From "Gentleman" to “Kadhalan”/ “Humse Hai Muqabla” to the epic scale “Indian”/ “Hindustani,” director Shankar has maintained the issue of corruption as the focus of his films. When he strayed away from this theme and explored the romantic comedy genre in “Jeans,” Shankar came face to face with his first failure (although the original Tamil version was a huge success). As a result of that debacle, the director returned to his favorite genre with “Mudhalvan” which he has now re-made in Hindi as “Nayak-The Real Hero.” The expectations from this film were huge no doubt thanks to the lavish production values. While the film has its share of flaws, Shankar succeeds yet again in making a film that is powerful and realistic, while garnishing it with escapism and entertainment at the same time.
Following the trend set in “Hindustani” and “Gentleman,” “Nayak” is hybridized to the maximum extent in an effort to reach an undifferentiated audience. Therefore, what we have here is a “hero” who on one occasion is larger than life, and a common man in the other. Setting the story in Maharashtra, Shankar names his main character after the most revered Maratha warrior Chathrapati Shivaji. Shivaji Rao, played by Anil Kapoor, is no doubt a warrior, who as the film progresses, exemplifies the qualities a leader should possess.
Working as a cameraman for Q-TV, Shivaji Rao covers the statewide riots that break out from a small quarrel between a college student and a bus driver. The small quarrel grows and spreads all over the state within a matter of hours and before one knows it, the whole city is burning. The way Shankar has scripted and shot the sequence is simply mind-blowing. In a matter of a few minutes, the sequence blends in issues of caste, greed, ignorance, and indifference and shows how a politician, Balraj Chauhan (Amrish Puri) misuses them in an effort to maintain power. As Chauhan himself says, “The four legs of this chair which I am sitting on are not my own. The moment one leg falls, I fall.”
Due to the coverage of the riots, Shivaji Rao is promoted and is handed his first assignment – to interview the Chief Minister. Balraj Chauhan and Shivaji Rao face off on the Q-TV sets where Shivaji produces audio visual proof of the CM’s political game. Cornered as a mouse, the CM rebuts with a ludicrous challenge. Shivaji Rao accepts to be sworn in as the CM for a day. While Chauhan feels that the move would reinforce his political stability, Shivaji Rao decides to prove otherwise. What follows is a battle of wits, power, and cunning, creating a very innovative plot.
While “Nayak’s” plot lays the base for the film, only half the work is done. The second half of the job is the execution. Ideally, a plot such as this would require a lot of consistency in its execution, which is to say that it would not be hampered by songs, romance, or action. While Shankar successfully hybridized his earlier films, he tends to get a bit carried away on this occasion. While the romantic angle with Manjri (Rani Mukherji) does provide the light moments, it is overdone, especially in the second half where the film’s length is stretched out. The comic angle by Johnny Lever is funny at the beginning but submits to monotony as the film progresses. And then, there are those two fight sequences. As well shot as they may be, they are highly unrealistic. Would a Chief Minister really pull of Matrix-style stunts atop buses, beating up goons? Would a Chief Minister really sneak out, duping his security, to sing and dance with his lover? However, it is obvious that those scenes are targeted at the “front-benchers.” While Shankar does not underestimate his audience’s intelligence through most of the film, these two scenes prove to be moves in the wrong direction.
Anil Kapoor as Shivaji Rao is simply splendid. He turns out yet another controlled performance, almost like a follower to his work in “Virasat.” Rani Mukherji tries her best to make the most of the miniscule role that she has. Amrish Puri as Balraj Chauhan is passable. When compared to Raghuvaran’s performance as the Chief Minister in the original “Mudhalvan,” Puri cannot stand anywhere near. One wonders why Raghuvaran himself could not have played this part. The show-stealer however is Paresh Rawal who plays the CM’s personal advisor. Be it his rib-tickling one-liners or his glorified monologues, he is awesome! Watch out for this guy!
K.V. Anand’s cinematography is up to the mark. His extensive use of the handheld steady-cam in the riot sequences is very well thought out. The multi- angle close ups during the interview with the use of close-circuit TVs is also quite interesting. On the other hand, he also shows his ability to throw in gloss in his exquisite song picturizations. B. Lenin and T. Vijayan’s editing is one of the biggest drawbacks of the film. In some scenes, they use some very innovative cutting techniques. The idea of speeding up the film on certain sequences also works positively. However, there are simply too many choppy bits that stand out. In addition, it would have helped if they had chopped off some unnecessary scenes as well. And finally there is A.R. Rahman. While the tunes certainly do not live up to his previous work, the background score really stands out. The blend of an epic style score with muted sound montages is simply brilliant.
“Nayak” is a film that is aimed at all audiences and as a result, manages to please everyone for the most part, and also manages to throw people off on some. Overall, this is a good film that could have much better, had it been for a slightly tighter script in the second half. It certainly manages to hold the audiences all the way through. The ending climax of the film is one that will shock you out of your seat, not for its result, but for the way it has been executed. “Nayak-The Real Hero” has a message for its viewers, saying that politicians are not to blamed alone for the current state of affairs in India. The average Indian citizen is equally responsible. The film is basically a utopian dream that Shankar seems to have. The craving for that utopia is well translated into Shivaji Rao’s character, which Shankar seems to say is necessary in every Indian.