Why NGK didn’t work for me at all

I remember a recent interview in which an actress was talking about the unconventional methods of acting she had picked from Selvaraghavan while filming NGK like not blinking, to avoid diluting the emotional intensity of a scene. There’s also this fascinating discussion which springs to mind, involving Selva and Baradwaj Rangan which gave me an insight into his style of working, the process that goes behind shaping the psyche of his protagonists. So with all the accrued curiosity I could gather I finally caught up with NGK on opening day. I’m not sure, but somewhere around the halfway mark I felt I enjoyed the interviews about the movie, the anecdotes about how it got made than the movie itself. The word middling comes to mind. Scratch that, half-baked explains what I felt much better.

The movie is about an educated man grappling with the politics around him, one knew as much from the trailer, so no surprises on that front. Somehow politics has become an ubiquitous motif in the past few years in movies this side of the country; political awareness seems to be the new “in” thing, what with brooding youngsters across platforms discussing (don’t even ask me about their level of understanding though) “social” causes, marginalization, representation in between cricket, celebrity wars and memes. That explains why off late, there are more politically motivated protagonists than usual leading the proceedings. It’s the new license to flex, to go anti establishment and come across as a cool messiah in the process. We saw it in Sarkar, Bharat Ane Nenu, LKG and now NGK.

In my opinion, there’s still a lot of fodder left to be juiced in this genre. After all, the “larger than life” aspect comes with the territory itself. When in another run of the mill masala movie, the protagonist has to be elevated with dramatic sequences as a hero, a leader of the masses. A lead man who is playing a cabinet minister or say a CM, is de facto all of that and more which makes it an automatic breeding ground for “mass” movies.

There are a few kind of movies that can be made here. One where the politics is the milieu in a personal, character driven story like an Iruvar, where an arc assumes shape an runs parallel to the journey of its lead and we find ourselves in their head space. And then there are these movies where politics is the grand central piece holding the proceedings together and the personal trajectories are merely incidental and in service to this larger scheme. A Rajneeti or NOTA fall into this bracket. These movies keep dropping stats, mimicking current affairs with pseudonyms and give a vicarious sense of going through political happenings with a fairy tale solutions. And there’s the third kind, which combines the best of both worlds, giving us an entertaining story of the protagonist while informing us in detail about the politics inundating his ecosystem. Here, both the personal and politics take turns to become cogs in each other’s wheels. Kodi or Sarkar come to mind in this space.

Coming back to NGK, it falls in the middle of nowhere. It’s neither a character study of its eponymous protagonist, his grand scheme, his personal journey and the close ones in it nor is it a intricately put together political movie which gives us a fresh perspective to the politics of his constituency which we didn’t already know of. It’s a laboured exercise in bizzareness, that strives to be a cult classic in every frame, with a motley bunch of broken characters displaying varying degrees of weirdness. Their collective range of emotions is somewhere between the third joint and being possessed by a confused spirit. Their decibel level is either a screech or a scream, depending on how abnormal the scene is. There’s this particular sequence, where NGK comes back from a really tight spot. Wide open glassy eyes, a weird smirk of an accomplished pedophile plastered across his face and a dance movement that would make tribal mating movements look sophisticated, Surya’s performance feels like the SOS call of a possessed man with a really heavy stone suspended from his balls, trying to recreate Dhanush’s “Divya Divya” moment from the director’s Kadhal Kondein.

Characters can’t be interacting among each other in an abnormal manner without an extraordinary reason to be that way; loose ends and loop holes cannot just exist and be deemed to be hidden symbolism that warrant a shameless rewatch because the film’s supposedly avant garde. There’s a difference between dropping hints, leaving some plot points open for interpretation and lazy writing that doesn’t give a rat’s ass to the viewer’s intelligence. Playing with the viewer’s imagination and leaving most things to his imagination are not the same thing.

Agreed, politics is a grey area and the characters cannot be black and white. They can be amoral, ambivalent, complicated and even unpredictable, as far as there’s a method to the madness or a “why”, even a small-flickering one lurking at some turn over the course of the screenplay to tie up the idiosyncrasies. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of weird people, you couldn’t care lesser about, doing random shit with no rhyme or rhythm whatsoever.
There’s this litmus test I usually have for finding whether a movie with an antihero/unconventional hero works or not. If by the climax, a movie makes me feel bad, disturbed, overwhelmed, vicariously happy about the victory of evil in his form or at least like the rug was pulled from under my feet, I walk out a satisfied man. But if the only thing that lingers in the end is the after taste of butter popcorn, gratitude for not being an insomniac or a sincere hope for the director to be straight jacketed, you pretty much know how much the movie worked.

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