Navarasa Review: ‘Rasas’ Overlap in Anthology With Hits and Misses

Navarasa Review: ‘Rasas’ Overlap in Anthology With Hits and Misses

Navarasa produced by Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan released on Netflix on 6 August.

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Navarasa Review: ‘Rasas’ Overlap in Anthology With Hits and Misses

Nine stories. Nine emotions. That’s the log line of Navarasa on Netflix, produced and presented by Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan. Different directors and writers interpret these emotions, but it is hard to pinpoint one short film in this anthology and say – that one got it right. Not that they failed but because you can find one film’s rasa running through a film of a different rasa too. It is the nature of storytelling and the medium.


Bejoy Nambiar’s Edhiri channels compassion but there is compassion in Karthik Subbaraj’s Peace, as straightforward as one can get with the title. Valour or courage is the emotion Thunintha Pin is going for – written by Mani Ratnam and directed by Sarjun KM – but again there is courage in Peace. Vasanth S Sai’s Payasam is based on disgust but there is ample disgust in Roudhram (Anger) too, directed by Arvind Swami as is anger in Rathindran R. Prasad’s Inmai, going for fear.

Karthick Naren’s attempt at wonder invites the disgust within us, it’s a film that looks for wonder outside the known universe when a lot can be found inside our own. Priyadarshan’s Summer of ’92 draws some laughter as does Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, albeit unintentionally.

We don’t have to wonder what inspired Priyadarshan’s film this time around. He declares that he’s taken a page out of actor Innocent’s life right at the beginning. This is an interesting dichotomy for “laughter” where a school’s authorities and teachers are Brahmins or upper caste while the students come from lower class to marginalized backgrounds.

The caricatures of the teachers (and casting!) are spot on (I hope they were self-aware in usage of some words) and Velusamy (Yogi Babu), the most infamous failure of the school returns to its centenary celebration as a successful actor-celebrity.

This might be inspired from true events in Innocent’s life, but people of Chennai will only be too aware of another upper caste school that kicked a failing student out only to invite him as a chief guest after he conquered the world. That and the comeuppance that comes for everybody acting according to institutional and societal power structures alone is rewarding in Summer of ’92 (incidentally an important year in the life of that world conqueror).

Karthik Subbaraj continues to mine the political subject close to his heart – Tamil Eelam – by setting it in a thinly manned trench of LTTE with a twist that softens us for a lethal attack. His single take, single man operation manages to locate humanity in the middle of war making it better than anything he tried in Jagame Thanthiram, giving us enough reasons to invest in this filmmaker’s future. If you need to sell a stock, it is Karthick Naren’s, his film Project Agni and its twist delivering neither in imagination nor in filmmaking.

Karthick Naren's Project Agni stars Arvind Swami, Prasanna, Sai Siddharth, Poorna.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)


Project Agni’s actor Arvind Swami directs Roudhram – with story by him and Selva – which manages to comment on class, caste and power equations. We have Sree Raam as Arul committing murder, ostensibly in anger and good reason, and this is mirrored with a loose cannon police officer played by Ryithvika, shown to be famed for her custodial violence, not thinking twice before swinging her hand at a doctor. The film follows how Arul and Ryithvika’s character came to be with their baggage of anger, with curious narrative red herring and filmmaking and polarizing end to their respective arcs.

The film stops short of tying everything up neatly, so we are left to mull over righteous anger resulting in something like extrajudicial violence. Wonder if that counts as disgust in addition to anger. Maybe for the first time in his career, Mani Ratnam has written a script that is ambivalent towards state actors.

In Sarjun’s Thunintha Pin, Atharvaa’s rookie CRPF officer (presumably) Vetri encounters Kishore’s Naxalite who remains unnamed and answers only to “comrade”. Even the location in Sarjun’s film is unknown – it is a generic forest area.

The dialogues are minimal but packed with meaning; Vetri’s commander played by Azhagam Perumal claims that they can do anything, the law and government are with them. The Naxalite questions Vetri’s courage and says when the mind doubts whether the job at hand is right or wrong, valour will be hard to come by.

Rathindran’s Inmai takes us to more varied locations – Adiramapattinam and Muthupettai – and switches between timelines with aplomb. The shock value here is not in its Djinn-soaked storyline but in Ammu Abhirami stealing the show in a film that boasts of Parvathy and Siddharth. Take that, fear!

Rathindran R. Prasad's Inmai stars Siddharth.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Two filmmakers (Bejoy Nambiar and Vasanth) choose hallucinations to convey the sentiments of their story. Vijay Sethupathi’s Dheena is forced to confront his guilt and feel remorse by a hallucination, and in Payasam (based on a story by T. Janakiraman) it is simply an expositional device. Neither film work to great extent, Nambiar’s Edhiri continuing his penchant for slo-mo and Vasanth’s film saying very little by telling us a lot.

In the guise of compassion, Edhiri lists a series of choices as the bone of contention, instead of focusing on the class-caste relations between Dheena and Revathi’s character. Only Gautham Vasudev Menon’s take on romance will make us doubt if Nethra (Prayaga Martin) too is inside Kamal’s (Suriya) head. Only Kamal’s pretentious self can manifest such a figure. Menon has turned into a parody of himself. He’s even included a self-referential joke – the film that Kamal has tuned for will not be getting a release.

Maybe he thought because it is Mani Ratnam’s production, he can make the staccato dialogs work but the whole film sounds like a battle between two streams of consciousness flirting, which is why it is far more convincing if we think of Nethra as an imaginary being.

There is also a misplaced mid-concert instruction from Kamal – “Boys, have you been nice to your woman? If not, apologize now.” How ironic in a film with Karthik, an alleged #MeToo accused, as music director and omnipresent in this musical. It warrants Yogi Babu’s sleight when he comes on stage just as a teacher is introducing him and singing his laurels and whispers with wit – “podhum teacher” (“Enough, teacher”).

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Topics:  Navarasa   Navarasa Review 

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