From Pudhupettai to NGK: Selvaraghavan’s Journey Comes Full Circle

Filmmaker Selvaraghavan, for the first time, collaborates with actor Suriya in NGK, a film that is both reminiscent and completely different from his 2006 political/gangster thriller Pudhupettai (2006).

When Selvaraghavan directs a film, the audience prepares for the unexpected. He always writes his own stories and screenplays. His fascination for science fiction and fantasy notwithstanding, his themes span the gamut of human emotion. Bringing the audience face to face with a whole new spectrum of anger, melancholy and the tiny sliver of joy in the midst of calamity, is his forte.

Let’s Talk Pudhupettai

Dhanush was all of 23 years and three movies old, when he created cinematic history with his brother Selvaraghavan at the helm. Pudhupettai (2006) stands the test of time as the quintessential gangster film, set in North Chennai. It’s everything you’d expect a gangster film to be; gory, sexy, vice-laden and dark. It’s also everything you don’t expect a gangster film to be; nuanced, emotionally engaging through and through, and quite believable when it comes to the plot twists.

Both the actor and director had come a long way from Kadhal Konden (2003) in the way the story is told and the visual aesthetics. The switch in lighting, from a burning neon red to dark green, in the same scene within seconds is seamless. The resultant switch in emotion is hard to explain unless you watch the scene.

You could watch the movie flitting between random scene to random scene, and it will still hold you tight.

Tripping on Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Selvaraghavan’s magnum opus, and probably his biggest failure to date, Aayirathil Oruvan (2010) has a brilliant story of mysticism, Tamil history and voodoo, buried underneath the producer’s demands of item numbers, random songs and confused characters that flit between badass and predictable. The vines say he knew how the story began, but didn’t know how to end it. It shows.

Nevertheless, if he does decide to do a sequel, I’d watch it. The film packs so much story and new ideas that it has its moments.

His sci-fi attempt - Irandaam Ulagam (2013) - though, failed at multiple levels. It was abstruse and the lead actors (Arya and Anushka Shetty) failed to pull off a film centred almost exclusively on them (no supporting cast). And the graphics were disappointing, even for its time. It failed as spectacularly as Aayirathil Oruvan, but in terms of scale and sheer volume of ideas, it was no match for its 2010 predecessor.

Of Familial Ties

That Selvaraghavan decided to write and direct a Telugu film, and that too a family drama, was surprising in itself. What was more surprising was that it was a sunny, bright, feel good film; a complete detour from his usual dark/visceral fare. 

Aadavari Matalaku Ardhale Verule (2007) was also remade in Tamil, but Selvaraghavan didn’t direct it. The film was a beautiful exploration of the phenomenon of love-at-first-sight, and the completely illogical nature of it. ‘Victory’ Venkatesh plays a 40-year-old virgin without a job, who finds a sense of purpose in life when he falls in love with Trisha, his soon-to-be boss and eventual wife. The comedy is clean and sprinkled evenly throughout the film. The emotional set-pieces were bang on. That Selvaraghavan made a family movie that had no cringe-worthy moments, continues to be a surprise.

He followed this up with Mayakkam Enna (2011), starring his brother Dhanush and Richa Gangopadhyay. This film remains Selvaraghavan’s most beautiful films visually. It traces the love-life-purpose arc of a photographer. The entire film has been shot with this visual aesthetic in mind, and plays with natural light and shadow. Every colour palette in the film has a specific purpose, and it serves it well. While the film itself is a weep-fest that drags the audience to the edge of melancholy, it ends on a hopeful note.

With NGK, Selvaraghavan returns to politics; a genre (if you can call it that) he’s made a mark in. With a director’s actor like Suriya, the possibilities are endless. The trailer points to an out-and-out political rhetoric film, like Kaala or LKG. But with Selvaraghavan, you never know.

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