Movie Review: Nanban

We all know how the movie 3 Idiots (an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat's novel Five Point Someone – What not to do at IIT!) turned out to be, don't we? Yeah, Aal Izz Well! Taking light-hearted but pointed jabs at the current education system, the obsession with grades and the parental pressures to pursue oft-taken career paths, the 2009 film starring three middle-aged men (Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi) went on to become the biggest grosser in the Indian film history (it still is).

It was, however, not without its glitches. The main cast were considered 'miscast' as college students despite their worthy performances. Logic took a beating at places and the second half was found to be dragging and overly maudlin, especially the climax. Not to forget the unnecessary romantic twist, which was a pure Bollywood contrivance. But the audience (including myself) quite readily forgave the afore mentioned snags because of the inherent good-naturedness and feel-good factor of the film.

So it threw many a people off-guard, when ace director S. Shankar (of Indian, Mudhalvan, Jeans, Sivaji, Enthiran fame) decided to remake this already popular blockbuster in Tamil. When the lead cast was announced, after much confusion, it turned even more heads and quite a few wondered whether this gambit from Shankar would pay off. Judging by the public mood so far after its release on Jan 12, it is somewhat evident that he has struck gold once again.

Starring Vijay, Jiiva and Srikanth (reprising the roles of Aamir, Sharman and Madhavan respectively), Nanban is a frame by frame remake of 3 Idiots. For starters (are there any who haven't seen the original?), the story concerns the lives of three friends. Senthil (Jiiva) and Venkat (Srikanth), who join Ideal Engineering College, feel the pressures of family and studies like any college going student. Their lives go for a toss with the arrival of Pari (Vijay), a carefree spirited guy who has a positive outlook towards life (hence the aphorism Aal Izz Well!).

He is at constant loggerheads with the college director Virus (Sathyaraj), opposing the educational system, the rat race that's tagged with it, the practice of learning by rote (highlighted by a hilarious sequence) and gradually persuades his friends to follow their heart and take on challenges without any fear. After four years of college and successfully helping them out, he mysteriously vanishes and all their efforts to locate him prove futile. Ten years later, when Venkat gets a call from their college mate Silencer (Sathyan), the duo along with Senthil embark on a journey to find their long lost friend. Will they? Watch the movie for the answers.

While it's generally perceived that remaking movies is a tough job to crack, here is Shankar, who effortlessly dazzles in his first ever remake attempt in a career that spans almost two decades. Having given him the due credit, it is worth-while to note that he has neither attempted to change the story nor improvise it in any way. So the pitfalls of the original continue to apply here as well, except in the casting department.

In fact, he takes this 'photocopying' to an extreme in the marriage scenes which, for some inexplicable reason, continue to be a North Indian affair. Why on earth would a Tamilian arrange for such a marriage, with the groom wearing Sherwani and turbans and all? It beats me! The dialogues (by Shankar and Karky) too sound similar as if they have been translated verbatim, but nevertheless have a witty and sharp feel to it. Even under severe restraints, Shankar unleashes his creative side in the song sequences, especially in the Asku Laska track that has eye-popping and gorgeous visuals in spite of their self-referential nature to some of his previous works.

Cinematography by Manoj Paramahamsa is excellent while the music score by Harris Jayaraj is a little underwhelming. But the fact that the songs are never intrusive (except for the last track Irukkana, a complete masala number to satisfy the front-benchers) is a big consolation. At over three hours, the movie is a tad lengthy and some portions in the second half could have gone under the scissors.

Now to the most important aspect, the cast. Vijay, who was of late seen in complete action entertainers, does a volte-face with a performance backed role. A surprising choice from Shankar, but having said that, Vijay, though a little miscast, gives a matured performance as Pari. Playing a character that has no punch dialogues to deliver or perform heavy duty stunts, it comes as a whiff of fresh air. The director needs to be applauded for taking such a big risk by casting him in such a role and also for not succumbing to his image, which could have possibly diluted the essence of the movie (like what he did with Rajinikanth in Sivaji/Enthiran).

Srikanth shines especially in the emotional scene with his father, but overall does well as the confused engineering student who wants to follow his ambition. With limited scope to perform, Sathyaraj has been reduced to a caricature, a role sans any sort of depth, while Ileana, who makes an re-entry in Tamil after five years (remember the debacle called Kedi?), lacks the vivacity and sprightliness of Kareena Kapoor, though she impresses in the dance sequences. Sathyan puts best use of his meaty role and leaves the audience in splits (watch out for the Teacher's Day speech).

But the film ultimately belongs to Jiiva, who delivers a power-packed performance as Senthil, the god-fearing guy with a funny side who is apprehensive about his own future due to familial circumstances. A versatile actor that he is (Ko, E, RaamKattradhu Thamizh), my only advice to him would be to stop doing mediocre movies like Rowthiram, Kacheri Arambam, Vandhaan Vendraan and the likes. In the end, Nanban, notwithstanding its entrenched fidelity to the archetype, is a neatly packaged family entertainer that leaves you Aal Well! A hands down winner and a perfect Pongal treat!