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rochefort [Film Festival 10.05.10] movie review cult drama

Year: 2010
Directors: Bala
Writers: Bala
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 8 out of 10

A distressed father returns to the city of Kasi to find the son that he'd abandoned years earlier after scores of priests had warned him that the boy would bring darkness down upon his family and village. When he finds the boy, now grown into a young man with a thick lion mane of hair and a penchant for mild-altering substances, he learns that he has become an Aghori, one of a sect of Hindu holy men who live in graveyards, meditate constantly, and daily proclaim themselves to be God. The Aghori agrees to accompany the estranged father back to their family home only so that he can officially cut all ties to his mortal life, and along the way encounters a network of deformed beggars whose lot is so desperate that only divine aid can save them.

Okay, full disclosure time. I have seen very few Bollywood movies. It's kind of a Neil Young thing; you either love his voice or you just can't stand it. And while I'm completely down with Neil, the handful of Bollywood movies I've seen would always make me antsy, like something was just too out of sync for my feeble Western moviegoing mind to correctly process. I don't even hate the musical numbers, per se, but I just never found that one Bollywood pic that could turn me around. "Naan Kadavul", despite being a product of India, steeped in Hindu mysticism (so much so that it probably doesn't hurt to have at least a little background with the vast and complex nuances of Hinduism; for the record, I'm a novice in this area, too), and packed with musical numbers, probably isn't the quintessential Bollywood prototype. Instead, it's just so many kinds of awesomely messed up. I'm not the first person to point this out, but if this movie had been set in and produced south of the North American border, it would be a Jodorowsky movie, and I would refuse to believe that Director Bala's name is anything other than a pseudonym for the batshit Chilean genius.

The mad holy man, known only as The Aghori, doesn't have the bulk of screen time, but in each and every one of his scenes further cements himself as one with a place among in the pantheon of weird greats, alongside the likes of Jodorowsky's "El Topo" and Franco Nero's "Django". He isn't so much a character as a living, breathing myth. Instead of eating, he smokes dope. Whenever he opens his mouth, it's either to chant or remind lesser beings of just how inconsequential they are compared to the vastness of his power. Whenever he gets involved in any of the cityfolks' many squabbles, it's usually to bash the crap out of them with his big staff. He takes up residence in a crypt near a beleaguered clan of homeless street beggars, and at this point the story shifts gears to follow their plight as victims of both a rampantly superstitious system and their cruel boss. Plagued with down's syndrome, dwarfism, missing limbs, and a host of other birth defects and mutilations, each of these rejects of society is portrayed by the real thing, a la Tod Browning's "Freaks". I was still gob-smacked at their heart-wrenching afflictions even after the script had moved on to depict how most of them have come to terms with their respective plights and found a new family among their deformed peers.

By the time the two elements converge and the Aghori takes on the beggars' vicious boss, you might very well find yourself exhausted. This is an acquired taste, no doubt about it, and casual audience members may find it difficult to reconcile the outlandish story of the Aghori with the harsh reality of the poor freaks, of which there are literally hundreds. But by the end, there do seem to be hints that director Bala has a drastically more ambiguous take on the purpose of religion and deity in Indian society than one might have expected at the story's outset, raising questions that, along with all the insanity onscreen, end up sticking in the head for a long, long time afterwards. Shot almost entirely on location, with very few modified sets and costumes and almost no special effects, "Naan Kadavul" doesn't achieve it's ultimate effect through artifice so much as it leaves you with the feeling that you've watched an almost docu-dramatic fever dream.

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sree (9 years ago) Reply

the whole point is to question our idea of god. basically we are the god and the devil too

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