Nayak - The Real Hero

Director: Shankar
Music: A.R. Rahman; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Duration: 3 hours, 4 minutes
Year: 2001

Nayak is a crazy attack on the marshmallow part of your brain that warehouses the “I can’t believe how insane this is” pleasure zone. It is like being dragged through the fun house for 3 hours and loving every bump and bruise along the way. It feels as if the director was living on a film binge of Frank Capra, Rambo and The Wizard of Oz for months and then leaned back and smoked a big doobie and went into a dream like fantasy. This is Mr. Smith Goes to Bombay and beats the crap out of everyone to bring peace, justice and the Indian way to the people. It has everything anyone could want out of a movie – romance, action, politics, corruption, bad guys with scary scowls, giant sun flowers that dance, assassins dressed as big clay pots and a hero so much bigger than life that he has to be played by the hairiest actor on earth - Anil Kapoor.

Anil has so much body hair that I don’t even know why he has to beat people up – if he just unbuttoned his shirt the bad guys would run away screaming in terror. When his leading lady begins kissing his chest at one point I was worried that she would get a fur ball and start choking to death. Fortunately for us viewers, Anil keeps his shirt on for nearly the entire film and gives a fabulous performance as an idealist who reluctantly gets pulled into the dirty world of politics and decides to clean it up using his brains and even more importantly his fists. This is the kind of guy we need in the USA to run our country – special interest groups corrupting our political system – Anil would have them in jail or in bandages in no time – evil dictators with moustaches giving us no respect – Anil would out moustache and outmaneuver him with a swift kick in his pants. Anil in 2008. Get that wimp out of the White House. How can we elect a man without enough body hair to even make a shag rug?
The film begins with some very goofy comedy from Johnny Lever and you wonder if you should deep six this film right then before your skin breaks out, but before you can take action it breaks into the deliriously addictive “Shakalaka Baby”. This first musical number is so sparkling and so visually enticing with guest star Sushmita Sen (Ms. Universe 1994) looking bedazzling and as shiny as a silver dollar that you happily get on this magical ride and never look back. As a note of interest – the playback singer for this song is Vasundhara Das who plays the bride in Monsoon Wedding but is best known for her singing skills. This one is a pop tour de force that will have you singing the refrain on the subway.
Anil Kapoor is a cameraman for a TV station in India – Johnny Lever his assistant – and life is simple. He is an ordinary man with no great ambitions other than meeting a nice girl, settling down and making his parents happy. Destiny has other plans for him. While covering the Chief Minister (Amrish Puri doing his bad guy depiction to the max) on one of his political outings he spots an innocent village girl (Rani Mukerjee) having the audacity to criticize him – and he is instantly socked in the stomach with love. He tracks her down to her small rural home where he sees her dancing solo in the fields (it gets guys every time) and cavorting with assorted cute animals – love squared - but her father rejects him because he doesn’t have a safe government job with a nice pension waiting for him in thirty years. On the way back to town Anil witnesses a horrible riot break out because of the lack of government intervention due to cynical political reasons – and he saves a bleeding man from death by picking him up – and carrying him to a hospital by jumping from bus to bus in the traffic jammed streets! Later Anil performs some more bus theatrics.
He gets a promotion for this and the opportunity to interview the Chief Minister on live TV. Amrish shows up with his sleazy palms out entourage expecting the usual softball questions from powder puff journalists, but instead gets nailed to the stake by Anil’s charges of corruption and calculated cruelty. In a fury he challenges Anil to be Chief Minister for a day and see just how tough the job is. Hesitating, Anil finally accepts and the drama begins. He sweeps into his one-day job like a hurricane with the music from Carmina Burana following his every action and he takes the city by storm. By the end of his 24 hours in office he has housed the homeless, forced businesses to pay sales tax, rooted out market corruption, arrested nearly everyone in the current administration and taken on a gang leader mano y mano.
This fight is enough to make your head explode it’s so wonderfully over the top and absurd. Anil goes into his lair and the fight begins there and ends up going across rooftops to an incredible finale on the top of two buses speeding through the traffic. But this film is only getting started. Amrish sends a squad of assassins to kill him and in a Matrix like sequence Anil destroys them but is also symbolically purified as he is first set on fire, then covered with mud and finally cleansed with milk. He becomes – as his namesake Chatrapati Shivaji who was a warrior and King in the 1700’s – a near god like figure to the masses as they exhort him to continue to fight for them. He does with the love of his Rani to sustain him. But of course Amrish isn't about to take this lying down.
This has to be one of Rahman’s best overall musical scores  - every one of the six songs is a pop gem. The picturizations are just as astonishing. They are often like narcotically warped children’s dreams full of giant walking pots, marching scarecrows, twirling dolls with frightening faces and colors so bright it seems unreal. The director Shankar also utilizes some excellent time-lapse photography to give everything a sense of energy and speed.
I love this film. Plain and simple. It is so over the top in its color schemes, its musical picturizations, its action and its plot that I just ate it up. It has big ambitions and a big scale with at times literally hundreds of extras marching and rioting on the streets. Not to mention that Rani is lush and velvety and absolutely perfect – a visual cavalcade of stunning images. Sadly, not everyone loves this film and I often see posts that do not share my enthusiasm and don’t really understand why. It also did not fare well at the box office, but it seems so many of my favorite Bollywood films shared the same fate. It is not subtle admittedly, the love story is secondary to the political message and it is about as believable as the statements from Bush and Rumsfield about the situation in Iraq. This is really a childhood male fantasy of what it is to grow up, fall in love, do good and become a hero - but for me it is just a major shot of happy gas every time I put it on and hear the first chorus of Shakalaka Baby. Adios Amigos.

My rating for this film: 8.5

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Note: This film is a Hindi remake of the Tamil film, Mudhalvan, from the same director.

DVD Note - the DVD from Video Sound has had a lot of problems for people. Often the English subs do not show and the TV has to be adjusted for them to appear on your TV screen - though they show up fine on your computer. My DVD also died while I was capturing these screen images.

In fact I would like to take this opportunity to rant a bit about the general quality of Indian DVDs - they suck. I would have to guess that 10% or more of the Indian DVDs I buy are defective - don't play, die after a few playings, get stuck somewhere in the film or don't have subs as they promise. Anil Kapoor needs to go after these manufacturers next!