Tamil Reviews

NGK Review: Political Commentary In A Script Tainted By Too Many Hands

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Director: Selvaraghavan

Cast: Suriya, Sai Pallavi, Rakul Preeth Singh

 

The opening scene of Selvaraghavan’s NGK (Nandha Gopala Kumaran played by Suriya) is elaborate. Kumaran returns home after toiling away in the fields. He is into organic farming, a job that he claims gives him more freedom and peace of mind than the desk job that he has all the degrees for – M Tech and pichdi (PhD) as his mother puts it. Selvaraghavan uses a lengthy tracking shot as Kumaran waltzes around their modest living room telling everything that’s great about his current job on the field or helping people compared to the material comforts his mother wants for him. His wife Geetha (Sai Pallavi) looks on lovingly, she clearly leans on his side even if she betrays an understands of her mother-in-law’s complaints. Later in private, Geetha smells his chest and says this is what she likes about him – the mann vasanai (the fragrance of the earth). This later devolves into a terrible subplot but at least Selvaraghavan is on course. His hero is a literal son of the soil, he seems to suggest. He is a born leader but from outside the system, he can only do so much. A quick setback is conjured, and an uncertain Kumaran is thrust into the world of politics.

His name, Nanda Gopalan Kumaran is not random; it is a reference to Lord Krishna and he is slowly built up to be the kingmaker. But he is referred to as Kumaran throughout and that suggests a singular untainted quality of the protagonist. He is too pure. He helps people with organic farming. He has a legitimate following among youngsters, people who trust him and support him. For all practical purposes the man is a virgin when it comes to politics. This is the central thesis of NGK – Selvaraghavan wants to explore the slow erosion of character and ideology that comes with this man’s entry into the cesspool. His closest adviser is an MG Ramachandran look-alike, Giri played by Bala Singh. Like MG Ramachandran, he is also concerned with image and optics. He wears a wig, wears glasses like MGR. He is old. He is also old school; his ways have gone stale long before he had to buy that wig. Nobody respects him today and he is a laughingstock even in the party office. When he advises Kumaran to join politics, Selvaraghan frames MGR’s face on a local party board in between Kumaran and Giri.

Once he enters politics, NGK ceases to be plot driven. It is a series of shots from NGK’s brief history in politics. Very few of them work. The rest that do suggest that NGK was probably a very different film on paper. The very grounding beneath Kumaran’s decision to join the party is shaky, as it should be – he sees the power that a Councillor commands, the respect an MLA’s authority brings with it and this power corrupts him. Power is what turns him, not his intentions. If he can obtain this power and do good, who can stop him. What could go wrong?

A lot apparently. Both in Kumaran’s life and in this film. Politics is a dirty toilet – the metaphor is stretched too far. Geetha’s encouraging words to him are how even if he enters a gutter it’ll be clean by the time he gets out. When he joins MLA Pandiyan as a party worker, he is asked to clean the toilet. A toilet that looks as if someone took a dump everywhere except in the commode. Here is an earnest youngster who has joined politics to clean up the system and he must start ground up. For a while, Selvaraghavan turns the film into parody because Kumaran becomes a parody of himself to service Pandiyan and gain his favour and trust. These sequences establish a certain vacuousness that comes from being a party worker. Pandiyan suggests it’ll take at least thirty years for him to rise into any respectable position. Then there is even a fight scene that is filmed in a hospital’s sprawling rest room. Seriously, which hospital has a rest room that looks bigger than the ground it is built on? The Kool Aid Kumaran drinks is not an elixir but the poison that corrodes him from within. He resorts to everything – talking in jingoistic metaphors, make promises, pose for the cameras, refer to all the older women around him as his mothers. A fake protest and working at the behest of the party’s IT Cell – probably the first depiction of such a dedicated setup in Indian film. Even blood manages to find his hands. Selvaraghavan doesn’t stitch these scenes well together. The film is too tonally inconsistent to mean something. We have Suriya as the Kumaran we know in one scene and in another, he is doing the pretend act and they slowly merge together but not convincingly. The result is a hopscotch of a film.

Then there is Selvaraghavan’s treatment of the women characters. He sincerely believes that when you put two women on screen, they can’t help but be catty. Rakul Preet Singh plays Vanathi, the PR who is directing the opposition’s campaign and decisions from behind the scenes. Selvaraghavan introduces an inexplicable power dynamic between Geetha and her – apparently Geetha’s favourite fragrance of the earth has now been replaced by Versace and she begins to suspect Kumaran of having an affair. He does. But the awkwardness and unwieldy introduction of this plot is one of the central problems with NGK. Selvaraghavan wants this to be a further taint on Kumaran’s character, a problematic by-product of political affiliations but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. There is a painful and distracting duet to go with it. There is another first in this film – a woman adiaal who is sent as part of the gang to beat the hero up. Sorry Selvaraghavan you don’t get brownie points for such empty exercises when the dignity in characterization of your central women is compromised.

NGK mirrors the schizophrenic nature of its titular character. It has some great scenes – like when Kumaran is wondering how to speak on stage, how to get that pure Tamil off the bat. The MGR knock-off suggests he needn’t do any such thing; he must follow his own style – at once self-deprecating and a commentary on Tamil Nadu’s current political scenario with tens of pretenders to the throne. And then he includes a scene where Kumaran breaks into Vanathi’s hotel room, does some inane things, says he needs to take a shower and then has a quiet dinner date. It is obvious that too many hands have tainted Selvaraghavan’s script including Suriya’s stardom. Suriya switches between sincere performance and bouts of showboating, something he did well in 24 too. This again mirrors the multiple personalities Kumaran needs to put on to survive. NGK is ultimately about the ideological bankruptcy in Tamil Nadu’s (or Indian) politics and disillusioning effect it can have on the well-meaning individual who wishes to enter it. It is or at least wants to be more complex than it lets on. Unfortunately, it is disillusioning for us, the audience, too.

*****

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