by Luv Mehta
So there was this BuzzFeed article I saw recently, another one of those quizzes designed to bait you in by making you say, "Wow, I remember that!" And while it does always work on me, this case included, I was pretty miffed with the title - How Many Of These Ironically Fuckall Movies Have You Seen? Because I have seen quite a lot of the movies listed in this article (fifty, to be exact) and I do genuinely love a lot of them.
Sure, they may not be paragons of quality - hell, a lot of them have genuine problems that can't be ignored. But, in my own humble opinion, it is possible to enjoy and appreciate flawed movies, even while acknowledging their faults.
All this is basically my excuse to start talking about all those weird and amazing movies I hold close to my heart. And I can’t possibly think of a better example than Nayak.
Released in 2001, Nayak is a remake of Mudhalvan, a 1999 Tamil movie. The production design for this movie is insane - there are huge crowd scenes that look and sound very natural -
- and the fake TV studio set created for various scenes has hundreds of television sets and computers, all of which are even destroyed on camera in one scene.
Moreover, Nayak is very clearly a labour of love. From the fantastic art that pops up from time to time, either as a cheeky visual indicator of what’s going on -
- or in the background of shots.
There’s even a riot scene in the first hour of the movie, that follows a series of escalations to become huge and violent. The scope of the scene is huge, from the wide shots of the rioting crowds -
- to the buses set on fire -
- to the small-scale stories going on with the common people stuck in the chaos.
All this is in service of the story - a TV journalist (Anil Kapoor, never better) is pressured into becoming CM for one day, during an interview with the Maharashtra Chief Minister (played by Amrish Puri, always fantastic), which sets off the whole chain of events that drive the movie. Anil Kapoor becomes CM for a day, implausibly fixes many of the state’s problems by making hard snap decisions, engaging in some action scenes, and trying to arrest the entire ruling party. He’s nearly killed as a result, and after some sadness and soul-searching, ends up getting more resolve to fight, ultimately becoming the CM.
There’s also a romantic subplot with Rani Mukherjee that starts off with Anil Kapoor following her around and filming her with a camera, which culminates in a scene where she catches him filming her taking a bath in a river, snatches his camera away and looks at the footage shot, and falls for him because the footage is filmed with so much love.
None of that was a joke.
And this is a running problem throughout all the movies mentioned in that Buzzfeed list above - old Bollywood movies have a huge problem with normative sexism, and Nayak's strange depiction of romance (where Rani Mukherjee's character only exists as a blank romantic interest) is far from uncommon. Watching every scene with this couple becomes an exercise in cringing as a result.
And yet, when the interview scene finally arrives, I finally find the reason I love this movie so much. The whole thing is so well acted and has such great dialogue that you can’t help but feel giddy with excitement. There’s a great push-pull dynamic of rivalry throughout - Anil Kapoor pressures Amrish Puri with hard hitting questions and footage of the riot, Amrish Puri hits back and silences him with a challenge to become CM for a day, and he finally accepts and hits back.
Moreover, the whole sequence of Anil Kapoor as CM for a day, as implausible and naive as it is, still works like gangbusters. Of course, it’s not because it’s perfect or restrained. Yes, there’s a scene with a huge weird eve-teasing gang that descends on a women’s college and starts indiscriminately molesting everyone in sight, and yes, there’s a long action scene of Anil Kapoor fighting the gang leader on top of two double decker buses. But this one example also goes to show why, despite all the weird exaggeration, we care so much about the whole thing - it’s all about the unique context the whole movie exists in.
In the Indian context, we’ve seen political parties having gangs that openly bully people into voting for them. We’ve seen political leaders embroiled in criminal scandals and getting away with their sins, scot-free. We’ve seen how safety for women is still an issue in our country. So, even with the exaggeration and the heightened realism, the fact that this movie deals with these issues without hesitation, and that it pulls no punches when it comes to pointing fingers, acts as a huge source of catharsis for us - especially now, in 2017, when anything considered remotely critical of the Indian government is chopped off by the Censor Board.
In fact, this feeling of catharsis is why the movie works so well in a narrative sense too. The movie doesn’t go easy on our lead - he’s beaten and broken and made to go through hell. There’s an incredible scene towards the end, where Anil Kapoor comes back from his parent’s house (blown up by a bomb), where he cries in anguish about literally having had to wash his parents off himself. Because of the writing, and because of the lead’s performance, we do like him a lot, and we do want to see him succeed.
This is an advantage the movie occasionally forgets, though, because it wants to show Shivaji Rao as a vulnerable, likeable protagonist, but it also wants to show him as an unstoppable hero, akin to Rajnikanth (one reason why Anil Kapoor’s character is actually named after his real name). So while we have scenes where he’s beaten up by gang members to near death -
- we’ve also got scenes where, after being thrown from an auto, beaten up and nearly set on fire, he falls into some mud (presumably radioactive, considering what follows) and becomes Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, unstoppable badass who can throw entire cars at villains.
Then again, we’ve got to take the good with the bad.
So, in the end, is Nayak a good movie? Honestly, I don’t know. There’s plenty here that’s amazing, yes, but there’s also plenty here that’s quite stupid (I haven’t even touched on the CG snake musical sequence or that strange, problematic ending). I can’t give it a score, or give you a verdict on a binary Watch It!/Skip It! Grade. But I can say this - I do love the movie, despite all its faults. And I hope you’ll give it a chance, too.
Because let's be frank - with the current political scenario, this movie couldn't possibly be released today. And that's worth something, too.