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The NGK trailer is out. Is the acronym, which expands to “Nandha Gopalan Kumaran” just a string of names? Or is there something more? Is it, perhaps, a reference to (or at least a derivation from) the Thiruppavai, whose first verse contains those names, in that exact order: “Koorvel kodunthozhilan Nandagopan Kumaran”. This is a line about Krishna, the son (kumaran) of the spear (koorvel)-wielding Nanda, the head of the cow-herding Gopa tribe. I guess we’ll know when the film comes out, but the idle curiosity about the title apart, NGK is fascinating to think about, given that it unites Selvaraghavan and Suriya. Will the former find himself in the safe commercial zone of the latter, or will we find the actor moulding himself to fit into the jagged edges of this director? The answer to just this question alone should make the film a must-watch.

A big-name star and a big-name director coming together shouldn’t be all that much of an event – but in Tamil cinema, this isn’t all that common. I’m not talking about the Hari-s and the AR Murugadoss-es of the industry. They are big names, certainly, but their films are usually big money-spinners and have no problems attracting big stars. I’m talking about the more “artistic” filmmakers within the mainstream, those whose soul you can glimpse in their films (even the lesser ones). These are the directors whom stars respect but sometimes hesitate to work with because their films aren’t guaranteed blockbusters. These films are less generically “commercial”, more specific, more individual – this kind of big director-big star combination is rarer. You can talk about Gautham Vasudev Menon collaborating with Ajith (Yennai Arindhaal) and Kamal Haasan (Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu). Or Mani Ratnam with Karthi (Kaatru Veliyidai). Or Karthik Subbaraj with Rajinikanth (Petta). Or Mysskin with Vishal (Thupparivalan). Or Manikandan and Vijay Sethupathi (Aandavan Kattalai). Or one of my favourite combos, Vetri Maaran and Dhanush (Polladhavan, Aadukalam, Vada Chennai).

The family-friendly manner in which Suriya has been moulding his career of late, you’d expect him to be wary of a filmmaker like Selvaraghavan.

The family-friendly manner in which Suriya has been moulding his career of late, you’d expect him to be wary of a filmmaker like Selvaraghavan. This isn’t a judgement about Suriya’s career choices, even if I have sometimes felt frustrated with the films of this very capable actor. I really enjoyed 24, where Suriya delivered three finely calibrated “mainstream” performances. I enjoyed him in Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, where he was in terrific form. (Few heroes are as charming when playing to the gallery.) But otherwise, Suriya’s recent resumé has been more about consolidating his stardom than convincing us he is still the actor we saw in Nandha (2001). I cannot see today’s Suriya saying yes to a Bala movie. Unlike Dhanush or Vijay Sethupathi, who switch easily between the more “actorly” roles and the “starry” ones, Suriya has been content to explore (and expand) the “family-friendly” routes he has taken to make a star in himself. Which makes NGK the most surprising choice for the actor since Ram Gopal Varma’s blood-spattered Rakta Charitra, in 2010. 

Of course, this assumes that NGK is a Selvaraghavan movie as we know it, and not the political equivalent of Aadavari Matalaku Arthale Verule. (There’s nothing wrong with a director opting for a change of pace. It’s just that Aadavari Matalaku is more “a Suriya movie” than “a Selvaraghavan movie”.) It’s hard to tell much from the NGK trailer, which is fairly generic. I don’t get a feel from it. I just get a sense of story, about a man who becomes a great leader by play-acting as the kind of politician he wants to eradicate from the System. I think we can be fairly sure that the flavour of this film isn’t going to lean towards Pudhupettai. (After all, Selvaraghavan needs a big hit as much as Suriya does.) But I’m hoping the chance to work with a big star who’s not his brother animates Selvaraghavan, and the chance to work with a truly original writer-director recharges Suriya. This is a movie that can’t come soon enough.

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