Santosh Sivan is one of the most accomplished names of Indian cinema. As cinematographer, Sivan has been associated with a number of distinguished storytellers [Mani Ratnam, Gurinder Chaddha, Kalpana Lajmi, M.F. Hussain] and as director, he has crafted a number of films, which includes HALO, THE TERRORIST, MALLI and the much-hyped SRK-Kareena starrer ASOKA.
Sivan's latest endeavor as cinematographer-director, NAVARASA, is about the third gender.
Embarking on a path that's truly abstract, Sivan makes the viewer peep into the lives of the third gender. Although the attempt to make a film that defies the stereotype is laudable, NAVARASA comes across as a film that's targeted at the festivals more than the commercial circuit.
The world seems to be opening up to thirteen-year-old Swetha [Swetha] as she takes her first hesitant step towards adulthood. But she discovers something startling. Her uncle Gautam [Khushboo] is leading a secret life: He loves to dress up as a woman.
When Swetha confronts him, he reveals that he wants to run away from home and get married to Aravan, at the annual Koovagam festival in a small town in South India, where the people of the third gender ritually re-enact the story of Aravan.
The festival of Koovagam attracts thousands of third gender people. They gather and marry Lord Aravan symbolically and once the statue of Aravan is beheaded, they break the bangles, dress in white and wail. Koovagam is a festival that starts off on a joyous note, but ends in sorrow.
Swetha embarks on a journey to trace her uncle and bring him back. And in the process she discovers a whole new world!
NAVARASA is more of a documentary on the third gender, though Sivan has tried to weave a story of a man and his niece alongside. Told in an amateurish fashion, NAVARASA doesn't really take a stand, so vital in a film that dares to tackle an issue. Also, the film fails to move you when you watch the atrocities being committed on the third gender.
At best, the film throws light on the Koovagam festival and a ritual not many might be aware of.
Sivan isn't in form, either as a director or as cinematographer or as one of the writers of the enterprise. The only notable aspect is the background score. NAVARASA isn't rich in performances either! Barring Swetha, none of the characters leave an impression. Bobby Darling, the only known face, is passable.
On the whole, NAVARASA is a terrible letdown.