Bommai Nayagi Movie Cast & Crew
Yogi Babu is (sadly) so synonymous with body-shaming comedy that it's wonderful to see him – in Bommai Nayagi – as someone's object of desire. That someone is his character's wife, played by Subatra Robert. The family sleeps together at night, with a little girl sandwiched between her mother and father. One night, she wanders off elsewhere, and the wife senses an opportunity for some privacy. She nudges Velu – that's the Yogi Babu character. He silences her with his version of "not tonight, I have a headache". The image made me smile, but not for long. This is a man from an oppressed caste and his livelihood comes from working at a tea stall. Life is hard enough, and then it becomes harder when something happens to the daughter.
Director Shan is to be commended for one thing. He does not show what happens. He implies – and the implication reaches us through Yogi Babu's face. Velu senses what has happened and his wife is hysterical while taking the girl to a hospital. But he does not shed a single tear. It's like he’s been hit by lightning. He's at once too dazed to do or feel anything, but his heart knows the reality and we see its heaviness in the actor's expression: he makes us feel both the father's external stillness and his internal restlessness. Does Yogi Babu have range? I cannot tell. But full credit to Shan and producer Pa. Ranjith for sensing that the actor would fit in here, and for giving him the space to show the audience an entirely different dimension.
But the rest of the film is a very straightforward and simplistic drama. The crux is that we cannot always rely on braver people (like the Communist activist played by Hari Krishnan) to get us justice. At some point, even if we are intimidated by more powerful people, we need to stand up for ourselves. And then, as a beggar lady sings, through an MGR song: dharmam thalai kaakum. The righteous will win. But at first, Velu has no patience for those who protest against injustice. Like many of us, he just wants to lead his own life with his own family. It's only when he is personally affected that he realises the value of those protesters and their protests. Someone has to stand up against an unjust System, otherwise the concept of "dharmam thalai kaakum" will never come to fruition.
I loved certain parts, like the one where Velu says he does not want to go further with this fight because it's a girl child, and an angry activist asks him: Who are you to decide her future? The line lands like a slap to the face. Even if the girl is Velu's daughter, the community has a say in what happens to her. The film makes the case that protests – whether against an unfair government or against a clueless father – are practically a civic duty. But the writing and craft do not have the finesse and the nuance found in other films from Neelam Productions. The dialogue is over-emphatic. It keeps sledgehammering home the importance of educating a girl child. The conceits are emphatic. The tragic little girl plays Bharat Mata in a school programme and the metaphor is too literal.
The courtroom drama that fills the second half proceeds along predictable lines – though, again, it's nice that the girl (Srimathi) is treated with a gentle touch. But her performance is a typical "child performance", the equivalent of a studious kid who keeps raising her hand every time the teacher asks a question. I wish her smiles and her eagerness had been tempered a bit, that she'd been more three-dimensional. The boldest aspect of the screenplay is the twist at the end, long after we think the film is over. Despite the clumsy staging, like everywhere else, what comes across is true: Just because we stand up once, it's not over. For justice, we have to keep fighting. And fighting. And fighting. Only then can we truly claim… dharmam thalai kaakum!