During a fleeting scene in Nenjuku Needhi, we see Udhayanidhi’s Vijaya Raghavan interrogating a Dalit youth, who folds his hands out of conditioning. Without getting into a monologue on equality, Vijay gently drags the boy’s hands down and carries on with the conversation. There is neither a close-up shot of the boy’s hands nor a heroic score in the background to manifest the arrival of a saviour. It is these little things that elevate this retelling of Article 15 into a memorable, striking film.
Getting the tone right is perhaps the trickiest part of making a social drama. When overdone, such a film can turn out to be preachy and even extremist, and when subtle, it can get distant and detached. Nenjuku Needhi is made to disturb you. It’s the film equivalent of a cry for help, like the screams you hear when your home is on fire. The film reminds us that most of us are bystanders as injustice is rampant around us. My favourite aspect of this film is its consistency with everything it does, and everything gets massively upscaled by the haunting music of Dhibu Ninan Thomas, who comes up with a rare, distinctive background score that defies templates.
Cinema is often an exaggeration of reality, and yet, in real life matters like Dalit representation, the reality is often far worse than we have seen in cinema. While the word ‘colony’ denotes a residential area to the privileged among us, the truth is that it is still a derogatory term referring to the settlements of the people belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes. Nenjuku Needhi is an important social drama because it registers with much passion the cruelty that certain groups of people are subjected to. Such poignant representation as seen in this film also serves to educate the unaware among us.
There were mixed opinions about Udhayanidhi being cast in the role played by Ayushmann in the original, and I wondered how much of his role as a politician would seep into his performance, but this film proves that any concerns about his part in this film are misplaced. Udhay, who has already announced his retirement from acting after the upcoming Maamannan, delivers his best performance yet. He is convincing in the serious, meltdown scenes as the cop, but it is the portions where he comes across as a brother figure to the oppressed that truly elevate his performance. There are some small additions in this film to cater to admirers of Udhay, the politician… like his character walking in the backdrop of a rising sun or him telling a Dalit doctor named Anitha (you know why) that she has his full support. However, these portions never dilute the vision of the film.
When a film touches upon an issue as serious as in Nenjuku Needhi, it runs the danger of being branded a ‘karuthu padam’. However, unlike heroes from previous films who deliver long monologues or find solutions through violence, Nenjuku Needhi’s Vijay invites everyone for a conversation over a cup of tea, like Pariyan from Pariyerum Perumal. I am not sure when we will reach the discrimination-free utopia that Pariyan and Vijay dream of, but I strongly believe that the path to it is laid with conversations—the sort films like Nenjuku Needhi motivate us to have.
Udhayanidhi Stalin, Shivani Rajasekhar, Ilavarasu, Mayilsamy