Naachiyaar Review: A refreshing, taut whodunit quite unlike your average Bala film
Perhaps not his best, nor his most thought provoking, but certainly the director's most mainstream effort
Naachiyaar is short. Naachiyaar is fast. Naachiyaar is set entirely in Chennai. And I'll say this anyway, even if at the cost of ruining a Bala film: nobody dies a gory death at the end. Naachiyaar is also Jyotika's name, but we'll get to her a little later.
Cast: Jyotika, GV Prakash, Ivana
The film is so unlike anything that Bala has churned out in the past; it could end up among his most entertaining films so far. It's not his best, nor his most thought provoking, but certainly his most mainstream effort. And it is for this reason that I patently recommend watching Naachiyaar. Not only does it have a storyline that's enjoyable, it is carried by a cast that makes much impact in the little screen time accorded. The screen time is understandably little at 110 minutes.
Naachiyaar begins, very uncharacteristically for a Bala film, with two chases. A posse of policemen pursue GV Prakash (or Kaathavaraayan, a dark, de-glam slum-dwelling avatar) on foot through slums, even as Jyotika is involved in a car chase to catch two men who are fleeing with a sobbing, heavily pregnant girl. Contrary to Tamil cinema convention, the police win both races.
Kaathu is headed to a juvenile home, while Arasi, his "lover-u" needs to get to an OB-GYN fast. Why? Because they're both minors who indulged in premarital sex, and now she's about to experience teenage motherhood. It also means that he gets charged with statutory rape, though Kaathu has this goofy expression about him as though he were dreaming of embracing fatherhood.
Through the first half of the film, the simplistic and heartening love story of the two teens unfolds beautifully. It isn't very easy to fall in love with a couple on screen these days, but this comes pretty darn close. Full credit to GV Prakash and Ivana for looking, sounding and feeling the part. A surprise twist, and I'm not going to give it away here, forces the police to reinvestigate the couple's love story until the point where the child is born.
Effectively, this is where Jyotika comes in. As an upright, slightly over-bass-voiced Assistant Commissioner who is prone to violence, she is so deeply moved by Arasi's plight that she asks the judge to commit her to her husband's (Dr Gurushanker, from the Madurai Meenakshi Mission ads) care. He plays a doctor in the film; so it's sort of a natural progression here. The fact that she is personally invested in caring for a destitute teenage mother shouldn't fool you into thinking that Naachiyaar is the perfect woman. She's the titular protagonist in a Bala film and that has to count for something.
Not only is she shown as a mother who doesn't have enough time for her teenage daughter, she is also shown as a woman who constantly disagrees with her husband. There's also this extremely police-like tendency of hers to let her mistakes in the line of work to slide -- like when she batters Kaathu's employer believing him to be guilty of assault and then barely bats an eyelid when she realises she was wrong. She's unapologetic and it's all believable.
There's a dichotomy to Naachiyaar's character. She is a bone-busting violent cop by day and a softer mother figure who tears up ever-so-slightly by night, which Jyotika embodies perfectly. Except for her butch tone (her own voice, by the way) and small slip-ups with her Tamil accent, there is no one who could have played this role better. But that shouldn't surprise us. Jyotika was always so much more than just candy floss or fit for women-can-win-too roles. There are distinct shades of the character she played in Pachaikili Muthucharam in Naachiyaar and I must say, those sequences are a treat to watch.
Rockline Venkatesh, who you may remember as the man who produced Rajinikanth's Lingaa, is a complete surprise package here. Cast as a wise, battle-hardened, much-suspended cop, he brings the savvy yin to Jyotika's violent yang and is an absolute delight to watch. I would like to see him do much of this in the future. Ilaiyaraaja'a background score is upbeat, modern and classic in different places and works much better than his recent body of work.
I had initially said that Naachiyaar is uncharacteristically un-Bala like. And that is true to a large extent. Bala has ruminated on themes such as paternity, sexual abuse, assault, violence, decapitation, beef, lockup assault, premarital sex and the fallacies of human nature in the past. Rarely has he made a film where none of these themes remain smaller than the movie itself. Naachiyaar manages that rare feat.
Does it have subtext? Yes.
Will it make you think long and hard? Perhaps.
Will It leave you entertained? Absolutely.
And that, by itself, is a victory for a nuanced filmmaker like Bala. And he should embrace this win.