Based on the life of of the Bombay don Varada,Velu Nayakan is probably one of the most talked about movies of the Indian film industry. many consider it to be ahead of its time while many others look upon it with reverence .Velu Nayakan payed the way for many filmmakers to work with many such topics which were up till that time considered taboo. Realistic action, crude characterization, hero not being all pervading good and having shades of grey were all here to stay. The film released on 21 October 1987 and received critical acclaim worldwide. Kamal Haasan’s performance as Velu Naiker earned him a National Film Award for Best Actor. The film also earned the National Award for Best Cinematography (P. C. Sriram) and Best Art Direction (Thotta Tharani). The film was sent by India for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 60th Academy Awards. In 2005, the Time Magazine included Velu Nayakan in its list of All-Time 100 Best Films.
In spite of its glorious history Nayakan eluded me for a long period of time until a friend of mine working in Kolkata grabbed a limited edition collector’s copy and gifted me.It was on a sultry July noon that I got a chance to browse through it and be amazed by its sheer power.
A young Velu sees his further gunned down by the police with him unknowingly facilitating the murder.A distraught Velu escapes to Bombay(Now Mumbai). He is brought up by a fisherman in a Colony residing in the forgotten underbelly of Bombay. As Velu grows up he comes face to face with such evils that he didn’t know existed. Forced and shattered he picks up arms to avenge the death of the person who had given him bread and shelter. In every blow that he lands on the inspector who wrongly tortured his guardian to death, his disgust for the system as also his inability to protect him flows out.
After this incident, Velu grows both in popularity and stature as he becomes the overseer of the whole Tamil community living in the dingy chawls of Bombay. He rises in ranks in the Bombay underworld owing to his power and control on the adjoining sea and his sharp intellect but has to pay a huge price for his meteoric rise as his wife is murdered in cold blood. Sensing danger Velu sends his son and daughter away from the mayhem but as luck would have it they come back in a matter of time to be part of what their father had created. while his son Surya(Nizhalgal Ravi ) falls prey in taking over his father’s shoes, his daughter turns against him and his atrocities as she sees it.
Velu Nayakan is not a movie but a documentation of a period of history which can be visited again and again and every time you can expect to come back with something new apart from the obvious cinematic charms. This is for me the best Kamal Hassan movie that I have seen till date. His portrayal of the iconic Velu Nayakan is so convincing and touching that you are bound to sympathize with him. His hatred, anger, disgust, love and realizations are depicted with sublimity. In such a a movie its very easy for a director to go overboard but Mani Ratnam sticks strictly to the ground.
Some of the scenes will remain etched in my memory forever. The scene where Velu kills the cop is outstanding. There is no fuss or tactics involved. There is just two people bluntly trying to kill each other off. There is a brief shot of a broken pump with water gushing out with ferocity symbolizing the angst and fury of the two fighting men especially Velu who finally seems to be giving back to the society what he has been receiving. The scene in which his wife is murdered is also superbly done as also the climax.
The only complain that I have from this movie is the presence of too many songs. Two of the songs could have been easily chopped off. But As it might seem today, things were different in the 1980s and the directors had to, at some point of time, wilt to the audience expectations. Velu Nayakan is one of the most powerful commercial Indian film that has seen the light of the day. It was in those days one of those rare achievements which bridged the gulf between popular and art house cinema. It stands tall as a corner stone in the Indian film history.