Pa. Ranjith, the path-breaking director who is the voice of caste politics in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country, has brought to you “Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” (The stars are moving), which was released on the big screen on August 31st, 2022, and has been streaming on Netflix since September 28th. Pa Ranjith is known for putting across stories of caste atrocities and oppression to the audience and allowing them to question the society they live in. ‘Kaala’, ‘Kabali’, and ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’ did quite well at sending out the message. “Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” is also steering down the same path. The only difference is that this film panders to the youth of the current generation and their take on caste, gender norms, and love.
What Happens In The ‘Natchathiram Nagargiradhu’ Film?
“Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” begins with Iniyan (Kalidas Jayaram) and Rene, aka Tamizh (Dushara Vijayan), getting into a fight about their choices of music, which escalates, and he makes a casteist remark by mistake in the heat of the fight, which pushes Rene to break up with him.
The film moves to Pondicherry, where an aspiring actor, Arjun (Kalaiyarasan), who is smitten by the woman he is engaged to, comes to join a modern theater group and starts spending more time with them to understand their dynamics, thought processes, and general way of life. Rene and Iniyan are part of the same theater group, and the film gives us a glimpse of how they met and fell in love. The theater group comprises people from all walks of life. Two gay couples, a transwoman with her boyfriend, a play director who married a woman whose family didn’t approve of, a white woman, and many others who, in some way or the other, have defied societal norms and learned to accept people around them with love and dignity. Arjun initially finds it difficult to get his head around his peers, which affects his performances during the rehearsals, and at the same time, he tries to control his fiancée, who admits that she got engaged to him under family pressure.
The director of the play, Subier (Regin Rose), wants to start working on a play, and the subject is what society thinks of love. He comes across various views on love from his cast and crew. The team finally decides to showcase a love story between two people from different castes, their families, and society’s reaction to it. During one of the cast parties, Arjun misbehaves with Rene and is thrown out of the play for his actions, belief system, and political incorrectness. Rene, though, comes in support of him and retains him in the troupe. The drama practice continues. A lot happens when the play is reaching final rehearsals, and that forms the plot of the film “Natchathiram Nagargiradhu.”
‘Natchathiram Nagargiradhu’ Ending Explained: Will The Audience Accept The Play That Disses The Societal Norms?
Arjun and Rene start spending a lot of time together, to Iniyan’s dismay, and Rene is happy to learn of Arjun’s willingness to change his perspective towards society and be more inclusive about different thought processes. Arjun confesses his love for Rene, but Rene considerately makes it clear to him that she looks at him as a friend and nothing more. Rene talks about how caste had stalled her life in the village while growing up; she was mocked by upper caste men, her classmates, and teachers; she wants to break away from that and form her own identity, which impresses Arjun even more. Arjun reaches home to bid goodbye to his forever ailing grandmother and later confesses to the mother his love for Rene, a girl from the scheduled caste community. This news reaches the family at home, and suddenly the tide turns towards Arjun, who is humiliated for choosing a girl out of their caste and is forced to get married, but thankfully it is stalled by his ailing grandmother.
Once back from his trip, his peers are confronted by an anonymous man who seems like their ally, but soon the troupe comes to know of his motives, for he shows up at the play’s first show and starts heckling as the play progresses. He turns out to be a mob instigator who wrecks the show halfway through with the help of his goons, and ends up injuring everyone onstage and behind the curtains. He screams his lungs out to convey that this theatre group is ruining the fabric of Indian culture by openly talking about genderless and casteless society, for which they don’t deserve to live. The movie ends with the aftermath of the colossal fight; the crew is proud of what they did and achieved with the play by gazing at the star-filled night and a shooting star going past them.
Pa. Ranjith leaves no stone unturned in talking about how the current generation’s knowledge of caste and gender nonconformity is essential to take the country forward and make them feel like normal human beings. Though section 377 was removed in the year 2018, there’s discrimination that still takes place. But the film focuses on the caste angle attached to various kinds of love stories. In a discussion before the play begins, the crew has a heated talk on love and caste, how the line gets either blurred or people succumb to the constant brainwashing about caste supremacy. For example, a queer actor in the play is offended by another crew member mentioning that Brahmanical supremacy is the reason for caste-related problems in the country. As a part of the workshop, director Subier brings in women who have been widowed by their family members for marrying a man outside of their caste. This shows love is love, but caste is something that cannot be erased overnight since brainwashing is going on for generations.
Writer and director Pa. Ranjith deals with inclusivity, different voices of love, which range from gender to sexual orientation, and how love affects political beliefs and identities. For Ranjith, the lines get merged when two people fall in love. He showcases the plight of the oppressed and becomes a voice of change through all of his characters in the film. Be it Iniyan, Rene, Arjun, Sekar, or Medellin. Ranjith also does not shy away from the subject of honor killings, which are prevalent even today, and some families use it as a justification to uphold their pride. The heckler is an embodiment of what society thinks of people who defy societal norms and live life as per their terms. This irks the larger audience who believe culture is not to be messed with even though how wrong their rituals can be.
“Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” is a tad bit longer than expected, and the screenplay is too stretched. The point Ranjith tries to make it easy to understand, but he spends a lot of time on Iniyan and Rene’s relationship, which gets repetitive after a while. Even though the story is good, it is bold enough to talk about topics many refrain from discussing in the public domain, such as cinema, except for Tamil film directors of recent times. Ranjith crafts the idea of how love and caste are probably interconnected and separate at the same time. Love is forgetting your surroundings and sometimes even your caste (which is a good thing), but in many cases, caste overpowers love, so much so that people can see nothing but the values they were brought up on. Many try their best to defy the values but end up being murdered.
The other technical aspects are basic because the emphasis of the film is on the screenplay, story, and performances of the actors. Dushara Vijayan is excellent as Rene, who is stubborn about breaking away from the generations of caste discrimination imposed on her family and making a mark on society by talking about it. Kalidas Jayaram as Iniyan, on the other hand, is brilliant too, for he is trying to figure out Rene and her struggles as he has never faced them. The show stealer is Kalaiyarasan as Arjun, who goes from a misogynistic human being to an empathetic person, a graph that is fulfilling. He acknowledges the privilege he was raised in and is willing to improve his understanding of society and how vile they can be to their people. The screenplay, though, lacked the empathy and emotions that were required on paper to carry a story such as this. It surely lacked the depth that “Sarpatta Parambarai” had, making it one of my least favorite Pa Ranjith films. The film stresses on giving informal knowledge of the queer community and the raging caste issues in Tamil Nadu. Nevertheless, “Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” is a must-watch.
“Natchathiram Nagargiradhu” is now streaming on Netflix with subtitles.