Navarasa, (Nava- nine and Rasa- emotions) a charity project, parades nine stories based on nine human emotions under the banner of Mani Ratnam’s production house – Madras Talkies – along with Jayendra Panchapakesan. The two directors turned producers conceptualised the idea of bringing together a cast and crew that would work for free where all the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to the members of the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI) who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The anthology consists of 9 short films where movies such as Edhiri (Karuna- Compassion), Project Agni (Adbhuta- Wonder), Payasam (Bibhatsa- Disgust), Roudhram (Raudra- Anger) and Inmai (Bhayaanaka- Fear) stand out and deliver striking performances.
Bejoy Nambiar’s Edhiri features Mani Ratnam’s writing along with the cast of Revathy, Vijay Sethupathi and Prakash Raj. In it, we see compassion and the gift of forgiveness displayed in a unique manner. Where does one draw the line between unconditional love and the art of compassion? With Revathy moving one to tears in her final monologue, the short film is a masterpiece as it takes a philosophical tone on empathy but without sounding preachy.
Summer of ‘92, directed by Priyadarshan, delivers a feeble and amateur script evoking very little laughter. The film addresses the nostalgia of growing up and reminiscing about one’s school days which were full of pranks and punishments. Yogi Babu plays the role of a notorious young boy who kept failing his exams due to lack of interest. As the story unfolds we find out how his harmless pranks impacted the lives of those around him.
Karthick Naren’s Project Agni is adhbhuta (wonderful) in a remarkable way. It sets a standard for the rest of the films in this anthology by its ability to be engrossing and stimulating at the same time. Arwind Swamy and Prasanna effortlessly bring us a Tamil equivalent of Nolan’s science fiction narrative that indulges one in a conversation around doomsday and the power of the subconscious mind. While the complexity and credibility of the ideas might seem laughable initially, one might actually have the conspiracy theories grow on them with repeat watches.
Payasam takes us on a cultural detour by inviting the audience to observe a traditional Tamilian wedding with all the rituals and customs. The director Vasanth S. Sai explores the emotion of disgust through this short film but miscarries as the emotions of jealousy and insecurity overpower instead. Delhi Ganesh amazes one with his powerful acting and leaves one reflecting on the importance of the wedding payasam and all that it represents. The film takes us on a journey of the complexities of human emotions and the loneliness of old age.
Kathik Subbaraj’s Peace and Sarjun KM’s Thunintha Pin explore the emotions of peace and courage respectively but miss the mark. While both explore conflict and warfare over the right to land and independence, the abruptness of storytelling leaves one feeling lost and confused.
Roudhram is Arwind Swamy’s directorial debut that dissects a highly relatable emotion – anger. Although the storytelling depicts the predictable relationship between anger and violence, the audience also gets the gratification of seeing a different side of anger. Watching resentment and grudges destroy relationships, the storyline may serve as a teaching for one to keep their anger in check. Sree Raam and Riythvika deliver honest and relatable performances while looking the part of an underprivileged family with big ambitions. With an excellent script, we are awestruck by the social problems it highlights for a single mother.
Rathindran R. Prasad’s Inmai is a thrilling take on fear and the multi-faceted hats the emotion wears. The storytelling is not only extraordinary but also leaves one with an afterthought of the link between fear, religion, guilt and revenge. Siddharth and Paravathy Thiruvothu do immense justice to the characters through their versatile acting and leave us wanting for more. Inmai displays a flair for screenplay that raises the bar for the anthology. We learn to disassociate fear as an isolated emotion and reflect on how it tricks our mind on various levels.
Guitar Kambi Mele Ninru is not just problematic, but also disappointing after the expectations one had from a Gautham Vasudev Menon script. The short film brings nothing new to the table and it’s take on love is boringly stale. While the duo of Suriya and Prayaga Martin are highly exciting, we leave feeling low-spirited with the monotony the film serves us with. Dealing with infatuation, love and attraction, the film ends on an incomplete note.
Regardless of the few misses, the anthology delivers a bunch of beautifully conceptualised short films. Right from the title track and the notable visual introduction of the veteran actors to the cinematography and screenplay, this is a highly artistic contribution to Tamil cinema.
Navarasa is now streaming on Netflix.