When nearly every big name from Kollywood comes together to make an anthology, you sit up and watch. Produced by Mani Rathnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, Navarasa, that takes you through the nine human emotions-- anger, compassion, courage, disgust, fear, laughter, love, peace and wonder—has been among the most anticipated Tamil movie releases of 2021. Here are nine reasons why we think you should watch it now.
1. The title track of Navarasa
Often, when we watch an anthology, we let the title credits run for the first time and choose to skip the intro at others. We thought we would be doing the same with Navarasa until we realised, we were hooked, the whole nine times, to the brilliant title track and the picturisation. The instrumental theme by AR Rahman invokes intrigue and drama as some of the bigger names from the anthology appear, bare as actors, putting on display the emotions the films capture. Quite the masterclass in acting, it’s also the most visually appealing title track we have seen in a long time.
2. Vijay Sethupathi’s performance in Ethiri
Not that we weren’t prepared for it. There’s a nary time that this powerhouse actor fails to deliver but the quiet brilliance of Ethiri (Karuna) brings out a lesser-known side of the actor in Navarasa. The story is simple, the sets bare and the focus of this Bejoy Nambiar short is the performances. Swinging between rage and compassion, Sethupathi enacts the innate struggle between revenge and justice with effortless flair.
3. Revathi’s arrival on OTT
Well, we could be wrong but we haven’t seen actor Revathi in an OTT-exclusive production before. It was then, a wonderful surprise to see the actor appear in the first short, Bejoy Nambiar’s Karuna. Known for the subtlety and grace she brings to characters, Revathi performs the role of widow with similar elan. Her inner conflict finds expression in a story that spans a troubled marriage and a gruesome murder. She walks the fine line of guilt, sorrow and rage, with perfection and her trademark charm. It’s as if OTT was made for her.
4. Arvind Swami’s directorial debut
The actor who made heads turn over two decades ago with the Mani Rathnam hit Roja, made his comeback in Tamil cinema a few years ago. He has since, displayed a rare versatility in craft, from searing multi-layered anti-hero roles to subtle urban character sketches. Here, he is the protagonist of Karthik Naren’s sci-fi short Project Agni, and also makes a directorial debut with Raudra. Capturing the emotion of anger, his short tells the story of siblings in North Madras, with a single parent. While the short itself isn’t among the best in the anthology, it certainly marks Swami’s arrival as a director to watch out for.
5. The period setting of Payasam
If we were to pick one short from the anthology that’s equal measure poignant and endearing, it would be Vasanth’s Payasam that displays the complex emotion of Bibhatsa. Set in 1960s Kumbakonam, it’s a beautiful portrayal of life in the temple town before the advent of modernity. While the story is that of a familial rivalry and an array of underlying emotions, it’s aged protagonist Delhi Ganesh brings to it a rare complexity and effortless charm. The detail leaves you spellbound, from the food to the ornaments and the characters at a typical Tamil brahmin wedding. The story spans a single day, and the events are constructed around a single occurrence that marking a climax. The vintage cars, the costumes and the sepia-tinted frames, are all picture perfect.
6. The Vaaranam Aiyaram throwback in…
And yet again, here’s something to look out for in a short that we would otherwise give a hard pass. Well, certainly, if it didn’t have Surya in the lead. The last in the anthology, Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, depicting Shringaara, takes you right back to Menon’s hit film from over a decade ago, Vaarnam Aiyaram. It’s the short’s single biggest success and failure. While Surya essays the role of a charming indie musician, it has all the trappings of an early 2000s flick that hasn’t kept up with time. It’s nearly an hour in runtime, and all we are thankful about is the hummable tracks and Surya’s return as the romantic lead.
Rathindra Prasad’s short Inmai that takes on the complex emotion of bhayaa, is beautiful and is it is reticent. It sparkles with great performances, a satisfactory build up and a setting that goes easily goes from a patriarch in rural TN to the shores of Pondicherry. Siddharth delivers a powerhouse of a performance as the prime antagonist and Parvathy’s bhaaya could well send a chill down your spine. We’ve let out enough spoilers already. Inmai deserves a watch, right now.
8. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Tamil debut
There’s another reason you should watch Inmai right away. National award-winning filmmakers and music director, Vishal Bharadwaj, makes his Tamil debut with the music in the short. Capturing the many crescendos of shock, love and fear, Bharadwaj music is a delight, in and outside the film. It draws from Islamic chants and situates itself in a film despite often straying away from the Tamil language. The background score is equally riveting and elevated the watching experience a few notches.
9. The Karthik Subbaraj and Bobby Simha team
Among the shorts, one that left us a bit disappointed and yet deserves mention is Karthik Subbaraj’s Shaantha. And it is for the return of the talented duo, Subbaraj himself and actor Bobby Simha. They’ve earlier worked together in the runaway hit Jigarthanda and the Rajinikanth starrer Petta. When Subbaraj directs, Simha delivers and you can’t take your eyes of the screen. The short is set in Sri Lanka, in a Tamil tigers camp and explores inherently simple human emotions.