that not only gives him happiness but also two children a boy and a girl. The rest of the movie deals with the transition that Velu undergoes from a young man to an old man in the underworld as also the personal tragedies that he faces in his life which includes the unfortunate deaths of his wife and son which eventually culminates to a dramatic yet stunning climax.

 

This movie which is primarily a story based in Mumbai in the slums of Dharavi has been brilliantly brought to life by great art direction by Thotta Tharani. What makes the art direction special is the fact that the majority of the slum scenes have been shot on sets erected in Chennai that too with absolute authenticity just as seen in real Dharavi in Mumbai. What adds more charm to the great art direction is the brilliant cinematography by P. C. Sreeram who manages to captures the essence of the story through camera quite realistically. So be it the fight scene between Velu and officer Kelkar, the scene where Velu meets Neela in a brothel for the first time, or the dramatic climax Sreeram manages to capture them with a lot of realism which certainly helps add charm to the story. So it was no surprise that both Thotta Tharani for Art direction and PC Sreeram for cinematography won national awards for their brilliant work in 1988. The melodious music and rich background score by the great Illaiyaraja is purely brilliant and only adds its own charm to the storytelling. Of note is the theme song of the movie “Thenpaandi Cheemayile” sung brilliantly by Kamal Hassan and Illaiyaraja himself which gives the required pathos that the movie quite appropriately required.

The story and screenplay by Balakumaran and Mani Ratnam himself is beautifully written and to lend more authenticity to the movie they have used the life of Vardarajan Mudaliar a former underworld don of Mumbai as a reference which to say the least is a master stroke and gives the story a realistic touch. The editing by B. Lenin and V.T. Vijayan is crisp and certainly ensures that the narrative is taut and does not drag along unnecessarily. As for the direction by the great Mani Ratnam which is top notch and certainly of international class. The most impressive aspect of the direction is that the director as managed to capture the true essence of human emotions realistically be it anger, love, or even heartbreak. What Mani Ratnam also managed to achieve is to extract magnificent performances from a stellar star cast. He has also managed to handle sensitive scenes such as the confrontation scene between Velu and his daughter, or the scene between Velu and his grandson with great finesse and certainly proves that when it comes to direction he is not only great but a true master of his craft.

 

As for the performances by the cast which is magnificent to say the least. So be it as the innocent Neela the wife of Velu actress Saranya Ponvannan is excellent and plays a role of an innocent and loving wife perfectly well.  Janagaraj as Selvam and Delhi Ganesh as Aiyyer play the part of Velu’s trusted aides with great honesty which was what was exactly required in those roles. Nizhalgal Ravi as Surya the son of Velu is efficient in a short but significant role. The sensuous Karthika as the feisty and independent Charumati is brilliant and certainly brings to her role a lot of dignity. As the mentally challenged son Ajith of Officer Kelkar Tinnu Anand plays the role with great deal of sensitivity. Finally to the master class performance from the great Kamal Hassan as Velu Nayakar. What makes this performance so special is the fact is that the actor has played a young man, a middle aged man, and an old man all in this role quite beautifully and realistically. What Kamal Hassan also brings out beautifully through this role is genuine human emotions which is clearly evident in scenes such as his confrontation with his daughter, or his interaction with his grandson. Overall, this certainly is a regal performance by Kamal Hassan who has certainly proved in this movie that he is truly a master when it comes to emoting genuine human emotions.

 

Thus like all great movies Naygan will definitely touch the soul of all genuine cinema lovers the world over. Above all this movie also highlights the fact that in life we humans are mere puppets in the hands of destiny.

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  In life it is said that destiny of a man takes shape only by the choices he makes and there has been no better movie in Indian cinema than the Mani Ratnam directed masterpiece “Nayagan” which beautifully reflects this aspect of a man’s life. This movie basically tells a...