Saba Nayagan Movie Review: Plays too safe with a relatable premise; resolutely unmemorable  

Saba Nayagan Movie Review: Plays too safe with a relatable premise; resolutely unmemorable  

With a safe premise and a competent Ashok Selvan on one hand and ineffective comedy and a flat screenplay on the other, Saba Nayagan leaves no lasting impression
Rating:(2 / 5)

Imagine you are out with your colleague and they suddenly bump into their school/college friend from years ago. Now you have to politely nod and smile your way through the awkwardness as they share funny memories, botched proposal stories, drunken adventures, and classroom shenanigans; lived experiences you have no real connection to. These anecdotes are humorous only through subjective experience. However, if you do find them funny and relatable, then you might tag along and have a good laugh but if you don’t find them all that interesting, then what you might be going through at that moment is similar to watching Saba Nayagan. The film leaves you wondering if it has anything else to offer beyond someone else’s nostalgia, someone you struggle to care about. This is not to say that Saba Nayagan’s story is unrelatable; far from it.

Director: CS Karthikeyan
Cast: Ashok Selvan, Karthika Muralidharan, Chandini Chowdary, Mayilsamy, Megha Akash

An inebriated Aravindh AKA Saba, is apprehended by the police and in a desperate attempt to elicit their empathy, he narrates the several failed romantic endeavours in his school and college years and the police are so engrossed in his tales that they are hooked, waiting to learn if he ever found his soulmate. Tamil cinema could never have enough of a protagonist who stumbles and fumbles his way through multiple crushes and broken relationships during school and college. These are universal experiences we could all relate to. Then what went wrong you might ask. The two glaringly apparent problems are the humour and the screenplay. Saba Nayagan offers sporadic chuckles but it mostly grates on your patience with its idea of humour. You see the jokes coming up and you know where exactly the film wants you to laugh—there are unmissable cues like the music, the exaggerated performances, and how the sequences are set up. However, the comedy in the film is like someone trying to sing a song from a language they don’t know. The effort seems to be sincere but since they don’t know what they’re singing about, it is more of an imitation than actual singing. But then again, this seems like the right place to drop a disclaimer about how comedy is arguably the most subjective of all art forms. However, that same liberty cannot be given to screenplay, for that is the skeleton upon which everything that makes up a film is propped. The screenplay of Saba Nayagan is like a competently designed skeleton but unfortunately, it is a flat, two-dimensional skeleton.

There is a beginning that begins almost spontaneously and is stretched and stretched until we arrive at an abrupt ending. A central conflict that is supposed to drive the momentum of the middle portion never arrives because as much the want of the protagonist is stated clearly: He wants the girl (a girl?), we never really get a sense of why Aravindh falls in love with any of these women. The screenplay falls flat because the film adamantly glosses over every heartbreak, we get to the edge and are quickly carried away. Since the weight of the emotions never really registers, we don’t see how these relationships made, unmade, and evolved Aravindh. The supporting characters and their relationships are given large chunks of scenes at random intervals that bog down the pacing, and they eat up valuable time that could have been used to explore the characters of Aravindh and his romantic interests. However, all of these seem to be easily rectifiable issues that could have been solved with script editing and a couple more drafts. While Ashok Selvan could have exerted more effort into convincingly looking like a school kid, he makes up for it with his performance. His facial expressions effectively register the transition of the character from a wide-eyed teenager to a young man masking his still-growing confidence with a half-smirk, to an adult with eyes gleaming with resolve.

What largely works in favour of Saba Nayagan is how the film is built on the safe foundations of Aravindh’s pursuit of love as he grows from a boy to a man. Another refreshing thing about Saba Nayagan is how the story is almost entirely set around Erode and Coimbatore, a welcome change for a stubbornly Chennai-Madurai centric film industry. Since the film does not force any layers or subtexts onto itself, the low-dense screenplay makes up for a harmless viewing experience. One wonders if a film can be faulted for delivering very little when it promises the same the moment it sets up the story. With a relatable premise, it is not a surprise that the director opted to play it safe. However, there is a point when playing too safe could hardly be considered playing at all.

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