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Naveena Saraswathi Sabatham, as the name suggests, is a modern-day spin on more than one mythological Tamil films from the mid 60s. The film opens in a typical celestial setting, overflowing with dry ice, that we find in a mythological story. But the difference is that the Godly people occupying this world have changed according to the times we live in. We are in the Sivan household, where everyone is seen flaunting a gadget. Lord Shiva is sitting in front of his iMac; a young Murugan is seen playing Temple Run on an iPad; Ganesha, who probably gets bullied a lot in school for being fat, is seen running on a treadmill while pushing in a dozen kozhukattais; and Parvathi is reading text message from Narada on an iPhone. The modernization works really well and will instantly put a smile on your face.
According to Wikipedia, "Thiruvilaiyadal is a 'divine sport' of Lord Shiva who has the habit of hindering with the lives of his devotees to test their devotion." After being sent away by Shiva to scout for four eligible candidates for his game, Narada returns with a list containing the details of our protagonists, viz. a politician's son, a quack, an aspiring actor and an abused husband. We have a sneak peek into their lives and learn that this very random bunch of people happen to be friends and that they all share a weakness for alcohol. We see them creating nuisance under influence in a scene which is very uncharacteristic of them. Is it true that perfectly decent people turn into complete assholes after a few rounds of liquor? Anyway, the group leaves to Bangkok to celebrate a bachelor party and here is where Lord Shiva starts his thiruvilayadal on them to see if they rise on top.
The four men arrive in Bangkok but we are immediately told that this isn't a sequel to The Hangover. After a night of wild drinking and dancing in a cheap nightclub, they wake up on an island. It's here that the film starts to lose what it had achieved at the beginning. When the protagonists are mere puppets in the hands of a God who is running the show, the blame too falls on the God for failing to make their marooned days more interesting. After missing their first opportunity to get out of the island, the wolfpack is made to wait for six months before another possibility arises. Most of the second half is set on the island and the characters aren't given enough material to play with. People around me were enjoying themselves quite a bit but I wasn't very amused.
The director gives the feeling that he knows exactly what the audience is going through watching his film. He understands the lean patches in his story and even goes ahead and acknowledges them. There's a particularly funny line about how quickly a film's fate is sealed through social media today. But I am in two minds about how self-conscious the film is, and how its characters keep drawing attention to the fact that they are all in a movie. The past works of an actor are constantly referred to because everything's apparently alright in a comedy.
I am sure I am not the only person who noticed that NSS pretty much doles out the same messages that "Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara" delivered a few weeks ago. But unlike "..Balakumara", NSS appears to be looking at the detrimental lifestyle lead by young people of today from the eyes of more matured people. If Gods don't have the right to be judgmental, then who else does? Even when it gets preachy, it never goes overboard. There's this sense of honesty in the film's tone making it sound like it actually cares for your health. But if you are going to tell me the characters will never consume alcohol in their lives again, I will laugh at you.
I have begun to notice how many of our films put too much emphasis on Karma and look at every incident through the prism of cause and effect. The wolfpack in The Hangover didn't reach home from Vegas and make promises that they'd never drink liquor again, did they? But in Naveena Saraswathi Sabatham's defense, it is one film which has the liberty to indulge and revel in causality.
I liked the sketch where Sathyan's MLA character poses like Vijayakanth for a pre-election photo-shoot of his. Manobala is perfectly cast as Narada, and so are the other actors in the Shiva household. Also, Jai still cannot act for peanuts. But, thankfully, the film's virtues seem to outweigh its sins by a small margin.