Gutsy is the epithet that comes to mind when you think of director Shankar. And the best part is his experiments pay off. Like Nanban (U) has. Taking up a blockbuster of all time for a remake, that too within a couple of years of its release, and having Vijay, an action hero, replicate a performance-backed role with not a single stunt sequence, are bold decisions. But the result is an enjoyable cocktail of humour with some sentiment and sadness thrown in for that extra appeal.

In a career spanning almost a couple of decades, Vijay has changed tack probably half a dozen times. You're glad he's done it again. The hero wins with grey matter, not muscle power. No intro song, no high altitude action gimmicks — welcome Nanban Vijay with open arms! It is a compliment to him that he doesn't remind you of Aamir Khan in Three Idiots — it's an original, underplayed, effective essay. Way to go Vijay!

Predominantly a campus story that goes back and forth in time, Nanban celebrates friendship in a way that will remain with you for long. Nanban is a story of three friends at a prestigious engineering college — one supposedly wealthy, the other middle-class and the third below poverty line. With Vijay as the pivot, the story takes off from the present (a decade after their graduation), goes back to their college days of caring and sharing, traumas and challenges, and again lands in the present to joyously proclaim ‘Aal eez vell'!

Not just Vijay, even the choice of Srikanth (similar to Madhavan's in TI) is a surprise. So are his expressions and voice modulation that have improved by leaps and bounds. Srikanth has worked hard on the college boy look and it has reaped dividends. As for Jiiva, you give him characters with scope and he delivers. Both Srikanth and Jiiva get opportunities to prove their mettle, and they do. As for Ileana, it's her hourglass figure and perfect curves that catch your attention. Little else seems to matter! But you had her looking more youthful and ravishing in her Tamil debut Kaedi, some years ago — only that it sank without a trace. Her sister Anuya's cheerful laughter in front of the groom's party and her shocked father, as the bride runs away, is absolutely confounding! Did the director notice it at all?

Playing the qualified nincompoop is Sathyan. If as Chatur Ramalingam (as always in Hindi cinema the South Indian is a joker, you see!), Omi Vaidya irritated you, Sathyan as Srivatsan is no better. It's sad that though there's a lesson to be learnt from Srivatsan's attitude, the concentration is more on toilet comedy as far as this caricature is concerned. Surely Shankar could have done something about it. Satyaraj is the right choice and he proves it, but you cannot help comparing him with Boman Irani, who tweaked the character to evoke a smile in the initial sequences of TI. Is it S.J. Suryah in that miniscule part played by Javed Jaffrey in the original? But why?

Where did both Rajkumar Hirani and Shankar get those odd names for the heroes? Ranchodas Shamaldas Chanchad is Panchavan Paarivendhan in Tamil. Later the names get weirder — Phunsukh Wangdu in Hindi becomes Kosaksi Posapugazh here!

The scientific mind and linguistic skills keep Karky looking for innovations in lyrics too. ‘Aska Laska,' said to have 16 languages in it, is one such. Scintillatingly tuned (Harris Jeyaraj) and lavishly filmed, the sequence should be a sell-out! In fact, all of Harris' songs in Nanban are catchy.

Roping in Karky as co-dialogue writer is an intelligent move. The Anniyan duet had rows of lorries graffitied in striking hues, while in Nanban it is an entire train that's been painted bright! Art director Muthuraj could have thought better. Otherwise the grandeur of Shankar's sets is intact!

With more than three hours of running time, Nanban is a lengthy film. Yet, but for the second duet which appears redundant, the screenplay sails smoothly.

Once again Shankar proves the master craftsman that he is. And for the Nanban team, it's a year well-begun!

Nanban

Genre: Humour

Director: Shankar

Cast: Vijay, Srikanth, Jiiva, Ileana, Sathyaraj, Sathyan

Storyline: Three friends, their separation and reunion …

Bottomline: An engaging trio!

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Tamil Cinema ReviewsOctober 18, 2011