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Navarasa 2021 Review: It Is Not Quite The Nine-Course Nectar, But Saved By A Brilliant Sethupathi




Navarasa(Netflix, Anthology  of 9  Films)

Navarasa Review: It Is Not Quite The Nine-Course Nectar, But Saved By A Brilliant Sethupathi

Directed by Bejoy Nambiar ,PriyadarshanKarthik SubbarajVasanthArvind Swami, , Karthick NarenGautham Vasudev MenonSarjun KM and Rathindran R. Prasad

Rating: ***

Navarasa Review: They say, save the last for the  best. But in this eclectic  uneven omnibus  of  nine stories based on the  nine basic human emotions  , the best  is  the  first story Edhir, based on the emotion of pity(Karuna) it features  two powerhouse performances  by  Vijay Sethupathi and  Revathy as an murderer  and  his victim’s wife.

Their confrontation is  so  beautifully mapped that the  entire Navarasa seems  to have been plotted by director Bejoy Nambiar just to  bring these two fabulous  actors  together. But no. There is  more here. Edhir addresses itself to the question  of the conscience and the power/ambiguity  of  forgiveness  with such stupendous serenity, Navarasa is a joy to  behold the art  of Bejoy. As  for Sethupathi , he is  a  force of Nature. With one twitch of his eyebrow  he can convey  an ocean of conflicting emotions.

No other story  in the  9-tiered   anthology, Navarasa,  can match the power  and sensitivity  of  Edhir. Except,maybe, just maybe the  story on  Beebhatsa(digust).  Navarasa is a story called Paayasam  about an unreasonably  jealous patriarch(Delhi  Ganesh,brilliant) who  just can’t stop being resentful  of his  younger brother Subbu  who  is adored  by  everyone  including  the  patriarch’s  own children. Paayasam  is  prodded by a   percolating  feeling  of emotional explosion never quite reaching that stage  of  an open confrontation between the two brothers that would have trivialized the  illogicality and impact  of  the elder brother’s  hostility towards the  younger. Director Vasanth handles the  wedding tensions  with  understanding and irony.This one is  worth a  dekko.

I would have  added  Roudhram (Anger)  to  my  list  of  favourites.  But actor-turned-director Arvind Swamy  piles on the  melodrama  so  insistently  that  after a while  I wasn’t sure if he was  lampooning  the cinema   of  the  70s: the oppressed  poor but noble  young hero Arul(Ramesh Thilak) who kills the  evil lecherous moneylender, a character  borrowed from Mehboob’s Mother India.  The adoration bordering on  hero-worship for the mother.

Though the storytelling  displays an emotional  grip it is way  too  hackneyed  for a full frontal  impact. Nonethless , worth seeing specially  for  young Ramesh Thilak’s performance and Santosh Sivan’s cinematography which captures  the colourful chaos of  low life . But the  gimmicky ending of Navarasa left me gasping for breath.

Priyadarshan’s Hasya(laughter)  episode enititled Summer Of  92 has  the popular comedian Yogi Babu reminiscing  at  a function to honour him  at his old school about the pranks that made him at a 4-time  class-9 failure.  The laughs  are  sustained only  up to a point. Mid-way a canine  takes over the show.And the comedy goes  to  the  dogs.

Among the misfires  of  the  anthology , count Immai (fear)  where Siddharth plays a  visitor to  Parvathy  Thiruvothu’s  posh residence  only to  expose himself to be a sinister  ghost from her  lurid past. Firstly there is  very little of  Ms  Thiruvothu on the screen. Ammu Abhirami who plays  her younger version  is  a lot more  visible.  Though they don’t  resemble one another,  a  gap in one  of the  eyebrows  for the  both the ladies suffices  to convince us they are the one  and  the  same.

Thirovothu/Abbhirami’s  character Waheeda is  a  bit of  an evil  gold digger . No wonder she  ends  up on the floor in a pool of blood with Siddharth’s  mumbling and chanting  under his breath  about a  vengeful  djinn. There is so much  explaining in this  story…Allah! And I still don’t know  why  actors like Siddharth and Parvathy agreed to be  part  of it. Maybe  director Rathindran  R  Prasad  has  the  answer.

Another honourable misfire is Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru celebrating the Shringara rasa. Superstar Suriya is a complete miscast as  ‘Grammy nominated’(ahem) musician  . The  Indie-rocks songs  by  Karthik don’t help. They punctuate  the whole anomaly  of a 40-plus  Indian actor masquerading as a struggling  musician in the  anglo-pop scsne.Suriya’s hair-band doesn’t help either.It makes him look like Adnan Sami  during a bad-hair day. Making it worse for him is that fact that his co-star Prayaga Martin steals every  scene . A cross between Madhuri Dixit and Reena Roy,  Prayaga is quite a find. For this we are grateful to  director Gautam Menon.

The  complete  misfires   of the anthology are the stories  Beyond Courage celebrating   Veera(courage) , Shaanth  celebrating peace   and  Project Agni celebrating  the  adbhut(wonder) rasa. These three stories are not lacking in  their zest  to  portray  the  human emotions  in all its frailty , but  get left behind in  trying to match their  vision with the  execution of the story.

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Navarasa is scattered with interesting moments. But they don’t really add up to a comprehensive  anthology. After  Vijay Sethupathi’s brilliant act in the  first  story it is pretty much downhill.

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