Nandhaa Review

A woman returns home after worship at the temple to find her husband has been cheating on her. Her son, Nandhaa is also witness to what has happened and horrified by the effect that it has had on his mother, he strikes his father and kills him. Nandhaa is sentenced in court and sent to a young offender’s institution. Receiving his share of knocks in borstal, Nandhaa emerges as a tough young man. He finds it difficult to get work once released, but the hard upbringing he has received has taught him a few tricks in self-defence, a talent which brings him to the notice of the influential boss of a university campus. Nandhaa hopes to be reconciled with his mother, but she cannot accept his violent lifestyle.

Nandhaa is a fairly by-the-numbers action-romance-melodrama, which has little of originality to distinguish it from many similar takes of a tough childhood leading to a violent adulthood. James Cagney nailed this kind of thing over 60 years ago and although this follows a similar formula in a Tamil setting, it really isn’t in the same league. The opening scenes are well done – the events that take Nandhaa into prison are exemplary by-the-book examples of storyboarding that allows the opening sequence to pass almost without any dialogue being necessary, capturing the emotions and anguish like a silent movie. Of course part of the reason it works so well is that it is a well-honed story that has been done so many times that it ought to go like clockwork nowadays. Inevitably the film follows the traditional formula – admittedly well in places, with some powerful action sequences, the inevitable courtship and romance and the predictable tragic denouement.

The cinematography is typically good for a Tamil film, but similarly shows little originality. The traditional courtship-romance sequence has some beautiful photography, but the images are classic photo-romance, running along the seashore kind of stuff. The music is reasonably good, maintaining a theme and fitting in quite well with the action in most places, but the lyrics are a little clichéd and saccharin. What really lets the film down though from being a serviceable action melodrama is the abominable acting and characterisation. None of the male characters distinguish themselves particularly portraying typical machismo stereotypes, but the female roles are much worse – there is not one strong female character in the film, they all roll their eyes, sob pitifully, and contort their faces into a variety of expressions of anguish. Nandhaa's mother's initial disillusionment with her son isn't well-established by the script, leaving her subsequent reactions harder to comprehend. It doesn’t help to convince either that when her son grows up, she looks younger than he does.

Colours are excellent on the 2.35:1 anamorphic NTSC picture, though possibly a little too bright. Blacks however are strong in an extremely detailed image that is clear and sharp throughout. There are a few digital artefacts, but fewer than other Ayngaran Tamil cinema releases, showing up here in moiré shimmering of horizontal lines and in the odd flicker over faces. One scene towards the end of the film shows very obvious light fluctuation. There are of course occasional scratches and marks, but they all seem to be on the original negative rather than the print, so you really can’t expect it to be much better than it is.

Audio is stated to be Dolby Digital 5.1, but the only real sound comes mono from the centre speaker. There is faint sound from the two front speakers and nothing at all from the rears, so to all intents and purposes, this is a mono track. The sound though is always quite clear and the music comes across well enough. The sound effects in the fight scenes are among some of the silliest and most unrealistic slap and punch sounds ever used in a film, but the quality of the soundtrack can’t be blamed for that.

English subtitles are included and are optional. The translation is not always comprehensible and it looks like a few subtleties and references get lost in the translation, but generally the meaning is clear and accurate.

There are no extra features, just chapter selection and the ability to go directly to songs or play all songs. Some trailers are offered for other titles.

Nandhaa is a typically technically accomplished Tamil film, but it is rather lacking in its unoriginal storyline, two-dimensional characterisation and appalling acting performances. It handles the action sequences, which contain some strong violence, and romance aspects with aplomb, if not with any style or originality. For a much better example of how this kind of genre storytelling can be done well in a Tamil setting, check out Kamal Hassan’s action-packed Virumaandi, the astonishing Aaladahavan or lead actor Surya Sivakumar's latest film, Kaakha Kaakha.

Nandhaa can be purchased from Ayngaran International.

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