Oh, this is a difficult, difficult task, telling you what Naan Kadavul is about .
The most hard-hitting sensation you feel when you step out of the cinema hall after the movie? A queasy and disturbing feeling at the bottom of your tummy. Call it macabre fascination, call it reluctant appreciation for its stark canvas, call it a sadness (so typical of a Bala-film-effect, you say?) at some harsh realities thrown brutally at you. Whatever it is, it is unavoidable and the movie DOES affect you and you WILL remember it in the hours to come. Let's look at why.
The astrologers said it was bad luck to keep his son at home. Surrendering to this superstition, as so many Indians do, a doting father abandons his son at Kasi and only returns after 15 years of guilt at his cruelty and sin drag him back to the holy place to find his boy and take him back home...
What the father finds is not a normal young man, but a wild, shaggy-haired and bushy-bearded man with an insane light shining in his eyes. Rudra (Arya), brought up in the company of Aghory sadhus with their unspeakable practices, seems other-worldly, with his ranting and chanting of ancient texts. He seems like a madman, perhaps made so by the strange nature of the Agory swamis' upbringing - teachings so radically different from what we learn at home and at our schools; being surrounded by corpses burnt or waiting to be burnt at the colossal open-air crematorium, incessant chanting and yogic meditation. All of this, combined with the hallucinogenic effects of unlimited bhaang, of course.
The boy makes his trip from the banks of the Ganges to the heart of Tamil Nadu, with none of the return to "sanity" as his family hopes he will have. In fact, Rudra leaves home for a yogic life in a cave, never returning to human bonds like home, parents, family, etc.
Meanwhile, the life of temple beggars is thrown at us in harsh clarity. Beggars who are not just poor, but blind, handicapped, less-than-able or absolutely unfortunate from birth or made so at the hands of the unspeakably cruel "beggar-runner" Thandavam. The minutes you spend digesting what you are certain must be rife across the country, are full of sadness, disgust, shock and revulsion at the depths human minds can sink to. As the story weaves along (almost as insanely in places, like the grass Rudra smokes!), it includes the portrayal of the blind beggar girl Hamsavalli (Pooja), she of the sightless eyes and heavenly voice.
Once the characters are introduced, the movie is then about the struggle of these beggars to find positivity in their depressing lives, mirth even; and Rudra's efforts to reveal that the search for God sometimes shows you that you ARE God yourself to us mere mortals . The strange light shining from Rudra's eyes now suddenly seems less like a deranged pot-smoker's and more like someone blessed with some divine powers. Rudra's violent streak, his swift retribution, quicksilver mood swings and ultimately, his seemingly psychotic but deeply thought-provoking and wise teachings of life and death make you believe him when he says about himself, Aham Brahmasmi (I am the creator, I am Brahma).
Arya has done a superb job as Rudra. It must have been a truly difficult task to learn yogic poses and force the manic light out of his eyes amidst all that hair on his face, but he has done it very well. Plus, for a guy who can barely speak Hindi, his fluent switch from language to language is admirable too. His body is perfect for a yogi's and his light eyes are truly magnetic. Here is a star in the making, for sure. And given Pooja's great talent, her role of Hamsavalli is also beautifully executed.
The stark and very disturbing portrayal of all the beggar characters - real ones that Bala painstakingly researched and found, complete with the physical and mental disabilities that one usually didn't get affected so powerfully by until now, during the movie.
The brilliant performance of Thandavam, the villain.
The screen presence of seemingly insignificant characters, like the kind-hearted eunuch helper and the midget beggar boy who has, despite his woes, loads of attitude and a great sense of humour.
The haunting music throughout the movie.
The controlled violence and ritualistic nature of the fight sequences that leave you swallowing.
The combination of intrigue, suspense, mirth, cruelty, poignancy, shock-value and strangeness that is present for the entire duration.
These are what stay with you in your mind as you leave your seats once the movie is over.
In retrospect, there are a few things that could have been righted in the movie. Like a little more explanation of why it all happens. It all seems a little too sudden sometimes. The sudden appearance of Rudra. The sudden weaving in of the beggars' tales. The sudden correlation between them and him. How does he establish himself as someone like a sorcerer. Etc., etc. Plus, most Hindi and Sanksrit words should have had Tamil and/ or English subtitles to keep the audience in the loop of things. There is much violence (cruelly creative, we say!) that leaves you queasy (the scenes where Thandavam unleashes his terrible anger on his hapless beggars and on Hamsavalli). Add to this the freak-show quality of constant streams of differently-abled people shown on screen and the mindless and ruthlessly expressed cruelty of Thandavam and others; and you wonder what audiences is Naan Kadavul really made for - the mass audience, the "hat-ke" parallel cinema lovers or a mixture of both? Well, it's certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Whatever the answer may be, Naan Kadavul is full of Bala's signature style of movie-making - the combination of a deeply psychotic side of human nature, an inexplicable godliness in man, and even some mirth in the face of adversity. The flow of the movie is as weird as the concept and story, edited ably by Suresh Urs. The colours of the visuals, thanks to cinematographer Arthur Wilson, are as real as they can get. Music by Maestro Ilayaraja is typically melodious and melancholy. And the overall movie experience: just unforgettable.
Still weighing the points, will decide in a couple of days when the uneasy feeling in the stomach settles!
For Arya, this is his biggest movie awaiting critical acclaim, finally seeing the light of day after 2+ years in the making. And for the work he has done for it, we wish him nothing but the very best.