Director: S Shankar
Actors: Vijay, Jeeva, Srikanth, Ileana D'Cruz, Sathyan and Sathyaraj
Rating: * 1/2
Logic and film can well be allergic to each other. Certainly in the case of most Indian movies that seem to be tumbling out factory lines rather than creativity and cameras.
S Shankar’s Nanban (Friend) in Tamil, which has just opened as one of the Pongal releases, is a near-exact remake of Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots in Hindi, adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s 2004 debut novel, Five Point Someone.
Both the films admittedly are a fierce indictment of India’s education system that celebrates cramming, while mocking at knowledge. These are highlighted in bright red, so to say, by characters in the movies. Chatur Ramalingam in the Hindi version and Srivatsan Silencer in the Tamil edition, played by Sathyan, are crammers, who became the favourites of their teachers and principals, eventually landing money-spinning jobs, swanky houses, ritzy cars and dollish damsels.
But Aamir Khan’s Rancho in 3 Idiots and Vijay’s Panchavan Parivendan in Nanban are termed rebels, no-gooders in society, only because they seek truth and wisdom, not rankings and accolades. They have their own points of view, they have questions which professors hate to answer, because they go against the grain of the system.
Nanban’s message is profound all right, given India’s exploitative and unimaginative education system. The film lambasts bookishness, the mad chase for marks and a method bereft of joy, the joy of discovering. Parental and peer pressure and the frightfully huge fees for professional courses push boys and girls into performing puppets. The higher your grades, the closer you are to securing a centum, the brighter become your chances of "making it in life."
However, the kind of vehicle Nanban uses (as did 3 Idiots) batters your intelligence and leaves you feeling an idiot yourself. Let us look at the situations that the script adopts.
Nanban begins with a passenger plane returning to the tarmac soon after it takes off, because one of the three lead characters (friends in fact), a young man, has had a heart attack. Minutes later, we see him jump off the wheelchair and escape from the airport – all to meet a long lost friend! This young man travels by road from presumably Chennai up to Dhanushkodi, touching Ooty and Coimbatore on the way, for a whole day or perhaps more, with no cop chasing him for his misdemeanour. Fooling an airline is no crime in India, I am given to understand.
Another friend of the group impersonates a rich man’s son, tops the university, becomes an internationally renowned scientist and settles down in Dhanushkodi teaching children the joys of science and scientific experiments. His degree is given away to the rich man’s son, because he is a duffer who cannot get a degree on his own, but has to rely on someone else to do the job. But the friend, who seeks knowledge not medals, becomes a top scientist all right – sans his degree.
In college, this friend helps the sister of the woman he secretly loves deliver a baby in a medically challenging situation by using a vacuum cleaner to suck the little one out! Medicine is made into a mockery!
The woman waits for a decade, with a rich suitor who puts a price tag on love and life, twiddling. Two of the three friends force her out of the "mandap" in the nick of time and take her to the scientist (the man she loves) at Dhanushkodi. There, the girl quickly gets on to a scooter, wears a helmet and goes riding on the beach (which I suspect is not Dhanushkodi) in her full bridal regalia to meet her lover boy. Can this get sillier?
Nanban is good theme gone awry because of unbelievable coincidences, illogical situational ploys and caricaturing. Look at the way Sathyaraj, who essays the college principal, Virumandi Santhanam aka Virus, has been reduced to resemble a clown. Srivatsan reads out a whole Founders’ Day speech in Tamil, though written in the Roman alphabet, without understanding a word of it. He does not even know that the praises have been changed to abuses – all hurled at his favourite principal!
Nanban disappoints even in performances: while Vijay is no patch on Aamir Khan (who plays the rebel who becomes a scientist in the original), Ileana D’Cruz who plays Vijay’s screen lover, the part Kareena Kapoor did in Hindi, and Srikanth stepping in for Madhavan are unimpressive. Which leaves Nanban several notches below 3 Idiots.