On the one hand, everything in Naradan seems to be in constant motion. During the film, lovers and friends break up, people move up and down the career ladder, and political scandals shake Kerala society. Yet, the film squirms like a claustrophobic fish in a tank, having nowhere to go, bouncing from one half-baked moment to another.
Mayanadhi (2018), easily Aashiq Abu’s best work, throbbed with details of life. It told the viewer of the colour of the lovers’ room and the shade of their moles. There was so much on the screen to devour and get lost in. In Naradan, Aashiq looks like a different kind of filmmaker, a far inferior one who can’t decide what kind of film he wants to make or locate the core of the story in hand.
Naradan, which is partly a media procedural and partly, a horror story about corporate greed, proceeds like a cold enactment of the popular imagination of what goes inside the television news channels. The narrative draws heavily from real incidents. Television reporters in OB vans hound their subjects. Guests on evening talk shows scream. Media houses manufacture and peddle scandals to win the rat race over TRP ratings. In place of a screenplay that arranges these vignettes to point to something new, Aashiq seems to have an Excel sheet of pointers, stock characters and emotionally sterile moments.
When we first meet Chandra Prakash/CP (Tovino Thomas), a star news anchor, he is a gloomy employee. He finishes his show and walks into the channel head’s room to receive an earful about missing a sensational news story and the channel’s dipping TRP rating. He is contrasted against Pradeep John (Sharaf U Dheen), a journalist who works in a smaller and poorer media house, who is diligent and ethical, and has fewer stress lines on his forehead. After an episode of burnout, CP takes up the position of the chief editor of a new television channel funded by a corrupt political leader and corporates with vested interests. On the new job, he is a snake that wouldn’t stop until he has conquered it all.
It never becomes clear what makes Chandra Prakash a character worth following. The characterisation is joyless. The narrative has more shots of him running through Kochi’s busy roads than those that etches out his personality and history. His family is quickly introduced﹣you see a passive mother and a greedy father on whom the film places the blame for his moral vacuum. You see him brutally breaking his girlfriend’s heart. But to invest in a character, the viewer needs much more than these signposts.
Tovino plays the role with an awareness that he is impersonating someone well-known and hate-worthy. He is stiff-necked in public and private. His performance is mannered and often, awkward, without the usual candour that makes him a delight to watch.
CP’s ascent to the position of a political kingmaker resembles a fairytale. He becomes nauseatingly successful in the first month of the new job, thanks to the broadcast of a racy audio clip that was part of a honey trap. In the real incident that served as the film’s inspiration, the honey-trapping drew the ire of the women employees of the channel that orchestrated it. In the film, a junior reporter, who must be in her early twenties, who does not have any real-world experience, singlehandedly honey-traps a minister in just two weeks. Aashiq Abu’s interest in actualism ends where he portrays the newsroom. Nobody in the channel’s workforce raises a finger against its unethical practices. In fact, the film is hardly interested in the workforce. Too bad, because anyone with an interest in the field of television journalism would know that the rot in the media culture is truly manifested in what happens in the newsroom ﹣The subtle everyday interactions, the unquestioned hierarchies and discriminations.
Naradan’s problem could be traced to the screenplay, though not limited to it. There are no surprises in the narrative. Some of the pivotal characters appear in brief scenes in the first half, only to disappear for a long time. The air-conditioned newsrooms and cabins with bright-coloured walls and no windows lend the film an interesting theatricality. CP resembles a stage actor when he addresses his employees in a dimly lit office room. His pronounced figure in the middle of a faceless crowd expresses his state of mind. But these are fleeting pleasures.
The film rushes through the scenes, sometimes cutting a character off in the middle of a human moment. There is a scene where Shakeera (Anna Ben), a young lawyer, travels to a mountain village to prepare for a legal battle against CP. Aashiq Abu erases the details of the trip ﹣her interactions with different people and the emotions she undergoes ﹣and turns the whole episode into a vapid montage, set to a generic background score.
Time and again, the film cuts to a press club where the male reporters gather in the evening. The drinkers drink, the bitter ones cuss, the bad seeds gossip while those with a social consciousness smile and nod. It must not be difficult to conceive or play these characters. They are fillers; cardboard cut-outs sans a story. Naradan wants to be a provocative critique of the media industry, but in the end, it is barely heavier than a social media rant.
This Naradan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.