Nagarvalam: An unaffecting, even if sincerely shot, drama


It’s incredible how much ineffective humour can hurt a film. Almost every single attempt at humour in Nagarvalam isn’t just bad, but usually offensive. Almost invariably, the characters are the only ones laughing—like that one friend we all have who laughs at his own poor jokes. An entire track is written about the lisp of the character Yogi Babu plays, as though somehow the speech impediment itself is hilarious. The hero’s friend (Balasaravanan) throws insult after insult at him. He imitates his lisp in one scene. In another, he calls him “Kaakaa” because Yogi Babu is dark in appearance. Meanwhile, another character, a drunk, drops his bottle and cuts his hands trying to collect the glass pieces. The hero (Yuthan Balaji) and his friend are in splits, and you don’t quite understand why. The drunk later calls his wife a “syntex tank”. I can’t remember the last time a film’s attempts at humour failed so spectacularly. They really bring Nagarvalam down from the passable film it is.

Director: Markx
Cast: Yuthan Balaji, Deekshitha Manikkam, Yogi Babu, Bala Saravanan
Storyline: A tragic love story amid politics and caste discrimination

Unlike many other films of its ilk though, Nagarvalam is shot well. The framing is generally imaginative, and the film’s kept running at a brisk pace. This competency, however, isn’t as consistent in many other departments, including writing and acting. For instance, the blood on the characters never truly looks like blood. This is a bit of a problem in a film that has characters breaking bottles on people’s heads. The idea of director Markx seems to be to make a gritty, hard-hitting romance between the young driver of a metro water tanker and a teenage girl in the slums. The romance itself needed to be far more endearing. The girl is such an Ilaiyaraaja fanatic that she gets into a trance-like state when the composer’s songs are played. It isn’t convincing at all that she shows interest in the hero simply because there’s an Ilaiyaraaja song playing in his truck. This dull beginning, in a way, paves the way for a love story that never hits a deep emotional note.

Every time the heroine hears an Ilaiyaraaja song

For the longest time, you’re not even sure where the story’s headed, given the politically charged atmosphere of the film’s setting. There’s a bitter rivalry between the girl’s uncle and another power-hungry group, but many such characters simply end up being red herrings. Nagarvalam isn’t a thrill-a-minute suspense either for such devices to add value. They simply add to the tedium. Much towards the end, some coincidental occurrences bring the story to a rather underwhelming end that leaves you scratching your head over the point of the whole story. But I suppose you have to be grateful that the second half is at least generally devoid of attempts at humour. Small mercies.

This review was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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