Of emotions uncommon
EFFECTIVE PORTRAYAL: Bobby Darling
Director: Santosh Sivan
Cast: Swetha, Khushbu, Bobby Darling
Storyline: The experiences of a 13-year old who comes face to face with the third gender.
Bottomline: A bold attempt by Sivan
Santosh Sivan's gutsy subject ably supported by Raaja Chandrashekar's research, script and dialogue, has resulted in `Navarasa' (Nine Emotions) (U/A) being the first film that does not ridicule the third gender. Instead it tries to throw light on the mindset of such people, their agonies, and their ecstatic moments at Koovagam. This HandMade Films production takes you on a journey into the world of eunuchs through the innocent eyes of 13-year old Swetha. In `Navarasa' all the characters belonging to the third gender are so in real life too.
Swetha (Swetha) is the only child of her parents. The family includes her dad's reticent and pensive younger brother Gautam (real name is Khushbu) who is a male to the world but a woman at heart. When Swetha's parents are away at Kumbakonam for a wedding, Gautam leaves home to go to Koovagam, near Villupuram, for the Koothandavar Aravan fest, where those belonging to the third gender converge annually. They strongly believe they are re-incarnations of Lord Krishna, who transformed himself into a beautiful woman Mohini, to marry Arjuna's son Aravan. Aravan sacrifices his life on the day after the wedding. So the joyous mood of the first day turns into one of sorrow the next, when all of them undergo the rituals of `widowhood' wailing as if they have really lost their husbands. Swetha, who is attached to her uncle, follows him to Koovagam ...
The opening sequence with a chirpy Swetha waking up to the FM broadcast, and din so common in every household slowly prepares you for what is to follow. So despite dealing with emotions that many will find enigmatic, you perceive a thread of naturalness, subtle humour (in the form of the neighbour's young boy) and spurts of mischief in dialogue.
Sivan's strong storyline is what helps `Navarasa' transcend the level of a documentary although shots of the fest, and the Miss. Koovagam beauty contest do give a docu feel. And the rather suggestive dance movements at the `beauty pageant' border on the repulsive.
Swetha, more or less a Sivan constant, excels in the role of a schoolgirl who understands her uncle better than the elders do. In fact Swetha's mom, and dad Varadarajan seem oblivious to the problem of the young man at home! Except being confined to his room through the day and night, Gautam does nothing, but all that Varadarajan is worried about is that his brother refuses to cut his hair short! He doesn't even notice that Gautam sports a false moustache!
Bobby Darling (remember `Page Three?') from Bollywood brings out the sadness in such multi-layered individuals quite effectively. When each of them talks about the woes of the third gender and the callous way in which society treats them, Hare Krishna who plays a docu filmmaker, voices queries, which arise in every mind. "Why do you make a nuisance of yourselves in public places and harass people on trains?" "It is frustration," is the reply. But the way they enjoy themselves at the get-togethers at Villupuram, tell a different tale. So the sympathy you would otherwise feel is lost and only the dichotomy looms large.
Aslam Mustafa's background score blends well with the mood. Santosh Sivan heads the team with his story, cinematography and direction. Camera captures the garish and gaudy ambience in all its stark reality. Nowhere does Sivan try to camouflage things. The crisp editing is Sreekar Prasad's. The 95-minute sojourn into the minds of a gender you may never comprehend has a message so the next time you see one in real life you would probably think twice before you make a grimace.
`I'm a Hindu, my husband is a Christian and my mother-in-law follows Islam. We practise religious unity in every sense. Why are we treated as sub-human by others, insulted and discarded by the so-called mainstream," asks a `woman' in `Navarasa.' It was a revelation when Raaja Chandrasekar, who had researched a lot for the project said, "True. People of all faiths attend the Koovagam festival, and go through the rituals followed at the Aravan temple." Chandrasekar interviewed around 200 such individuals before working on the script and dialogue of `Navarasa.' "Nothing is concocted or imagined. We have only laid bare the reality of their psyche, their culture and lifestyle. Nowhere do we comment," said Santosh Sivan who has dared to touch upon a subject such as the third gender.
The lot, which has always only been treated with disdain and contempt in films and in real life, finds a platform to express their grievances. "Hence they extended their co-operation for `Navarasa.' The scenes at Koovagam were shot at the festival itself and many in the crowd didn't even know about it. They are used to media attention," added Sivan. He acknowledged the expert support that came from Aasha Bharati of Tamil Nadu Aravani Association. "After the initial couple of days, once I understood them I wasn't scared to mingle with them at all," said Swetha, who shows an innocent, matter of fact acceptance of the people in the film.
Sivan's impressive filmography includes winning directorial ventures in Tamil the National Award for Best Tamil Film, for `The Terrorist' in 1998, and for `Navarasa' in 2004. His `Malli' again with Swetha, bagged the National award for Best Children's Film (1999). The maker gained international acclaim with the Emerging Master Award at the Seattle Film Festival (2000). And recently `Navarasa' has won the Public Award in the New Asian Cinema Section at the 11th Lyon Asian Film Festival, held from November 7-14, at Lyon, France.
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