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Navarasa: Typecast Tamil Cinema That Refuses To Evolve Beyond Established Names & Tropes

The much touted film anthology Navarasa on Netflix shows that Tamil cinema is still stuck with established names, and not yet ready to include diverse ideas and voices.

The much touted film anthology Navarasa on Netflix shows that Tamil cinema is still stuck with established names, and not yet ready to include diverse ideas and voices.

Recently film anthologies have become popular with the OTT boom.  The recent release on Netflix Navarasa, with the who’s who of Tamil cinema as writers, actors, and directors has opened up another debate on Tamil cinema.

Twitter timelines have been abuzz with memes and reviews following the release of the multi-starrer, Navarasa on Netflix. Navarasa, the nine short films based on human emotions- compassion, laughter, wonder, disgust, peace, anger, fear, valour and romance, started streaming on Netflix last week.

The anthology has faced mixed reviews with many criticising the lack of socio-political understanding. Basically, the movie has laid bare the friction between ‘the established film fraternity’ versus the changing trends among audiences. The title music by A.R Rahman introduces the movies, and I think it’s apt as the notes seem to buffer the social radar turned off in the films.

A growing need to acknowledge power equations in society

Times have changed with many people becoming vocal about the disparities in our society, and the indifference that happens.

The movies all are aesthetically pleasing, technically sound with the actors emoting effortlessly, to hollow storylines. Criticism has never been appreciated in the film industry, and usually followed by smear campaigns.

But there is a growing need to acknowledge the caste, class, and gender power equations that exist, and the advent of social media has bought out the collective voices that have been simmering beneath the layers of the establishment’s definition of ‘good or bad’ film.

“It’s just a movie!” NO

The most common argument put forth in defence of ‘problematic’ films is- “it’s just a movie, it’s for entertainment!”

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This argument is used to justify many things including stalking, body shaming, moral policing, caste/ class/ gender misrepresentations, etc. Yes, all people do not watch a movie and act it out, but the reality that movies do impact one’s perception and worldview needs to be recognised.

As a personal example, I grew up watching so many movies that were sexist, reiterating caste pride, glorifying machismo, patronising women, demeaning gender identities, and having body shaming jokes. This has certainly led to conditioning that took many years to unravel and for me to evolve a better socio-political understanding.

Many of the present day critics (including me!) have grown up watching the films of the producer of Navarasa and his ilk, but have evolved with life-experiences, understanding gender realities, and learning the politics of Tamil Nadu.

Navarasa in brief, and in stereotype

The first movie deals with compassion following a murder. The dark tones, shots, ambience and the technicalities, expressions fail to impact as the story seems unconvincing.

The second movie makes a caricature of a person, and is marred with stereotypes of social caste, class. How is that supposed to be laughter? The movie seems to make laughter at the expense of the vulnerable, dwelling on existent class/ caste bias.

The movie on the theme disgust is based on a story by the author T. Janakiraman, and meticulously captures the world of an upper caste family wedding in grandeur, glamourising caste hierarchy. The movies- laughter and disgust both diligently follow the narratives that have been dominant in Tamil cinema.

The other movies on the themes peace and valour reduce the gravity of the issues, and gloss over, using a (forced) Tamil dialect or just the word comrade to convey a sense of authenticity. This false impression is a standard in all the movies, with love, wonder, anger, and fear following the same typecast.

The necessity of diverse narratives

There have always been discussions on issues like MeToo, questions about representations and depictions of sections within the society that reinforce cultural, caste, caste and gender stereotypes. But amplification of voices has become possible with many wanting change, and also others who want to be on the woke wagon.

To be ‘politically correct’ has become lucrative to many creators, and recent movies depict these changes in perceptions, but the tug of war continues between reality and the reel in terms of caste, class and gender representations. The film fraternity as with other institutions, lacks diversity with regards to gender and caste, with no efficient means to tackle this disparity.

With the onset of pandemic and the OTT binge craze, many platforms have recognised the need for specialised regional content. Increasingly audiences have also evolved to understand complexities, but the way creators get chosen remains helmed by the establishment or the ‘experienced’. The problem with this approach is that new talent never gets it due recognition nor deliberations. There is no dearth of talent, simply a lack of will to recognise different narratives.


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A homemaker following "the ten year-Bucket List."

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