“Natchathiram Nagargirathu” Movie Review: Perhaps Pa Ranjith’s Best, Though Too Long

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This is Ranjith’s finest and purest film, to date. Not just in terms of what it represents, but also in the form it comes in. This visual language is also a departure for the filmmaker

This is Ranjith’s finest and purest film, to date. Not just in terms of what it represents, but also in the form it comes in. This visual language is also a departure for the filmmaker

Lovers in bed having a seemingly thoughtful but worried conversation about their relationship ideally shouldn’t remind you of that unbroken shot in Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal Contempt. Yet that’s what Pa Ranjith’s smashing opening sequence Natchathiram Nagargirathu makes you. There’s contempt here too, just that it takes another form: a caste remark.

Rene (Dushara Vijayan. She is Pa Ranjith’s best protagonist) and Iniyan (Kalidas Jayaram in an effective performance) have a heated discussion about Ilaiyaraaja’s music. Their difference in personalities establishes their political beliefs and where they would like to stand: Iniyan, a fan of Nina Simone, is dismissive of the maestro, while Rene says Ilaiyaraaja is as superior as the American singer-activist. If not, more.

Iniyan is “triggered” by René’s rendition of “En Vaanile” from Johnny — a film that dealt with identity theft and identity crisis, and a woman living a life in a cage — and asks him to stop. Look at the song choice. This is politics too. Iniyan cuts her off when Rene sings this line: “Neerodai polave ​​in penmai. Neerada vandhathae in menmai.” This ” penmay” and ” menmay“Follows up wonderfully in Rene’s arc later, where she talks about a shadow called caste that kept her running through life but also allowed her to be fearless and assertive. “That’s my social identity,” she says. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you think this scene is a harmless argument over music, you’re wrong. Rene (her birth name is Tamizh) is Dalit and she is made to realize this by Iniyan. The very nature of this scene is political and reminded me of the terrific short film Modi & A Beer, also produced by Neelam Productions. Rene and Iniyan part ways and the “A Pa Ranjith film” title card appears. Love is political.

Natchathiram Nagargirathu

With: Dushara Vijayan, Kalidas Jayaram, Kalaiarasan, Hari Krishnan, Charles Vinoth and Subatra Robert

Director: Pa Ranjith

Scenario: A theater group sets the stage to stage a play about love, its politics, and the various narratives that society perpetuates to maintain the status quo.

The first half hour leading up to Tenma’s energetic song “Ragarattinam” is so delicately written and spaced out that it can be considered a solid example to understand Why a film must have a good direction. Ranjith has done this before with Sarpatta Parambarai, where his first half hour was painstakingly spent establishing his world. But this movie also takes a long time to get to its first escalation point. Subeer (Regin Rose), mentor of a movement theater troupe, has an idea for a play about love. They discuss love, its politics and its facets which turns into a lively discussion showing people’s true colors. What are the different types of love? Inter-caste? Interfaith? weird love? One way Love? Natchathiram… that’s all.

By making cinema inclusive, with a diverse set of voices of varying gender, sexual and political identities, Ranjith illustrates that the oppressed class of one can also become a dominant voice in another. This is evident in the scene where a character puts the blame on an upper caste name being muted. And Dayana (Sumeeth Borana), a queer person, gets upset. Dayana is still a minority and constantly faces the threat of oppression because of her sexual orientation. But that doesn’t seem to take away the privilege of his caste. From then on, the film questions the foundations of hypocritical beliefs and prejudices. For example, one character shoots down love based on physical attraction, calling it ” gaaji(lust). But the same person asks her potential partner for a selfie, as she tells him she just took a shower. Or when Shekar (Charles Vinoth) says, “Love has nothing to do with age.”

Of course, it begins as a romance between two characters. But soon, we realize that it’s not about Rene and Iniyan. We get an overview. This is a movement theater troupe of which they are part. Essentially, their “love” story becomes part of a larger thing. It’s a masterstroke from Ranjith. The backdrop of the theatre, where people of different colors and social backgrounds converge to become one, serves as a springboard for imagining society as a whole. Therefore, the characters’ imperfections and political awareness become vital in this labor of love. The fact that all characters are treated as components, that they only become a force to be reckoned with when they unite in the face of threat, drives home Natchathiram Nagargirathubasic principle: “The universe is so vast that we are only thug (particles)”, says a character from the film.

There’s a third important character: Arjun (Kalaiarasan is absolutely brilliant), an aspiring actor who comes from a dominant caste and really struggles to fit in. His parents want him to marry Roshini (Vinsu Rachel Sam). On the first day, he is visibly uncomfortable with Sylvia (Sherin Celin Mathew), a trans woman who is also part of the theater troupe. Arjun is written as a counterpoint to Iniyan. But they both belong to two sides of the same coin.

Shakespeare called this world a stage and we are all mere actors. Natchathiram… seems to point in the same direction. By staging a “play” where the actors embody their respective characters, he draws up an incisive case against Nadaga Kadhal, a term slapped against Dalits by dominant caste groups in order to vilify inter-caste marriages. So Ranjith takes this nadagam (play) as a weapon to “stage” a performative play against honor killings. Some parts of the performative pieces reminded me of those by Gasper Noe Climax.

The theater troupe hits a roadblock as they cannot mention caste names. Instead, they offer a metaphor: kaatu poonai (jungle cat) and naatu poonai (pet cat). You’d think the play is about these two groups until a wildcat (Shabeer Kallarakkal in a cameo) comes along. In theory, a cat cannot kill a tiger. It is practically not possible. What if 100 cats got together? A thousand? Sounds doable, right?

This is Ranjith’s finest and purest film, to date. Not just in terms of what it represents, but also in the form it comes in. This visual language is also a departure for Ranjith. Notice how he uses intercuts (edited by Selva RK) that look seamless to the Rene and Iniyan pane. Natchathiram… is also Ranjith’s ambitious film; he only gets better as a filmmaker with each film. From the shot compositions, laying out shots to Tenma’s color palette and music, this film speaks of ambition.

Natchathiram…is as much René’s story as it is Ranjith’s. In the end, it’s a movie about his bow. She is treated as the guardian of conscience, to the point where when Arjun oversteps his bounds with her, she is willing to give him a chance. “Political correctness will not come overnight,” she says. In the sweetest scene of this film, you see René opening a door on which the mural of the Buddha is painted. The light from the door illuminates the frame. Rene asks Arjun to follow her, as if to kiss the Buddha. This is Pa Ranjith dhammam.

Natchathiram Nagargirathu is currently playing in theaters.

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