Navarasa is a Tamil drama anthology that brings alive the nine “rasa” or human emotions through a series of plotlines. Each of its delicately crafted episodes have focused on one of the nine rasas– compassion, laughter, wonder, disgust, peace, anger, valor, and romance. Woven together into a comprehensive whole, these nine tales reflect human nature in its very essence. However, while some stories have succeeded in engaging audiences with their vibrancy, others have failed to garner appreciation. Read further to find out some hits and misses of Navarasa.
The People Behind Navarasa:
Navarasa has been created and co-produced by the award-winning film director Mani Ratnam. It features some renowned faces of Tamil cinema, including Vijay Sethupathi, Suriya, Siddharth, Prakash Raj, Nithya Menen, Saravanan and Alagam Perumal. The presence of prominent filmmakers like Aravind Swami, Sarjun KM and Rathindran Prasad has strengthened the show’s overall direction. Human existence is characterized by the need to feel and express a range of emotions. The genius of Mani Ratnam’s Navarasa lies in the precise representation and expression of these emotions.
Edhiri (Karuna- Compassion)
The first episode of Navarasa (directed by Bejoy Nambiar) begins with a message of compassion. When on-the-run Dheena (Vijay Sethupathi) seeks shelter at his grandmother’s house after killing the man he held responsible for the suicide of his brother, he begins to see a mysterious figure (Prakash Raj). This figure is either a phantom of the murdered man or merely Dheena’s illusion. Bothered by his guilty conscience, Dheena decides to confess to the dead man’s wife- Savithri (Revathi), leaving viewers intrigued about Savithri’s decision.
The film may or may not portray compassion in its true colours but the artists certainly win our hearts with their flawless role execution. The storyline consists of important plot nuances which demand attention- Savithri giving free lessons to her cook’s children and the dead man’s phantom singing – “Manithan Enbavan Deivam Aagalam” [“A man can become God” – from the film Sumaithaangi].
Summer of ’92 (Haasya- Laughter)
Directed by Priyadarshan Soman, ‘Summer of ’92’ traces the childhood tale of a famous comedian, Veluswamy (Yogi Babbu). After achieving fame, he revisits his village as the chief guest to his old school. While addressing the audience, he recalls being a notorious student in school. The elements of ‘haasya’ begin with his funny but “not-so-happy” childhood stories. It is his final anecdote of how he helped the headmaster get rid of his daughter Lakshmi’s adopted dog that makes viewers laugh freely. The unadulterated humor involved in his plan makes for an extremely amusing ending note to the episode, showing the true essence of childhood happiness.
Project Agni (Adbhutha- Wonder)
‘Project Agni’, the third episode of Navarasa reminds us of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi movies. The plotline is loosely based around the concepts of time travel, the existence of an alien species called “Annunaki” and the Mayan calendar. Directed by Karthick Naren, the story revolves around a scientist, Vishnu (Arvind Swami) who has created a time-travelling machine that also allows him to explore his subconscious.
Vishnu ends up erasing the existence of his wife and son in the process but gains the supernatural power of controlling all elements of the world with his subconscious. However, he makes the mistake of drifting his assistant Kalki alongside him, who is now equipped with the same supernatural powers and is up to no good. He informs his friend Krishna (Prasanna), who works for ISRO about the same and gives him the blueprint of the project in hopes of defeating Kalki. But is it actually Krishna who takes away the blueprint or a malicious Kalki disguised as Krishna? The plot rides high on expectations, leaving us hoping for a grand conclusion that never comes. It fails to give much detail or logical analysis to the audience within its 30 minutes runtime.
Payasam (Bibhatsa- Disgust)
‘Payasam’ portrays the character of a brahmin (Delhi Ganesh) based in the bygone days who often feels outshined by his nephew Subbu. Subbu generally does better than him in financial and social matters. As a result, he is respected more by the villagers. The plot, centered around Subbu’s daughter’s wedding, illuminates various instances where the old brahmin is seen ranting about trivial matters and getting envious of his nephew. Burning in his distaste for his nephew, the old man ruins the payasam- an auspicious pudding at the wedding. However, he gets caught in the act by his daughter. It is here that the first element of disgust finds overt expression through his daughter’s reaction.
The story reflects upon archaic social norms like the societal restrictions imposed upon widows and casteist sentimentalities. The episode does deliver through the brahmin’s character in highlighting human envy, insecurities and disgust. However, despite a good narration, Payasam has ended up as a conventional wedding story for some.
Peace (Shaantha- Peace)
Directed by Karthik Subbaraj, ‘Peace’ is based on the Sri Lankan Civil War. Contrary to the rest of the episodes, it gives the viewers a questionable portrayal of “shaantha”- the fifth rasa. The story portrays a young militant taking the risk of entering enemy territory to rescue a puppy. He returns to his base safe and with a renewed sense of hope for humanity. However, this mirage of peace is broken as he is later killed by the enemy. This ending leaves viewers perplexed and wondering if it really is that easy to harbour peace in the world.
Roudhram (Raudra- Anger)
Roudhram, the 6th episode of Navarasa, is a story that deals with the poverty-stricken lives of a mother and her children Arul (Sree Raam) and Anbu. Helpless, the mother finds a job as a cook at the house of Ganesan, a loan shark. However, she is sexually exploited by him in return for money. Angered by his mother’s situation, a frustrated Arul attacks and kills Ganesan. The young Anbu, traumatized by her mother’s plight, leaves the family. Now a cop, Anbu lives with childhood trauma and festering bottled-up anger in her heart. Human anger finds perhaps its rawest depiction when Anbu refuses to visit her ailing mother. This story delivers in rousing viewer’s emotions, speaking lengths about the intensity of human wrath or “raudra”.
Inmai (Bhayaanaka- Fear)
Rathindran Prasad’s “Inmai” is a tale of deception, tragedy and revenge. The film lures viewers in with a supernatural element of “djinn”, only to leave us awestruck with a twist in the ending. A rich woman (Parvathy Thiruvothu) intrigued by art and poetry but with a dark past, a sudden appearance of a charming, mysterious man (Siddharth) at her door front looking to avenge someone’s death, and the crossfire of past and present events drive the story forward. Inmai compels us to think if there exists anything that consumes us faster than the fear and guilt of our own wrong deeds.
Thunintha Pin (Veera- Valor)
Thunintha Pin throws light on two shades of valor. The perspective of a young soldier posted in a Naxal-predominant area is the first. The second is the valor of a Naxal rebel. A crossfire breaks out between the military and the Naxals, leaving most of the soldiers dead or wounded. Upon receiving orders from his superiors, Vetri (Atharvaa) takes the injured Naxal leader to the force headquarters. During the journey, the two characters talk. This dialogue highlights the crux of the plot- the major ideological differences between the two polar opposites. The question arises in front of the viewer- what is true valor then? The answer is open and up for discussion.
However, the story has left a number of viewers confused as to what exactly the filmmaker wants to convey through this duality of valor. The episode still stands as a good starting point for questioning our deep-rooted beliefs about morality.
Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru (Shringaara- Romance)
Gautham Menon’s “Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru” is “Shringaar” (romance) exemplified. A young musician Kamal (Suriya) wants to leave India in search of opportunities abroad but life takes its course and he meets Nethra (Prayaga Martin). Their romantic encounters provide viewers with a typical Menon love story underscored by Karthik’s blissful music. Although a tried-and-tested recipe for love stories, this episode is a disappointment for most viewers. This conventional portrayal of love ends up taking away from the beauty of Navarasa as a series.
Navarasa: A Hit or Miss?
Although the final episode has left many viewers longing for a better ending, Navarasa is still quite a unique undertaking by Indian filmmakers. The nine jewels of the human soul as found in Indian aesthetic theory find expression in this novel anthology. Despite some direction errors and shortcomings in the plot, it is indeed a worthwhile watch.
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