Director: Anand Shankar
Cast: Vijay Devarakonda, Sathyaraj, Nassar, Sanchana Natarajan
Composer: Sam CS
In India, we are hardly masters of satire. At least, not as consistent as we would like to be. There are a mix of simplistic and complex reasons for that. We are not that rigorous with it and at various levels, freedom of expression is a loosely defined term in our country. People don’t attempt it at all or when they do, it’s not up to the mark. We have just about begun to create daily TV shows and web videos that needle the government and the larger world of politics. It is sharper in the south. More mass-produced and confined to particularly privileged classes in the north. Anand Shankar’s NOTA uses the events of Tamil Nadu politics from the last three years to tell you the story of Varun, an accidental Chief Minister. The joke here is that everything in the recent politics of Tamil Nadu has been an orchestrated accident. Anand Shankar is a little confused about how he wants to present it. He doesn’t go for straight up satire. He also wants to tell a story that has a few mythic undercurrents. The result is a hotchpotch.
Varun (Vijay Devarakonda) is the prodigal son of Vinothan (Nassar), the Chief Minister when the film begins. Thanks to a corruption case on Vinothan, he resigns from his post and gives the reins of the government to his son, the one returning from a party, ripe for a drunk driving fine, if not arrest. There is a lot of exposition in NOTA. A couple of important characters’ foundation and relationship with the central players are spelled out in laborious dialogues. Some of the initial moments are arresting – like Varun as a dummy CM, who is lounging around with his friends, beer in one hand and a joystick in another (he not only plays video games, he also designs them). He signs a few documents and watches them on television, realised as the grand schemes that are helping the poor, playing repeatedly on the government’s channel. Anand Shankar relies a lot on the recent events and your memory of them – where he is helped by how fresh they are on everyone’s mind. While we see these events played up for their comedy value, there is another serious thread that develops between father and son – one who wants to get back to the place he relinquished and another getting a feel for a job he never wanted and increasingly becoming comfortable in.
The latter story is interesting because it takes on mythic proportions though Anand Shankar never takes it to its logical end. We have Sathyaraj playing Mahendran, an influential media person and critic, holding Varun’s hand through every process. These are not real-life conceits in that Mahendran is shown as a highly respected journalist who values the ethics of the trade. But he finds himself in positions that would scream both unprofessional and conflict of interest. These are excusable because he has a backstory that keeps you interested. There is an evil godman (reflecting every godman in the country today) puppeteering Vinothan who tells him his power should not leave his bloodline. Suddenly, this story is more mythical than real thanks to an unwieldy flashback about Vinothan that Anand Shankar inserts. But he keeps this in the background. On the foreground, we have Varun handling a government-induced riot situation, a flood situation that is quickly going out of hand and a midweek holiday in Moovathur (stand-in for Koovathur). Anand Shankar may have Shankar in his name, but he is not as great as his namesake when it comes to set pieces. These are quickly resolved with no payoffs. It ends up as a bunch of memes from the last couple of years put together hastily into a movie.
Someone needs to change the grammar of political thrillers in Tamil cinema. We’ve had several of them and they all follow the Shankar template, without the rewards. At least do away with the interviews of common people affirming the actions of the hero. It’s been almost 20 years. Varun gets a rival in the daughter of Vinothan’s arch enemy – Sanchana Natarajan as Kayal. It takes some time to warm up to her because at first, she looks like another prodigal daughter who doesn’t want to be there – we are really bad with casting, aren’t we? NOTA retains some good touches in offhand moments and lines. Like when Mahendran asks Varun to meet him at the secretariat, he adds – ‘indha nerathuku nee anga dhan irukkanum‘ [at this time of the day that’s where you should be, anyway]. NOTA builds up a lot of what we’ve already seen for comedic effect. Thankfully, it doesn’t give us Vijay Devarakonda fighting goons and that Shankar template is done away with. It has Varun, the Chief Minister, drugged and driving through the city in a convertible with the roof down. And wearing a hoodie – nothing can be more conspicuous – to get away stealthily from the secretariat. It’s a little appalling how functional and convenient NOTA is. Some YouTube channels have delivered their commentary with more biting complexity.
The NOTA review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.