Bommai Nayagi Movie Review (2023)


Shan's 'Bommai Nayagi' gives Yogi Babu the space to be dramatic, but the story-handling is too simplistic

Bommai Nayagi Movie Review

Bommai Nayagi Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Yaazhi Films,Neelam Productions
Director : Shan
Music Director : Sundaramurthy K S

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!

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.