Navarasa has nine shorts that are each about a specific rasa or emotion. But not only has each filmmaker interpreted their chosen emotion through very different stories, they've also varied what an emotion even means in the first place. For instance, the anger in Arvind Swami's Roudhram feels visceral, the peace in Karthik Subbaraj's Peace is a lofty idea turned ironic through a twist at the end, the wonder in Karthik Naren's Project Agni is cerebral (if at all it kindled any wonder), and the disgust in Vasanth's Payasam comes through with pinpoint precision in just that one reaction shot of Aditi Balan near the end.
Also, not all shorts register emotions with the same intensity or consistency because it's impossible to show an emotion without also showing its counterpoint. The fear in Inmai is a compound of guilt and dread. In fact, guilt seems to be a common thread running through Edhiri, Roudhram, Summer of '92, and Inmai (you could argue Thunintha Pin is about avoiding guilt). So, in spite of being organized around the nine emotions, Navarasa feels more like what nine filmmakers came up with in response to a prompt to write about a specific emotion. In fact, Payasam — based on Thi. Janakiraman's story — spends almost all of its runtime only subtly suggesting disgust, directly depicting it for just about five seconds. Throughout the short, we feel pity or irritation rather than disgust for Delhi Ganesh's Chitappa.
Without getting into the question of whether each short did justice to its rasa, here's a ranking of the films from Navarasa in their own right, from the entertaining and well-made to the banal and problematic:
You could argue that all the casteist slurs on Yogi Babu's character in Summer of '92 are atoned for in the narrative when a dog splashes poop all over an orthodox Brahmin household. But, the film doesn't distance itself from the casteism that it depicts. Instead, it's mined for only slightly funny comedy. All the caste-based jokes don't help distract from the film's fundamental unfunniness.
Director: Gautham Vasudev Menon
Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru feels desperate. The romance between Kamal (Suriya) and Nethra (Prayaga Martin) is another permutation of the various romances and conversations from Gautham Vasudev Menon films. It might work at a moment-to-moment level if you're a fan of his aesthetic. But Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru feels like it takes itself too seriously, it's indulgent. It just feels a bit too cute and idealistic (and problematic) to reflect the realities of a modern relationship.
Director: Karthik Naren
Project Agni is a confused mix of pseudoscience, crank ancient history and pedestrian imagination about space and time passed off as profound thoughts of curious minds. It feels like a skit about something as complex as the Large Hadron Collider put together by people who get all their vocabulary from science and all their science from pop culture or mythology.
Without the sense of doubt, there is no sense of wonder. But Project Agni peddles tantalizing hoaxes instead of genuinely depicting science as a way of discovering reality. If the word 'science' is replaced by 'god' in Project Agni it would continue to be as intellectually vapid and as dramatically boring.
Director: Sarjun KM
A predictable story about a Naxalite (Kishore) and a newbie officer (Atharvaa) where their worldviews collide. It's incredibly talky and generic. There's a minor irony in the end when it seems like the Naxalite encourages the officer to be more courageous, and this helps him shoot the Naxalite down.
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Edhiri is impressionistic in the way it depicts emotions and superbly uses form. When Savithri's (Revathi) husband is struck down dead by Dheena (Vijay Sethupathi), we aren't shown her weeping over the body. Instead, the dead person (Prakash Raj) ends up at Dheena's house, asking him if there was really a point to killing him. Like Inmai, we have a victim coming back as a ghost. Unlike Inmai, though, the victim doesn't need revenge, but only seems to want to get Dheena to see how impulsive he's been. There's no compassion in Inmai as it was about revenge (there's even a line that says Allah might forgive someone, but the Djin won't). Here, Revathi's affecting monologue in the end is a superb argument for compassion towards others.
It's good to be kind not because you don't judge others but simply because you accept that your own judgement is imperfect. Savithri forgives her husband's killer because she sees that she's been killing him gradually over the last ten years by not speaking to him. She frees Dheena from his guilt. Non-judgement is the beginning of compassion.
Director: Rathindran R. Prasad
Rathindran Prasad superbly makes psychological the concept of a Djin by splitting him into two parts: the guilt in the perpetrator's heart and the desire for revenge in the victim. The set up is riveting, especially when it's revealed that Siddharth's Farooq is a Djin. But like most other films in Navarasa, it gets talky and explanatory. But the explanations are nuanced and fascinating, like when the film is ambiguous about whether it's black magic or science that's caused a character's death. The final twist about the Djin also feels organic because it's part of the interpretation of how the film interprets fear psychologically: as a combination of guilt and a vague dread. But after the superb reveal about how Farooq is a Djin, you could get through many parts of the rest of the film with just your ears open to it.
Director: Arvind Swami
Arvind Swami superbly explores anger from inception until the effect in two fatherless siblings from North Madras. You see how anger grows organically until it changes life in unpredictable ways. When Arul (Sreeram) sees his mother sleeping with a loan shark to whom they owe money, he directs his anger towards the man and kills him. But Anbu (Riythvika) becomes a cop — an equal and opposite reaction to Arul — and cuts off her mom from her life. The same set of events involving the same people elicits the same emotion, anger, that expresses in dramatically different ways. In the end, as Anbu breaks down you see that righteous anger, whether expressed immediately like Arun or over time like Anbu, is no guarantee that you'll be free from guilt.
Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Peace is about three Eelam Tamil soldiers stuck in a battle position with the Sri Lankan army. They're forced to bide time when one of them, Nilavan (Bobby Simha) is decides to help a child find his lost brother at great risk. There's a 'twist' when the brother is found: it's a dog. But Karthik Subbaraj finds a way to not make it the usual trope of a noble soldier (who cares even for a dog). Suddenly, enemy Sri Lankan soldiers stop shooting at Nilavan and he's led to believe that they don't intend to shoot him. A cruel twist in the end, turns ironic the title of the short. From the warm feeling of seeing a soldier save a little puppy, we're suddenly left wondering if anything called peace even exists at all.
Payasam is adapted from Thi. Janakiraman's short story (with the same title) about an ageing windower disgruntled with his irrelevance. He lives in a small village in Kumbakonam and his irritation with his super-successful nephew, Subbu, is made worse by the small community around him. Delhi Ganesh as Chitappa is superb as a man torn between constant irritation and a sense of dignity, especially when reminded of it by the voice of his now deceased wife (Rohini).
As a counterpoint to Chitappa and Subbu is a similar minor power tussle between a senior cook (Kathadi Ramamurthy) and his now more successful junior (Bhagavati Perumal). Here, the senior gives way to the junior, unlike Chitappa. Payasam also works because it happens in the span of a few hours in the same space, but the emotions that are spoken of have a beginning in the past (say, Chitappa's jealousy for Subbu) and they make us curious where they will lead Chitappa to in the future. Payasam effectively uses the short format.