Indian movie director, Murali Nair, once had long hair, which he neatly tied into a pony tail. His hair was a kind of logo that nobody could miss. But the Nair I now saw at the ongoing Abu Dhabi Film Festival -- where his fifth and latest work, Laadli Laila (Virgin Goat), screened in Competition, the only Indian entry in this section – had his head tonsured, or almost. The Indian Yul Bryner, perhaps.
Nair, shot to fame, much like Shaji N. Karun, at Cannes with first his first feature, Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death, 1999), which won the Camera d’Or Prize there. An interesting satire on capitalism and political corruption, the movie is, in the end, a profoundly moving human story of a poor farm labourer. Living in abject poverty and unable to feed his family, he is caught stealing coconuts and sentenced to death after false cases are slapped on him. The story turns poignant when the Government imports an electric chair with the help of World Bank, and decides that the farmer would be the first to be executed on it.Nair’s has always had this fascination to turn his cinema into social documents. His second film,Pattiyude Divasam (A Dog’s Day), is a comic drama that examines how political power gradually shifts from monarchy to democratically
A couple of movies after Pattiyude Divasam, Nair has now stepped into a different language, Hindi, instead of his usual Malayalam, with his “Laadli Laila”. He decided to switch to Hindi “because the Malayalam film market is dying.” It became clear to him after four films that the market in his home State was going nowhere. It was stagnant. “So, I decided to call it quits with my mother tongue, at least for my movies”.
Also, Nair feels that the Hindi movie industry is no longer against those who speak a different language. “Once, there was a strong resentment against those who came from other States. But that is now gone. When I made Laadli Laila, not one person asked me where I came from. People are looking at style, content and so on and not the language they speak.”
Laadli Laila has its own unique style. A satire of sorts, the film narrates the pathetic plight of a farmer, Kalyan Singh (played by Raghubir Yadav), who is so disillusioned with not just his immediate family of a nagging wife and a lazy lout of a son, but also the political authority that he turns to his virgin goat, believing it to be something special. He is sure that the animal has descended from a goat gifted by a king to his ancestors some 500 years ago, and Singh is terribly worried that she might not conceive and keep the royal lineage alive. His trip from one vet to another is hilarious, and when Laila, that is the name of his goat, is taken away from him, his misery knows no bounds. But before that, when Laila appears to be in heat, Singh’s excitement to find a mate for her leads him to unbelievably funny situations.
Nair, who wrote the story and co-wrote the script with Jonathan Page, captures a medley of characters as Singh journeys on his quest to get Laila mated. The politicians, the godmen, they are all there to give Nair’s screen a great colour, but it is Yadav’s charismatic performance as the farmer who swings between ecstatic joy and depressive sorrow that is bound to capture the attention of viewers.
Nair hopes that Laadli Laila would attract a much wider audience that his earlier movies could. Also, “as a creator, I tried to do something different in this work, and that has been immensely satisfying to me”, Nair avers.
The film is set around Hyderabad, and was shot in just 30 days. “I always finish my movies in about the same time”, Nair quips. And he is very proud of Hyderabad, a city he is now settled in with his wife and two children. The Nizam of Hyderabad was so visionary that he encouraged people from various places to settle in the city to give it a certain richness. So, there is a wonderful charm about Hyderabad, Nair feels.
Will that work magic with his audiences?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering major film festivals across continents, and is now at Abu Dhabi)