Naadu Movie Review: Sheds light on a relevant issue but milks dry the melodrama
Naadu opens on a deeply sombre note. In a small village, high up in the Kolli Hills, a young girl tries to kill herself. The villagers struggle to find medical help and as time fades away, and with it her pulse, her brother Maari (Tharshan) is forced to run downhill, carrying her in his arms to meet the (already late) ambulance halfway. The camera moves out to reveal the large expanse of the mountain, and we see the ambulance driving down a road that winds and winds… to show how far they still have to go. With little to no dialogues, performances that conduct anguish and pain reasonably well and clever cinematography, director Saravanan manages to communicate the crux of the film effectively in the opening scene. The rest of the film tries hard to make you forget that you were impressed with it in the beginning.
Director: M Saravanan
Starring: Tharshan Thiyagarajah, Mahima Nambiar, RS Shivaji, Singampuli
Naadu raises pertinent questions like the inadequacy of our education system, the ‘service or career’ debate that looms over the health industry, brain drain and the need for medical professionals to understand their demography, and the film even comments on the failure of NEET exams. These are complex issues, caught up in a vicious cycle, that has no clear solutions at the moment. Thankfully, the film never attempts to know better or offer a half-boiled solution either. What it does, however, is milk dry the melodrama and pathos ingrained in this issue.
Mahima Nambiar walks into the frame as the city brat doctor, oozing snobbery, while the villagers huddle around her, almost ready to drop at her feet at any moment to stop her from leaving. The film, while attempting to portray the ‘innocence’ of the villagers, shows them through an extremely patronising lens. Tamil cinema is used to masking its condescension towards marginalised communities by romanticising their ‘innocence’ and ultimately infantilising them; Naadu seems to revel in it for the entire runtime. The villagers devise a number of plans to charm the doctor so she decides to stay, and these plans range from quirky and whimsical, to downright emotional manipulation.
Tharshan is largely effective as Maari but he hardly ever gets a chance to do anything other than to weep, mope around, or feel shy and awkward around city people. And then of course there is a ‘hero’s friend’ who has loud ‘inner monologues’ that are supposed to be sarcastic but the lines are so unfunny and outdated that you would rather see Tharshan crying again for the hundredth time. For some odd reason, Mahima Nambiar’s character wears comically large sunglasses in these misty hills and even goes as far as delivering a cancer diagnosis while wearing these distractingly goofy glasses.
A winding road that takes several bends might sound reasonable when you drive down a tough terrain like the Kolli hills. Now imagine the same road on a flat surface. The bends here are the emotional heaviness in the film while the route it takes is the screenplay. The melodrama in Naadu is insufferably overstated and all for a story that is flat and pretty straightforward. Naadu might have its heart in the right place but the heart pumps gallons of tears instead of blood.