NOTA: A Political Fantasy Film Driven Astray By A Shallow Screenplay
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Director Anand Shankar’s NOTA encapsulates all the happenings that toppled over Tamil Nadu’s political scenario over the years. From MLAs being sent off to resorts to manipulated CCTV footage, the film covers its bases. On paper, these real events provide ample scope for drama. Sadly though, none of this tension translates on screen. Instead, you are a witness to a screenplay that touches upon multiple sub-plots and yet never manages to see even one of the issues through completion. Not only do they feel incomplete, but the manner in which they are staged make them appear superficial and underwhelming. For example, how can black money be wired through a politician’s account with that much ease? The execution lacks the ability to appear convincing.
Varun (Vijay Deverakonda), the son of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Vinodhan (Nassar) returns from London to celebrate his birthday with his friends. Late into the night, police officers stop him and instantly, he discovers that he has to step in for his as the Chief Minister. Initially, Varun is plagued by disinterest but a tragic incident drives him to change his mind. The changes he brings about in his political reign and his revolutionary methods form the crux of the story.
From the beginning till the end, NOTA never convinces you that the directions it takes can actually happen in real life. Varun, a businessman from London who is a part of the gaming industry steps in for his father, as the CHIEF MINISTER. Since when did things become this easy? Even if you forgive this unrealistic beginning, the places this plot travels to proves to be equally as unconvincing. In one of the scenes in the film, Varun gathers youngsters during the Chennai floods and delivers a motivating speech that helps the young lads step up for the city and its people. But this speech does not lead to a follow-up where you see these youngsters working along with Varun to restore the livelihood of the city. Many such scenarios lead you to believe that they lead up to good scenes, but they never do. You are told that Varun wins the election but there is no sight of an election in the process. You are led to believe that he owns an Ashram and yet not once do you come across this Ashram on the screen.
You never find NOTA intriguing because of its innate predictability. From the opening scene to the conflict that moves Varun to take his position seriously, every little detail is predictable. For a story that cannot surprise you, the scenes should at least be fascinating or relatable and this film is neither. It is never real enough to be relatable and its staging doesn’t hold enough juice for it to be fascinating.
Since cinema is a visual medium, if the proceedings aren’t conveyed in a visual manner, it becomes tiring to watch. NOTA establishes everything through dialogues. Sathya Raj builds the hero up through dialogues, MS Bhaskar later points to his hard work through dialogues, there isn’t a trace of visual establishment in the film.
NOTA is incredibly idealistic. A little idealism in cinema every now and then couldn’t hurt. But this idealism needs to be imbibed in the tale with enough weight for it to stand on its own. Take Mudhalvan as an example, in that film too, the situations that unravel are idealistic. But the director builds them with enough depth for you to wish it were true. You go home choosing to believe the film’s reality even though it may never come true. But in NOTA, you never get enough depth, so the idealistic approach is hard to buy.
However, at a time when the political future of Tamil Nadu has taken such an unhopeful turn, NOTA gives you a tiny bit of glimmering hope even if it is just a film. If you are the kind of person who wants to escape from reality into political fantasy with a fairy-godmother named Varun, you will enjoy the film.
As Varun, Arjun Deverakonda delivers a good performance. His screen presence his good and he carries himself quite fittingly, but his abilities are not best suited in a film that is as shoddy as this one. The characters of Sathyaraj and Nasser though memorable provide ample scope for unintentional comedy.
The technicalities of the film are in line with the director’s vision. But the music is sub-par and doesn’t leave that big of an impression on you.
On the whole, NOTA scratches the surface of many key issues and one can’t help but wonder why it didn’t dive deeper. Sure, idealism is good, but only if it comes packaged in a lot of depth.