Long before the Kisan Long March, we saw Ilaya Thalapathi Vijay lamenting the cause of the farmers on the big screen in A.R.Murugadoss’s Kaththi . Now, Murugadoss was smart enough to realise that when you tackle as grave and complicated an issue as the plight of farmers in a film, you simply cannot pull it off with a single Vijay, so we ended up getting two for the price of one, saviours I mean. In stark contrast, we are presented writer-director Selvaraghavan’s latest, NGK where Suriya is seen fighting the farmer’s fight, on his own. Incidentally Suriya had played twin roles in another Murugadoss film about saviours, 7am Arivu. Murugadoss’s heroes are always simple men with simple answers to complex issues and gets the job done with a Kaththi (knife) or a Thuppakki (gun), in comparision to Selvaraghavan’s leading men who are troubled individuals who almost always can’t even rescue themselves, leave alone the people who look up to them. But then, Murugadoss and Selvaraghavan are two directors at the far ends of the narrow spectrum that commercial filmmaking is and if direction was a jungle, Selvaraghavan could rightly be called a different animal. From psychological thrillers to gangster drama to fantasy to sci-fi, Selvaraghavan has lent his touch to diverse genres with varying success in the past and now he has attempted to give the political thriller a twist of his own.
Suriya plays Nanda Gopalan Kumaran in this eponymous film about a regular citizen who is distressed by everything that’s wrong with the political establishment, not a first in Tamil films, Shankar almost made a career out of it, but given Selvaraghavan’s repertoire, it was something to look forward to, right from the day the news broke that the director was teaming up with Suriya who was in much need of a box office resurgence too. The last time Suriya played a politician was in Mani Ratnam’s Ayutha Ezhutha and he played it with elan. Michael Vasanth looked and talked every bit like the leader he was. In last year’s Sarkar we saw Murugadoss getting Vijay to spreadeagle down on Tamil polity and transforming governments overnight, literally. Selvaraghavan however, would have none of that for Suriya. Unlike Sarkar’s protagonist who transforms the system in a jiffy, in NGK, it’s the character who undergoes a transformation. NGK is essentially as much an exercise in character study as of the social circumstances that the director asks the cinematographer to pan his lens across. It basically shows us how individuals with the noblest of intentions make compromises and resort to dishonorable acts once the tentacles of the system closes in on them. In the same breath, NGK is also Selvarghavan’s most commercialised hero to date. Nanda Gopan Kumaran holds a PhD and left a cushy job with an MNC to take up organic farming. He’s at arms length for people in need, literally. Trained in mortal combat too he is, apart from being a cook with a Midas touch , we learn later. Naturally, NGK’s opponents are the ones reigning in the traditional political power centres who control everything with the aid of a PR army, which is a true reflection of the times we live in. This also brings us to one of the prominent female characters in NGK’s story, played by Rakul Preet, the other being his wife, Sai Pallavi in a rather one dimensional role.
Politics has been the natural retreat for actors in the South of the country and in the recent past we saw two of the most prominent stars putting an end to decades of speculation by launching their own parties. NGK is provocative when it reflects subtly on such attempts to revamp the prevalent political narrative and tentatively present the political realities which these new crop of parties would inevitably face sooner or later. The choices they make would decide if they will previal or perish. Even in a state as starry eyed as Tamil Nadu, it’s no hidden fact that the days of MGR and Jayalalitha are long gone. Even with all his on screen charisma, no political commentator would expect Rajnikanth’s or Kamal Hassan’s party to be anything more than an ally to one of the major league players, at the end of the day. To cut him some slack, Selvaraghavan is not selling a pipe dream like Murugadoss but true to his roots as a filmmaker has tried to hold a bleak and morose mirror to the political curry pot in the underbellies of the state. Selvaraghavan the writer has been let down by Selvaraghavan the director in the past, especially when the canvases were large, I feel. He reminds me of a kid who goes to school prepared for his exams but has an anxiety attack at the last moment and makes a mess of the answer sheet. In NGK, too Selvaraghan passes, only barely. NGK is no call for political upheaval, rather it’s a warning sign which says, Okay you want change but enter at your own risk.