So how effective was this series in evoking what it promises? Let’s see.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Note: For the Navarasa review, we’ll be dividing the summary, review, and analysis into individual episodes.
Edhiri | Karuna (Compassion) dir. Bejoy Nambiar
Edhiri follows Dheena, a man who commits murder in a fit of rage, and Savithri, the victim’s wife. She happens to face Dheena moments after he’s committed the crime. What follows is a story of guilt and repentance. Savithri’s son suspects her to have seen the murderer’s face, urging her to look past her differences with her now-deceased husband and break her silence. Dheena hides in his grandparents’ home, where he is constantly bothered by a man asking for his crime, only for us to learn that the man is an apparition of Savithri’s husband. From their conversation, it becomes evident that Dheena had sought justice for his brother, who had incurred crushing debt and committed suicide after Savithri’s husband refused help. Despite the reasoning behind Dheena’s actions being clear, he realizes that his actions lacked compassion, the same lack of empathy that led to the man’s refusal to help Dheena’s brother. Dheena decides to ask for forgiveness, but in a twist of emotions, Savithri says she doesn’t have the right to forgiveness. She claims that their marriage had lacked compassion, which had stopped her from interfering in Dheena and her husband’s fight when she heard them arguing.
Edhiri is beautifully shot. The atmosphere is striking and builds ample tension, which is further elevated by sound and music. The color scheme and lighting are so apt that you feel like you’re sitting in one corner of their house, witnessing this drama play out right before your eyes. There is a creative use of split-screen, highlighting the parallels between the two characters, which become more evident as the short plays out. The themes of compassion (or lack thereof) are organically used, feeling real. The lack of understanding from each character results in uttar violence (both emotional and physical), which forms the basis of this tragedy. The moral dilemma of the two characters is solid and burgeoning, beautifully realized by Revathi, Prakash Raj, and Vijay Sethupathi.
Edhiri is a riveting experience and a strong start that sets the bar high for the rest of the Navarasa series.
Summer of ’92 | Haasya (Laughter) dir. Priyadarshan
Summer of ’92 follows Veluswamy, a famous comedy actor in the Tamil Film Industry. He returns to his hometown and visits his school as a chief guest. In his speech, he tells his backstory, how he kept failing the 9th grade, how he faced bullying and discrimination, which made him a bully, his antics that caused comedic chaos around the school and village. His antics have led to one of his teachers remaining unmarried to date. He realizes and apologizes for it by the end of the film.
The short is supposed to be about laughter, and it is apt for Priyadarshan to helm this one. The only issue is that the film is as unfunny and problematic as most of Priyadarshan’s other films. The rampant casteism, sexism, discrimination, faulty education system, and everything wrong is presented in a comedic manner (and not in the ironic sense) that does a great disservice to this Navarasa series. The performances are passable, the story is flawed, and the film reminds you of many things wrong with commercial cinema in India.
Summer of ’92 almost entirely negates everything that Edhiri sets up. A scene near the end where a dog jumps into a pool of liquid feces then scatters the waste across a family that’s come to see a potential bride. That is a perfect metaphor for the effect this short has on the anthology.
Project Agni | Adbhutha (Wonder) dir. Karthick Naren
Project Agni is a sci-fi drama about a scientist named Vishnu who discovers that our world is a computer simulation. Vishnu is a happily married man with a child who is too engrossed in his work. He makes a time machine that allows him to manipulate reality with his imagination and let his mind travel across his life. Unfortunately, Vishnu accidentally changes his past. He hands over all his research to a fellow scientist, Krishna, hoping that Krishna will use it for the world’s good. Later, it is revealed that Krishna was actually Vishnu’s assistant, Kalki, in disguise. Kalki is an evil scientist who wants to control the world and finally has Vishnu’s research. In the end, as Vishnu is about to commit suicide, his doorbell rings. He finds his wife and Krishna at the door and realizes his mistake.
Project Agni is a half-baked sci-fi short that is poorly written, seemingly without any research at all. The research (if any) is probably just the many name drops of popular sci-fi films and concepts throughout the film, which would’ve been fine if the film had a whimsical tone. Alas, this isn’t a comedy, but a serious drama. Its biggest folly is that it takes itself too seriously; if only the filmmakers had taken their research seriously. You’ll find conspiracy theories on Reddit whose science is more sound than this film. The performances are okay but limited by the criminally bad dialogues that try too hard to sound profound. The dialogues prove a much bigger problem because the film chooses to tell instead of show, which further lowers the film’s credibility.
This film is what you would get when a stoner meets a student filmmaker to write a sci-fi film without any knowledge about science or sci-fi. The wonder in this short is the filmmaker’s wander over sci-fi films and concepts, and maybe the audience wondering why they’re watching this. This is probably the second-worst film of the lot.
Payasam | Bibhatsa (Disgust) dir. Vasanth
Payasam is a drama short that follows Subbu’s Uncle. People only know him as Subbu’s Uncle because Subbu is a self-made man who grew wealthy and prosperous and diverted his gains to help uplift the village. The film takes place at Subbu’s daughter’s wedding, an occasion that Uncle doesn’t want to attend. He is resentful and jealous of his paternal nephew, ignoring that Subbu actually loves and adores him in return. Finally, he attends the wedding but sees more reminders of how Subbu lives a better, easier life than him. In a fit of jealousy, he knocks over the sweet lentil stew (payasam) pot, which is an integral part of the wedding feast. However, when confronted, he claims there was a rat in there. In the end, he fakes a smile and blesses the bride and groom.
Payasam is a welcome treat after the two disasters that preceded this. We open with picturesque visuals, follow through the melodic chaos of a wedding ceremony, and end on a superficial smile. Payasam takes its theme of disgust seriously, with the older generation’s (Uncle’s) jealousy of the younger generation’s (Subbu’s) success, which results in a massive pot of delicious-looking payasam being toppled over. Despite the constant reminder of how Subbu actually loves him, Uncle never gets over his jealousy, which only adds to the disgust mentioned earlier.
Although not as powerful as the Edhiri, Payasam does have enough in store for you to forget about the previous two shorts.
Peace | Shaantha (Peace) dir. Karthik Subbaraj
Peace is a film set during the Sri Lankan Civil War sometime between 1991 and 2009. It follows a bunch of LTTE militants who catch a boy trying to return home. The boy tells them that the army attacked his village; he wants to return home because he had locked his younger brother, ‘Vellaiyan,’ inside. Nilavan, one of the militants, promises to help him, claiming that the army will be distracted during the parade. Nilavan successfully reaches the boy’s house, only discovering that ‘Vellaiyan’ is actually a puppy. The militants, feeling misled, ask Nilavan to leave the puppy behind, but Nilavan refuses. On his way back, Nilavan is wounded but manages to reach his base when he raises the pup to show the army he means no harm. His comrades reprimand him for the unnecessarily risky mission. Still, he shrugs it off, revealing that his intention to save ‘Vellaiyan’ was because the puppy shares the name with Nilavan’s elder brother, who was killed by the army. Later, Nilavan shouts his thanks to the army for letting him complete his mission, resulting in a heavy exchange of gunfire. The boy and the puppy escape as the battle heat up.
A simple way to check whether or not a story is compelling is to check whether or not the protagonists make irrational or idiotic decisions. Irrational decisions are situational, but idiotic ones are just poor writing. Peace lies on the thin border between the two. Unfortunately, the premise and story are too good to be true. It’s challenging to take the movie seriously when the militants’ leader openly fires his gun as a joke, or when the army stops firing upon seeing a puppy, or even when Nilavan shouts his thanks to his enemies only to trigger a gunfight. While the cinematography, especially the single-take shots of Nilavan rescuing and returning, are something to be admired, the rest of the film lies on a loose thread that requires you to forget logic and focus only on the conflict at hand. The performances are good, but the personal stakes and motivations feel too convenient and forced. Overall, the story feels as though the rough draft of the screenplay got made into the final product.
You might like this film, you might not. It really depends on your taste. This one can be divisive. The idea is compelling, but the setup and execution leave a lot to be desired.
Rowthiram | Raudra (Anger) dir. Aravind Swami
Rowthiram tells the story of an angry young boy, Arul, who hails from a low-income family. The film begins with him killing a loan shark, Ganesan, and what follows is a series of flashbacks that build-up to the incident. His father has abandoned them and left Arul’s mother to deal with crushing debt whilst raising Arul and his sister Anbu. Arul constantly faces discrimination, which leaves him all the more resentful. Finally, his mother begins earning better after pleading with Ganesan, resulting in the family living a much better life. However, Arul soon discovers that his mother is forced to compromise her modesty to earn that money, which triggers him to attempt murder. Paralleling Arul’s story is that of a female cop infamous for ruthlessly beating confessions out of suspects. While we wait for Arul to spill the beans in lockup, she will file the report. However, in a twist of fate, it is revealed that the cop is actually Anbu in the future. Her anger and resentment come from having witnessed her mother in a compromising position like Arul, except that she hasn’t forgiven her after all these years.
Rowthiram has breathtaking cinematography, perhaps the best in the Navarasa series. Even the build-up of tension and drama is done well. The vibrant use of colors sets up a mood that goes well with the film. However, the story still remains cliched mainly, and the twist, in the end, feels very much unnecessary. The over-dramatic treatment of critical moments, coupled with the average performances, makes this at best a one a one-time-watch.
Inmai | Bhayaanaka (Fear) dir. Rathindran R. Prasad
Inmai follows Waheeda, a wealthy woman living in a lavish home who is visited by the mysterious Farooq, seeking a signature on a legal document. They talk about art, where Farooq reveals his calligraphy skills. Their dynamic is instantly flirtatious but turns darker when she realizes he isn’t who he said he was. Flashbacks reveal that Waheeda had married an old rich man who was on his deathbed, hoping to take all his money. Unfortunately, his health improved. Waheeda, hoping to secure her fortunes, summons a djinn and asks for the man to be killed so she can be free of his torture. It is known that lying to a djinn can be disastrous, and now Farooq implies that he is the djinn. Waheeda realizes there is no escape and slits her throat. Farooq forges his signature and reveals he is actually the son of Waheeda’s dead husband’s servant. He was fired for knowing her wicked plans. It is actually Farooq who orchestrated all the events that led to Waheeda’s downfall as revenge for his father.
The film, starring Parvathy and Siddharth, starts off strong. The cinematography and color palette gives off a richness heightened by the wonder of what is to come next. Sadly, what follows is an assortment of unnecessarily convoluted conflicts and twists that leave you wondering why you’re even watching this Navarasa series. The performances, the atmospheric sound design, music, performances, nothing can make up for the rashly written script. The story and idea are good, to be honest, but this one, too, feels like a rough draft.
This one is a confusing film that begins strong but ends terribly, pretty much like the anthology. So far, one good movie, one average, and five bad ones.
Thunindha Pinn | Veera (Valour) dir. Sarjun KM
The film is about a soldier tasked with transporting a captive Naxalite injured in an exchange of gunfire. However, the convict escapes, and
The overly dramatic use of music in this film was a constant distraction. While the cinematography was on par with the rest of the Navarasa series, there really isn’t anything else worth appreciating in this short. The dialogues are awkward and forced, the performances are cringe, and the dramatic tone is too loud for you to take this film seriously.
Another terrible addition to an already failing series, Thunindha Pinn is probably the worst of the lot.
Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru | Shringaara (Romance) dir. Gautham Vasudev Menon
The film follows Kamal, a musician who is trying to make it big. He runs into Nethra, with whom he has an instant connection. Nethra, too, sees the connection and is willing to date him, but Kamal is hesitant. However, Kamal agrees and composes a beautiful song for her. In the end, he plays that song before a vast crowd, only to reveal that he and Nethra are no longer together.
If you like masala movies, you’ll like this one. This is the longest film of the lot and plays out like a lite version of a commercial romantic cinema, complete with a song sequence, awkwardly corny dialogues delivered in an unnecessarily seductive manner, love at first sight, and a traditionally wide age gap between the leads. To be honest, this one does do justice to its theme, but whether or not you like it depends on whether you want the commercial film aesthetic. Another terrible miss, in my opinion, but not the worst one of the Navarasa series.
Navarasa is a series that seems to have jumped on the trend of anthologies. The thought and concept are great, but poor execution and poor development have resulted in a 9-episode anthology that doesn’t keep its promise. It starts strong but only goes downhill from there. Navarasa can be hailed as a prime example of the cons of the content boom of our times.
If you really want to, you can watch Edhiri, and maybe Payasam. The rest are an absolute waste of time.
Navarasa is a 2021 Tamil Anthology series created by Mani Ratnam. It is streaming on Netflix.