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Nenu Devudni (Naan Kadavul) February 9, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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Probably the only true auteur of Indian Cinema, Bala returns after a hiatus of 5 years with his latest work. It is rare for a film to be hailed as a masterpiece even before its release which only shows the effect his films have on people. If you thought Sethu or Pithamagan were bleak and depressing then Nenu Devudni/Naan Kadavul takes it to a new level altogether. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, it might seem to be an exploration about the life and practices of the Aghora cult (now popular in Telugu due to the recent success of Arundhati). But actually it only acts as a backdrop – the significance of which will only be clear towards the end of the film.

On the suggestion of an astrologer that he is a bad omen, Rudra (Arya) is abandoned as a child in Varanasi by his father. When his father goes in search of him after 15 years he finds to his astonishment that Rudra has become an Aghori – someone who considers himself to have attained to power to stop the endless cycle of rebirths by blessing the ashes of dead people who he thinks deserve that boon. On his father’s plea, Rudra’s guru allows him one final visit to his village. Once back there he shocks everyone who comes in contact with him. The main plot however is that involving the inhuman business of “begging”. If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire then be warned – the few sequences you’ve seen in that movie regarding the same issue would seem like kiddie stuff. Anyways, what happens from thereon is better seen than told.

Whether you subscribe to it or not, Bala has the ability to drag the viewer into his bleak merciless world and this film is far successful in doing that than any previous work of his. I don’t think I can get those visuals out of my mind for a long time and I bet you would have a tough time doing the same. However, as usual with Bala’s films the visceral experience comes in lieu of a coherent screenplay. What I actually found very disturbing is the seeming glorification of the protagonist and his cult. There is a huge difference between certain characters in the film revering Rudra and the film itself projecting him as a hero; and somewhere down the line the distinction seemed lost. What can seem acceptable or even justified as a sad state of affairs cannot really become an ideal. Thanks to a couple of irritating guys in the audience who were constantly whistling whenever Arya came on screen – my perspective about the film’s convictions might be a little skewed but I’d like to hear from others what they concluded about the movie.

Arya undergoes an amazing physical (rather facial) transformation for this role. He is really scary in that look but apart from a standard routine which he seems to perform in most of the film, there isn’t nothing much he is required to do. Pooja is also very good as the blind girl. The real heroes are the supporting cast comprising of real Sadhus and physically disabled people – again better seen than told. The guy who plays the main villain is also extremely formidable. The film is shot beautifully (Arthur Wilson) – right from the opening frame on the banks of the Ganges, the foreboding mood of the film is captured consistently. Ilaiyaraja’s score also enhances the film to a great level.

For all the bleakness in the movie, it must be mentioned that there isn’t any boring moment and uxexpectedly there is ample humor which goes a long way in lightening the proceedings. For all its faults, Nenu Devudni/Naan Kadavul is a testament to the power of the visual medium and Bala’s command over it – and that itself qualifies it to be a masterpiece. A word of caution – don’t venture in if you are not used to disturbing imagery and avoid taking children.

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