Monday, March 7, 2011

Nayagan: The Godfather Tamil-style

I recently discovered that love of the Godfather I spans oceans and continents and in fact, imitation is the highest form of compliment. A. and I saw the movie Nayakan recently. Nayagan, written and directed by Mani Ratnam in 1987, tells the real life story of a Bombay don named Varada. Varada hails from Tamil Nadu and sympathetically depicts the struggle of South Indians living in Bombay. Narayan gained rave reviews and was wildly popular in India and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987. 

For a Tamilwood movie, the plot line comes across as fairly realistic, dance numbers are kept to a minimum, and the film clocks in at around 2.5 hours; a fairly short movie. A. and I watched it for three reasons, cultural exposure, Tamil language comprehension, and last but not least entertainment. I did not understand a thing, except when the dialogue switched into Hindi and I picked out an odd Arabic word or two. Believe me when I say, picking up one or two Arabic words which made it into Hindi, probably came out to about five words during the span of 2.5 hours.

I did however discover that as the movie progressed, the main character grew to resemble Marlon Brando in the Godfather. As Varada, the main character, got older he adopted Don Corleone’s mannerisms, speech patterns and even pitch of the protagonist of the 1972 American hit. Varada moved his arms and head in the same way that the Godfather. As Varada got older, his cheeks acquired the same puffiness as did his American predecessor. I read somewhere that Marlon Brando stuffed his cheeks full of cotton balls to affect his tone and speech as his character in the Godfather got older. The pattern of Varada’s speech grew to mimic Don Corleone’s, especially in scenes where he helped members of his community or met with other Indian gangsters. As Varada took on mannerisms of Don Corleone, the music changed as well – traditional South Asian background music took on Southern Italian themes. I found the transformation most intriguing and fun. Unfortunately for the couple that shared the viewing pleasure of the movie with us,  I started calling out references to the Godfather in the last third of the movie – not sure they appreciated my enthusiasm. 

If you are interested in watching this movie, it is available via Netflix, subtitled in English. Happy watching!

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