Language : Tamil
Presented by: Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan
Directors : Priyadarshan, Karthik Subbaraj, Vasanth, Arvind Swami, Bejoy Nambiar, Karthick Naren, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Sarjun KM and Rathindran R. Prasad
Cast : Suriya, Vijay Sethupathi, Siddharth, Revathi, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Prayaga Martin, Arvind Swami, and more.
Genre : Anthology | Social Issues | Drama + more.
Streaming on Netflix.
Navarasa is a 9 segment Tamil anthology where each short is exclusively dedicated to a particular Rasa (emotion). The project which is bankrolled and conceived by Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, aims at helping the daily-wage workers and other members from the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the segments have some big names associated with it, both behind and in front of the camera and the series has been on everybody’s watchlist ever since the project was announced. Netflix too had gone all out to promote the project, in the hope that the series would increase their market penetration down south.
Now, as most anthologies released recently, Navarasa too is a mixed bag with some of the shorts working well while some others, not so much. All of them are technically brilliant and there is absolutely no question about their quality. Hence this review will predominantly focus on the individual segments and if they did justice to the Rasa they picked up.
1) Edhiri (Rasa – Karuna/Compassion) – Directed by Bejoy Nambiar, Edhiri is an underwhelming product purely due to its inability to convey the core emotion satisfactorily. Barring an arresting performance from Revathi and a memorable score from Govind Vasantha, the segment fails to create an emotional impact even after having a solid premise to explore its core rasa.
2) Summer of 92’ (Rasa – Haasya/Laughter) – Based on a true story, this segment is directed by the veteran master of comedy, Priyadarshan. Starring Yogi Babu and a bunch of talented young actors, it narrates the story of an acclaimed actor, who recollects few interesting and ‘funny’ memories from his school days. Sure, the makers have tried their best to keep this film in a lighter zone compared to the others, to stay true to its genre but it fails to evoke any kind of hasya until the final act. The events are generic and one would have expected more LOL moments from a segment that gets tagged under this rasa.
3) Project Agni (Rasa – Adbhutha/Wonder) – A personal favorite, Project Agni, directed by Karthik Naren, is a true gem that manages to evoke Adbutha in its viewers throughout the runtime. Made with superb detailing and adequate art work, this sci-fi based segment talks about two scientists who discuss about a groundbreaking discovery that allows one to control their subconscious self. Although the film draws inspiration from multiple Hollywood sci-fi flicks, they are packed neatly into the narrative and Karthik’s smart writing and a phenomenal Arvind Swami, make it engaging and thrilling right from the word go. Project Agni is probably the beginning of something great for the underutilized sci-fi genre in India.
4) Payasam (Rasa – Bibhatsa/Disgust) – Probably the dark horse of this anthology, Payasam, directed by Vasanth, stands out from the other segments due to the way it integrates the disgust element into the narrative. For a major part of this short, we are shown all sorts of emotions like jealousy, helplessness and joy among others that you might end up wondering ‘where’s the key rasa?’. But it all leads up to a brilliant ending where we the audience are made to feel the emotion towards the actions of a character. Set up against the backdrop of a Tamil Brahmin wedding in the 60’s, Payasam, is as enjoyable as the dish it’s named after.
5) Peace (Rasa – Shanthih/Peace) – Karthik Subbaraj has always been vocal about his stand on the Sri Lankan civil war issue. Right from his Nalaiya Iyakunar (short segment competition entry that aired on Kalaignar TV) days to the recent Jagame Thandiram, Karthik has given us glimpses around his ideology about the war. In Peace, starring Gautham Menon, Bobby Simha and Sananth, he once again uses the medium to convey a different aspect of the same war. Although the segment can be acknowledged for its pertinent message and good heart, it somehow fails to work as a short that delivers the message around peace. At 28 minutes, one would feel the film needed more time to breathe life into its core concept and characters. Bobby Simha uses his acting chops to good effect to make up for the lack of character depth but it’s just not enough. Overall peace ends up being a segment that leaves you wanting for more.
6) Roudram (Rasa – Roudra/Anger) – Backed by some stupendous writing, crafty direction and effective acting, Roudram masterfully exhibits different dimensions of anger. Set around a struggling family of 3, it empathetically portrays how anger gets channelled differently in individuals and on whom they decide to vent it on. This is Arvind Swamis maiden directorial venture and full credits to him for pulling off something as nuanced and layered as Roudram. This is probably the lone segment in the anthology where you might end up unravelling new layers in the screenplay, once you backtrack the events. The performance of Sree Ram, as an enraged Arul, deserves special appreciation.
7) Inmai (Rasa – Bhayaanaka/Fear) – The curse of the climax holds back Inmai from being an exceptional film. The backdrop of the segment is very unique and the overall horror build-up is on point, which is also aided by a very creepy performance from Sidharth who seems to have had a great time playing the character. Vishal Bharadwaj’s score also plays a pivotal role in enhancing the Baya factor within the narrative. However, the climax is a letdown, diluting the overall impact of the segment. Had they decided to stick with the ‘horror’ element till the very end, the segment would have worked better. It’s a good attempt
8) Thunintha Pin (Rasa – Veera/Valor) – Probably the weakest among the 9, Thunintha Pin tries to tell when an individual needs to muster up courage while challenged with adversity. Although impressive on paper, the build-up to the final act is underwhelming due to which you hardly connect with the ‘courageous’ decision made by the protagonist at the end of the segment. While this short is aesthetically shot, especially the forest sequences, the story by Mani Ratnam is weak and the dependence on dialogues doesn’t help either.
9) Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru (Rasa- Shringara/Romance) – GKMN was undoubtedly the most hyped segment in this anthology due to the return of Suriya and Gautham Menon after more than a decade and also the fact that GVM is getting a Rasa that’s totally in his comfort zone. Coming to this short, it’s got a La La Land vibe to it, an ever-charismatic Suriya who fits the part to the T and a totally immersive soundtrack from Karthik. Yet, it disappoints. Now a closer look at GVM films and you will realize that he is a master in writing sensible and strong female characters, even if they were not very crucial to the narrative. Nethra, the heroine in GKMN, however is a tragedy. The writing fails to give her a proper identity, yes, she does come across as a person who is very sure of herself but it doesn’t help much. The romance/attraction between the lead pair never feels organic and as a result, we fail to connect with their relation. There is an overabundance of dialogues in the narrative that are highly repetitive and solely serves the purpose of extending the segment’s runtime (this is the longest segment in the anthology). The usual magic that one would associate with a GVM romance is missing here which is indeed a sad outcome.
All the segments in the anthology had an interesting premise but only a few of them could deliver justice to those backdrops. Watch Navarasa if you’re a film enthusiast.
Verdict: 3/7 Stars.