SHORT TAKES After 25 years, and many dissenting voices, Nayagan is a classic and will remain so in time to come
Ayoung wannabe director recently narrated a pretty interesting script, shot by shot that he wanted to make into a film. “I want to make this into a classic film,” he sighed at the end. I could barely hide a wistful smile. His idea of a classic was painstakingly detailed shots dissolving into the next. Classics cannot be planned. They just happen. One such film is ‘Nayagan’ made 25 years ago. Mani Ratnam confessed that he wanted to make films purely because he was sure he could make better ones than what was being offered. A fan of Guru Dutt and Kurosawa he planned to walk the tightrope between form and content. The failure of ‘Pagal Nilavu’ probably forced him to accept ‘Idhaya Koil’ a film he’d love to forget. Arguably, not his best work, it was a film made according to the diktats of the producer, Kovai Thambi who’d just made the monstrous success, ‘Payanangal Mudiyuvadhillai’. ‘Idhaya Koil’, today is remembered more for Ilayaraja’s score. A stifled Mani probably swore he’d not work with a producer who’s a box-office bully. For that he badly needed a success on his own terms and that’s what ‘Mouna Raagam’ a film that he made for his brother GV gave him. Every Tamil director worth his megaphone wants to work with Kamal and Mani was no exception. He was luckier than others in the sense that Kamal wanted to work him too. Mani had already started working on ‘Agni Nakshathiram’ when producer Mukta made him an offer he could not refuse. ‘Agni’ was placed on the backburner when Mani realized he could not work on two films simultaneously. “I quickly realised I would not be doing justice to both,” said Mani.
Kamal does perhaps dictate terms, but not with directors like of Balachander, Balu Mahendra or Mani. “I have to get involved sometimes because it’s ultimately my neck on the line,” Kamal told me in an interview. “He was co-operation personified. I’d say he was the ideal performer as well as a terrific associate director,” said Mani. Going back to the copying charge (Godfaher ), Mani always paid his own humble hallelujah to his idols. Yes there were a couple of scenes from ‘Godfather’ and one from the lesser known ‘Once Upon A Time In America’. For all practical purposes ‘Godfather’ and ‘Nayagan’ were films about a parallel, swifter form of justice meted out by a powerful individual. I remember giving Mani a good VHS print of Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’. Mani loved the film and even shot a song sequence in ‘Dhalapathi’ with Rajni in samurai attire. Would ‘Nayagan’ have been a better film if more money had been spent? It was as good a film as could have been made with all the constraints. Mani chose to produce his own films after his experiences with Kovai Thambi and Mukta but that was more for creative freedom rather than flow of finance.
Anyway a better way to celebrate would have been releasing a re-mastered print for the younger generation to savour. A director’s cut DVD version with the edited portions would have been welcome. Mani told me that Kamal’s performance in some scenes he was forced to cut was phenomenal. The cast and crew should have met and exchanged anecdotes over a glass of champagne instead of reopening old wounds. ‘Nayagan’ will remain a classic irrespective of how it was made.
S. Shiva Kumar