Director: Daddy Ranjith
To emit: Dushara Vijayan, Kalidas Jayaram, Kalaiyarasan, Hari Krishnan Anbudurai, Shabeer Kallarakkal
Director of photography: An Kishor Kumar
Editor: Jungle RK
Synopsis: A theater group made up of an inclusive set of characters decides to put on a new play about contemporary love and the perspectives around it.
How do people attract and fall in love? Is it through sweet talk or through what they like? Is desire the ultimate form of love or is there such a thing as ‘Punithamana Kadhal’ (deified love)? These and many other topics is what director Pa Ranjith Natchathiram Nagargirathu explore
The film begins with a couple: Dushara Vijayan (René) and Kalidas Jayaram (Iniyan) in bed, where Dushara asks if the value of love depends on ‘Thali Kayiru’. Rene keeps on prattling about marriages and when she sings Ilaiyaraaja songs, Iniyan gets angry. After one point, Iniyan criticizes Rene saying that her fondness for Ilaiyaraaja is motivated by her caste prejudice leading them to part ways.
Later, all the inclusive theater performers meet with Kalaiyarasan (Arjun), who is new to the multi-cultural troupe in Pondicherry, to discuss what his next play will be. Each one shares their own interpretations of love and desire where Ranjith, the writer, intervenes. Arjun, who comes from a dominant landowning caste, spells the term ‘Naadaga Kaathal’ or ‘love charade’, Ranjith inverts the term and turns Regin Rose, who the director of the theater company (Subeer) decides to do his next play on the progressive nature of contemporary love.
Long conversations can be heavy for some, but this is a very crucial aspect as it allows us to process how each of the characters has their own personal politics and ideologies. It is evident in how Rene allows Arjun to remain in the company and face his mistakes in order to grow better, to have more political reason.
Ranjith is in perfect form in this film and makes the film’s focus apt as for a brief first half constant tension is building between Rene and Iniyan’s love track with flashblacks interspersed so effectively that we feel like looking through a memory lane. without many details about time and place. You clearly know them and encourage them to understand each other and that’s the same for Sumeeth Borana (Dayana) and Arjun (Praveen) or Damu (Joyal) and Sherin (Sylvia).
There are so many intriguing dramatic parts that appear on screen, but due to the change in focus on all the characters in the film, they don’t seem to be explored in much detail. They become more like supporting characters. For example, we know that Dayana and Praveen love and fight, but details are scant on their arrangement. Will they ever confess their love to parents or are they living together? We have no idea. Having gay characters on screen and not showing any intimate scenes between them really does feel like playing it safe, even though the film has a censored ‘A’ certificate.
But, the most jarring aspect is the final act, where the famous Shabeer Kallarakkal from ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’, who plays the role of Sagas Ratchagan, is just plain evil and is the typical tamil movie villain. His ideology is interesting to learn about and it’s a clever rule of broken screenwriting, but the ambiguity is very off-putting compared to the characters we’ve been following throughout. He is clearly the symbol of oppression and alluded to a character from the Ramayana, but somehow he takes us out of the movie and puts us in a question box whose answers are blank.
Nonetheless, the actors do their best for the assigned role, especially Kalaiyarasan, Dushara Vijayan, and Kalidas Jayaram own their roles. Kalai plays the toxic cis-het man who is misogynistic, casteist, homophobic and transphobic and his ideas about love are so transparent, his arc is so well portrayed on screen by the actor that when he changes, we feel the change. . Dushara also as this angry, vulnerable, independent, bold young woman sells it perfectly and Kalidas as this selfish masculine person who is unable to overlook the breakup also works. It is the testimony of the actor who can play characters with the right kind of emotions.
Pa Ranjith goes all out in this film, he changes his cinematographic style by removing the details of time jumps to mention where and what time it happens, unless it is necessary for the scene and presents us with only raw moments. Aside from exploring caste, class, gender, sexuality, and honor killings, he never presents the film with conventional storytelling methods. Experiment with all the technical departments, from Tenma’s dazzling background score and songs that perfectly fit the mood of the film: from ‘Rangaratinam’, ‘Paruvame’, ‘Perinba Kadhal’ to ‘Kadhalar’, they are all incorporated into the script perfectly. Kishore Kumar’s cinematography also helps the film, which changes with the scenes, sometimes self-contained, sometimes vibrant and colorful, reminiscent of shows like ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Elite’.
General, ‘Nachathiram Nagargiradhu‘ is a progressive film and a surprising experiment in Tamil cinema that challenges tropes about love, sexuality and gender bias and shows us a reflection of how caste and class still exist in our society and how people with perceptions can be shaped and changed.