Gautham Vasudev Menon’s films are extremely engaging watches for the most part. While he is known to make films that indulge in his brand of excess from time to time, his worst work is usually much better than the rank average of Kollywood. From pulse-pounding Police dramas to beautifully crafted romances, the man has shown his considerable range as a director. Owing to my confidence in his abilities, I found myself watching one of his lesser known works Nadunisi Nayagal.
Most film nerds who find themselves watching this film are familiar with the concept of “A film of two halves.” This is a phenomenon where a film seems like an amalgamation of two disconnected parts welded together for the sake of making it feature length. Nadunisi Nayagal while comprising of two extremely engaging short films, in my humble opinion, falls short of being a wholly compelling experience. The film pays tribute to Psycho as it following a serial rapist/killer on the prowl as he abducts a woman who happens to be his crush from high school.
Veera/Samar (Veera Bahu) is a deeply disturbed young man with an extremely morbid past. The film narrates his efforts at keeping Sukanya (Sameera Reddy) locked in his makeshift dungeon while chronicling Sukanya’s attempts at escaping his clutches. While this forms only half the story, the second half is wholly dedicated to the massive exposition dump that is Veera/Samar’s origin. This part of the film talks about his life of a child exposed to some unspeakable horrors and subsequently discusses his deterioration of sanity, as a teen, owing to his disconcerting upbringing.
While either of these halves, however crudely made, (the style is intentional) could have made for one of the more compelling short films made in the annals of Tamil cinema, the product on a whole is a mostly overwrought attempt at Hitchcock horror with the pretence of creating awareness about the solemn subject of mental health.
The primary fallacies dragging the film into its un-missable drudges are its leading man and narrative structure. While not a slouch in any sense of the word, debutant leading man Veera Bahu has very little to offer in terms of high-level acting credibility. This role beckons a respected character actor with at least a few years of experience under his belt or a debutant with the sheer magnitude of talent which propels him to the upper echelons from the get go. Sadly, the leading man has neither credential. The film attempts to mask its lead’s deficiencies in the acting department by implementing an excessive number of edits, 360 shots, shots kept far away from the actor’s face and many others. In the few shots where it is imperative that Veera Bahu act his way out of a tight spot, his deficiencies in being able to pull off a complex role are laid bare.
Sameera Reddy plays a mostly unidimensional victim who could be any one of the multiple well-written women Gautham Menon has brought to the screen. While I can’t fault her lack of character development (the film mostly told from a singular perspective) a few more instances of purposeful actions would have benefited her character in exchange of fewer instances of needless screaming.
That being said, the film mostly lives and dies by its extended flashback sequence. A deep dive into the origins of a serial murderer is great fun if one can stomach the harsh realities of his origin. The film treads deep into older waters. This is a degree of character exploration most films dare not to go to. One can draw parallels with this character’s origins from the highly regarded Kamal Hassan film of yesteryear Sigappu Rojakkal. The character Mr Hassan plays, a derivation of Norman Bates, is an outwardly charming man deeply influenced by the sexual promiscuities he witnessed as a child. This character template has been revisited to varying degrees of success in films ranging from Kadhal Kondein to Manmadhan.
As Nadunisi Nayagal’s minimalist art takes a swing at the character, the film’s uncompromising look is somewhat undercut by its lack of focus on the supposed hard truths, the reasons for which could range from the fear induced by overzealous nature of the Indian censors or a true lack of in-depth understanding of what could cause a person’s psychological downfall. The reasons for the film being bang average could be many but the outcome is singular.
While the film is in no sense a bad one, it is quite un-groomed. The elements to make a compelling character study or crime drama are all there but with time being of the essence and the on screen talent not being up to a higher standard, this film might (and has) fallen into the category of a cult film. Loved my thousands and unappreciated by millions.