It’s always tough to judge an anthology film, what with different directors and varying styles coming into the picture. Navarasa attempts a unity of theme in addressing the nine basic human emotions in each 30-minute segment. But, that’s about the only unity it manages. Taken as a whole, the films are inconsistent — ranging from the hugely effective Roudhram to the pointless Summer of 92 to the mumbo-jumbo masquerading as science-fiction in Project Agni to the hokey love story of Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru.
More importantly, the emotions some of these films aim to convey barely come across. Take Inmai, for example. The film is supposed to deliver a sense of horror. It is an interesting piece, sure, with Siddharth and Parvathy deftly tiptoeing around each other in a strange tale involving djinns, but horror is not quite what it evokes. Or the magic that Revathy, Prakash Raj, Vijay Sethupathi weave in Bejoy Nambiar’s Ethiri, a heartfelt story (by Mani Ratnam) that explores compassion.
But, the way it does so is too basic, too predictable with little of the nuance needed to explore guilt and redemption. Wars and resurrections feature in two pieces — Peace and Thunintha Pin — both somewhat middling and muddled efforts. The former, dealing with the armed conflict with Sri Lanka, has a most heart-warming sequence involving a pup, but ends up going nowhere. Payasam has a telling comment on the institution of marriage and the dessert at its heart — made of the hard chickpea and the soft yellow lentils that come together for the payasam (and a marriage) to work. But, again, the messaging is cluttered.
Then there are the ones that don’t work at all. Leading that pack here is Priyadarshan’s Summer of 92, which is singularly unfunny despite Yogi Babu and Nedumudi Venu being cast in it. It has some well-shot sequences of the countryside that evoke nostalgia for a lost time. Incredible as it might sound, it is supposedly based on a true story involving Malayalam actor, Innocent Vareed Thekkethala, and even more incredibly, it is supposed to be a take on laughter. Behind it is Project Agni, that incorporates dialogues about Christopher Nolan fanboy pages and ends up as one, and a bad one at that. What if the entire universe is a computer simulation done by an extremely intelligent species from the future? With December 21, 2012 — the day the world was supposed to come to an end — playing an important part. This is the one that’s truly, if unintentionally, funny.
The other major disappointment is Gautham Menon’s romantic drama, Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru. At 47 minutes, it is the anthology’s longest segment. There’s so much verbosity here, as the couple try to come to terms with falling in love, it is no wonder that the affair doesn’t last. Despite the undeniable charms of Suriya and a terrific music track, the film is done in by the artifice that marks the exchanges between the lovers. The one that truly works is Arvind Swami’s directorial debut Roudhram, a standout. It’s the one film in the anthology that is fully realised, with Santosh Sivan’s cinematography and A R Rahman’s background score complementing the heart-breaking story of a perpetually hard-up family of mother, son and daughter.
The visuals are consistently engaging across the films, the performances above par, yet the tone too erratic for Navarasa to come together as a whole.
Cast: Saravanan, Azhagam Perumal, Revathy, Nithya Menen, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Aishwarya Rajessh, Suriya, Vijay Sethupathi, Arvind Swami, Siddharth, Prakash Raj
Director: Ethiri, Bejoy Nambiar; Summer of 92, Priyadarshan; Project Agni, Karthick Naren; Payasam, Vasanth Sai; Peace, Karthik Subbaraj; Roudhram, Arvind Swami; Inmai, Rathindran Prasad; Thunintha Pin, Sarjun KM; Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, Gautham Menon
Rating: 2.5 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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