Every cinema has its own reason to be created. So does Nayakan. Maniratnam says that it was fascinating to watch the man Varadharaja Muthaliyar, being so eminent and almost God-like to the socially oppressed slum people of Dharavi in Mumbai. So, the excitement of knowing why Varadha is the way he is and the 1972 released Godfather, made Mani create Nayakan.
A Tuticorin-born young boy, having seen his father killed by police, kills the police, runs for life to Mumbai and ends up seeking a livelihood in a slum Dharavi. As he grows, his reaction against the local police force for what he deems to be the need of the day, makes him the don. His emergence as Godfather to those people, though drives him to be one forever, puts him answerable not just to the law but to things that mean the most to him.
The title ‘Nayakan’ says who the protagonist Velu Nayakkar is to the people of Dharavi. But Nayakan is not about if he is a hero or how capable he is as a hero. It’s about what makes him a hero.


Image courtesy: Amazon Prime

Velu Nayakkar can be defined by what he was fed when he was just Velu. His faithlessness on police was seeded when a policeman uses his innocence to trap and kill his father. Then, when his foster father Vaapa speaks of subjective justice, “Anything that can help others is not wrong” and also his being the man of his word inspired Velu immensely. And when this vision is seated on a reliably white heart that can function with an audacity, any Velu will end up becoming a Velu Nayakkar in a place like Dharavi. Surya, son of Velu Nayakkar, knows what to do but fails to replace his father in not knowing why to do and how to do. Vaapa who is good by heart is not daring as Velu. Velu’s right hand Selvam shares Velu’s anger but is ethically ignorant. Not just these three but anyone who is as angry, gutsy and powerful as Velu cannot become Velu Nayakkar unless his motive is not to rule places and be worshipped but only to do good to people. Vaapa has got this motive but lacks every other thing. Clearly, Velu Nayakkar is not a born hero neither is he a brought-up hero. He is both.


Image courtesy: Amazon Prime

When we see someone as a hero, we somehow think or at-least wish to think he is good too. But here, technically it really is a deal to say if he is good for sure. And that is one beautiful yet confusing conflict which the entire movie revolves around. The film ends inconclusively with the question “Is he good or bad?”, which Velu Nayakkar himself couldn’t get the answer for.
Velu Nayakkar represents the oppressed; marries a girl who was a reluctant sex worker; assaults people who he believes to deserve punishment; takes personal revenge for his Vaapa’s and wife’s death; does illegal business; helps a police officer to take revenge on the rapists of the officer’s daughter etc.
It is the combination of the above actions that are beyond any audience’s rational judgement on Velu Nayakkar’s character. Even if one can judge, there won’t be consensus when it is asked to all. So, rather than trying to answer it, to know the reason behind this question can help us get an insight. Basically, the kind of life led by Velu Nayakkar, with the conflict between subjective ethics and social ethics, feeds us the curiosity to know if he is good or bad.
Keeping aside Nayakkar, if we can try to observe everyone’s actions so accurately, and try to know if one is good or bad, we would again undergo the same confusion. Actually, there would be more confusion if its others’ life and Nayakkar’s life is the easiest platform where one can at-least differentiate whatever individually in terms of his action, is good and bad. Had it been some other common man, his action is not society and law associated to give it a right/wrong image. Because, unlike Velu Nayakkar, where and when did he operate socially caring and legally ignoring, for us to try making judgements. Driven by such a past and surrounded by such a present, Velu Nayakkar can be confronted by only such a future. He is destined to act the way that benefits people, that disturbs police, that attracts the world largely, so that everyone gets a chance to ask something and that something particularly turned out to be “if he is good or bad?”.
Everyone has his/her own conflicts like love or career, family or further studies, health or work, self-respect or survival, etc and here our hero deals with the conflict if he is good or bad.
Yet, a convincing take can be, Jeyakanthan’s saying, “Life is justification to the present” i.e. “Vaazhkai enbathu andhandha neraththu niyayangal”.

– Javith Razvi
(Discussion Courtesy: Murugavel)

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