For a director of such a small filmography as Bala to command such anticipation for his new film, is testimony to the quality of his work. As such, Naan Kadavul, his fourth work as director had attracted lot of pre-release attention, especially with the film being under production for nearly 3 years. Not unlike his earlier films, there are his signature attributes all over the latest, from the various odes to old movie tracks to the abnormal hero, the shocking realism and the bloody violence.
Aham Bhrahmasmi - The whole theme of Naan Kadavul revolves around this often misinterpreted Vedic phrase. Rudra, played by Arya, is an Aghori Sadhu who believes in this. He considers himself as God, that if the evil had to be fought it would be best done by himself and that when death is a punishment to the evil, it is more of a blessing to those who are suffering. These might be extreme views, but let's look around in today's society. Our current affairs are extreme. This brings us to the parallel track of the film. A tormentor and the tormented. Bala's frames unveil the painfully disturbing view of the beggar mafia. The beggars, played by real beggars, are themselves as painful to look at, as they are, to be in such mental and physical abnormality. But their conditions are made worser by the exploitation of their misfortune by an organised gang who search, find and group such people and send them to beg in trains, temples and other public places or just sell them to similar-minded exploiters. (The muthalaali, Thaandavan, played menacingly by one of Bala's regulars, Rajendran, in one particular scene does refer to actually designing or rather further deforming a beggar, so as to gain the person more sympathy.) They are also violently reprimanded for every undesired act. A pretty hard to stomach affair even with the subtle dark humour cleverly sprinkled around.
Critics are always ready to jump the wagon on this regard as in Bala's films are uneasy to view and whether there is a purpose in these overly morbid approach than just for shock-value. In the current state of affairs, where the country is firmly regarded as one of the best developed places in recent years, the swift growth we are witnessing, we need someone to atleast remind us of the neglected, simply because along with the rest of the society its also time that's running away from them. That's where Bala succeeds, in creating a character(or a group, thereof) that are undoubtedly suppressed and tormented in every form; with the additional advantage of actually bringing this relevant but often ignored social problem into proper light. Where he fails though is in the fact that, in highlighting the plight of these characters, the Rudran character and plot remains slightly under-developed. Some of the many ganja smoking scenes could have been traded in for a more deeper character study which would have given the movie a refreshing energy too, that it sometimes lacks. Religion is a very touchy subject, and even masters of similar subject tones can sometimes end up pushing the wrong buttons. (This might have been a reason as there are Hindus who readily disown the Aghori sect due to certain extremities associated with them.) But the plot still calls for some polishing.
In other technical areas, camera work by Arthur A. Wilson is top notch, especially the opening scenes at Kasi and the tense scenes approaching the climax, with the right mix of colours all the while maintaining the dark tone of the movie. Music and background score by the maestro Ilayaraja is also superbly apt, considering the situations. Another accomplishment by Bala is the complete and, more importantly, successful transformation of both Arya and Pooja, who plays a blind singer. They both are virtually unrecognizable physically as well as when performance is considered. Very well realised. Even the rest of the cast do their roles well, perhaps because they are actually living the plight.
Unlike Bala's previous films, this movie brings two totally different characters to a common place. Their only similarity would be the fact that they are both sections of the society that are neglected or elusive and as such of unknown attributes that we cannot relate to. Therefore, the film has lots of potential to open up various perceptive interpretations. Whether we can match those of the director's and concur to his views would determine its success. In spite of this Bala deserves praise for the effort, and for keeping with his usual sense of realism in the midst of a clouded cinematic climate, eagerly waiting for a drop of originality.