What a FASCINATING film this was! It has been two whole days since I saw it, and I’m still trying to process it. As a cinephile, this film was nothing short of a treat as I tried to unravel all the hidden layers of the film. As a massive Suriya fan, it was even bigger a delight to watch what could be called his finest performance in recent times. The only problem with the film is that it requires you to read between the lines, but the lines are too blurry when you see them for the first time. However, stay with the film for a while, watch it again if you can, and the lines will begin to get clearer. After sitting with it for two days, my friend and I have come up with our own reading of the film. I don’t know if I am reading it right, but I think it makes a lot of sense (at least to us). Read on and tell me what you think!
WARNING – MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Read only AFTER watching the film. Also, bear with me, as this is going to be super-long.
The film begins right when the title card comes up on screen. The way the letters NGK comes up, coloured in a bright orangeish-white, which then turns into red, implies that this story is about the transformation of a man’s character. This is your first clue that the film is character-driven, rather than plot-driven.
It is also important to make not of the framing device. The film opens with NGK aka Nanda Gopala Kumaran (Suriya) giving an interview to a television channel. Towards the end, it is revealed that this is NGK’s first interview after becoming the Chief Minister, that too to a channel that has always spoken against him. So it is important to understand that what we see on-screen is NGK’s version of what happened, and need not be what actually happened. Obviously, he must be providing a filtered account of what transpired.
Which is why at the beginning he is depicted as an utter do-gooder. Of course, he might have been a good person at heart back then, but the way this goodness is portrayed is one notch above normal – like something straight out of a Vijay-AR Murgadoss film – as he knows that is the way to the hearts of the people.
Another point that might not be clear from the first viewing of the film is the truth about the relationship between Kumaran and Vanathi (Rakul Preet Singh). Our theory is that they did have something going on, but Kumaran was manipulating her all along. Towards the end of the scene where they meet for the first time, it can be observed that Kumaran notes Vanathi watching him as he leaves. This could have prompted him to visit her later. Then too, he catches her staring at him while he is on the phone finding the information she asked him for. It was clear to him that she was attracted to him, and he uses this to manipulate her into doing what he wants.
This becomes even more clear in the hotel room scene in the second half. Kumaran mentions that has needs to take a shower, and emphasizes on the transparency of the bathroom door. Later, after Vanathi’s dream duet, we see that it is she who is in a bathrobe. What must have happened is right in front of us, but we might not see it.
There is one way this could have been made clearer to the audience – by replacing the duet with in an intimate scene of some kind. Either because of Suriya’s ‘clean’ image, or because we are seeing it as NGK wants to show us, we don’t get that. However, the duet does drop a few clues. The visuals are filled with moments where Vanathi is calling out to him – he only goes to her after her call. This shows the power dynamics between them – Vanathi is completely under his spell, and he is always nearby playing on this weakness of hers, yet making it seem like she is the one seducing him into this relationship.
Yet another scene that is to be noted is the one where Raja (Rajkumar) – Kumaran’s terminally-ill friend – asks Kumaran to kill him, as death gives rise to sympathy, which would in turn make Kumaran popular among the masses. However, all this happens under the cover of smoke – smoke which Raja says he arranged for to hide this plan. But there are no witnesses to this conversation apart from Kumaran and Raja, and we are hearing NGK’s version of it. So how can we be sure if that is what actually happened? It could have been Kumaran’s idea all along – to kill Raja, adopt his daughter and gain the sympathy and admiration of the public. Notice that the smoke clears exactly after Raja is stabbed? If Raja had given the orders to create the smoke, the smoke would have stopped only on his order as well. But he never gives any such instruction before he dies. Another thing that can be observed here is that Kumaran does not cry until the smoke clears and the police finds him. It is only at that precise moment he begins to wail, when he is sure that people can see him.
The fight scene at the hospital is probably the exact moment that Kumaran turns evil (if you are wondering how an ordinary man with an M-Tech and Ph. D. can fight so gracefully, let me remind you of the scene where it is said that Kumaran used to visit his dad’s military camp every vacation). Just before the fight begins, Kumaran is coloured in a blue/green light, while the CM (Devaraj) is coloured in red light. During the course of that fight, however, the lighting on the CM changes to green, while Kumaran is under red lighting. This shows that Kumaran is now the most evil of them all. The choreography of the song that comes right after shows that Kunaran has completely transformed, and is now nothing less than a beast.
The pre-climax portions are the best part of the film, as these portions show the extent of his cruelty. Recall the scene where Vanathi notices the head of Kumaran’s party, along with two others from the party, refuse to let her be a part of their discussion. Like us audience, Vanathi too suspects that they are plotting against Kumaran. But it could also have been that they are working with Kumaran, while trying to hide that from Vanathi (and us).
Notice how, when Vanathi informs Kumaran about the impending threat on his life, Kumaran does not react. When he is above to leave for the celebration being held in his honour, however, he tearfully asks his parents and wife – Geetha Kumari (Sai Pallavi) – to take a last look at him, as they might not see him again. We assume he says this as he believes he would be killed that night. However, the events that follow, as well as the way Suriya plays this scene, suggest otherwise.
Our theory is that it is Kumaran himself who orchestrated the killing of his family – with the help of those three people from his party – for the same reason he killed Raja i.e for sympathy votes. When he asks his family to take one last look at him, he means to say they won’t live to see him again. Despite being warned by Vanathi, he chooses to to take a cycle to the function. When he takes his usual route, the police asks him to take the market road, as if they don’t recognize him. How is it possible, when the function is being held in his honour? And Kumaran complies without any argument.
Once he takes the market road, Kumaran begins to get stabbed. But he is not stabbed deeply enough to wound him fatally until Geetha turns around and notices it. It is only then that the proper attack begins, indicating that the attack was never meant for Kumaran but for Geetha. Because Vanathi arrives on time, Geetha escapes from death. This is also probably the juncture where Vanathi realizes the truth about NGK – that he was using her all along. This is evident in her last scene, where she says that she expected something else out of her relationship with Kumaran, but he had other plans entirely.
When Kumaran struggles up to the podium and begins his riveting speech, the three party people remain impassive, as if they knew this was what would happen. It is only when Kumaran, on being informed of his parents’ death, raises the question as to whether it was ruling party or the opposing party behind this, that they truly get shocked as they realize that Kumaran double-crossed them.
Also notice how, when the film gets back to the interview in the climax, the green background fades into an orange one with the words ‘Agni Paritchai’ (Test of Fire) written on it – this serves as the final proof of the innocent Kumaran’s transformation into the evil NGK. The fact that is orange, and not red, suggest that although what NGK did to reach this point was evil, he probably still intends to do good for the people as the CM.
There are two things you need to do to understand all this (and maybe even more) from the film. First, by deeply observing Suriya’s acting. As a major fan, I consider myself as a kind of expert on Suriya’s acting style and the way he plays certain emotions. However, in NGK he performs on a completely different meter, be it in the song signalling his transformation, that last scene with his family, that hair-raising speech, and the scene where he breaks down on on learning of his parents’ death. He plays these scenes very differently than usual, which was my first indication that NGK is more than what meets the eye.
The other thing you should do is to closely follow Sai Pallavi’s character – from start to finish. She is the conscience of the film – the only one who can see through everything NGK does. This ability of hers is what her strong sense of smell depicts. Just like how she manages to sniff out Vanathi’s Versace perfume on NGK, she can sniff out everything about him. This is evident from the very first scene itself, when she catches Kumaran trying to sneak into their house from the backside – indicating that she can read him like a book. Which is also why, while everyone looks on with shock and pain when Kumaran wails after Raja’s death, Geetha’s expression remains firm – hinting that she is onto him. Later, when everybody is celebrating Kumaran’s safe return after the hospital attack, Geetha again looks unperturbed.
Even when they are attacked in the market, she has more of an incredulous expression rather than that of fear – as if she can’t believe that her husband could stoop this low. In the last scene too, when she hears of NGK’s win in the election, she has no reaction, for she knows what he has done to reach that point. The fact that she learns about his win through the news, rather than from the man himself, speaks volumes about the relationship they now share. She is even seated far away from him. Throughout the film, Geetha is bathed in a golden light, hinting that she is akin to God – the omnipresent one who sees everything.
So this is how we have read this Selvaraghavan masterpiece. Watching NGK was such an enriching experience – the way it is written, directed and performed is nothing short of sheer brilliance. Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music only adds to the magic of the film. I have a strong feeling that, all the initial negative reviews notwithstanding, NGK will be a recognized for what it is, years into the future. Just like Aayirathil Oruvan.