Naaradan review: Tovino Thomas shines in thriller about exploitative journalism

Director Aashiq Abu’s latest movie Naaradan holds a mirror to a section of media, which uses its reach and scope to further the agenda of men in power, instead of amplifying the problems of the voiceless. Abu has whipped up a cracker of a social thriller, which steers clear of clichés that you would normally find in movies whose stories are plucked out of newspaper headlines.

Tovino Thomas’ Chandraprakash aka CP launches a Malayalam news channel Naaradan. He argues that the mythical god-sage was the first newsman, who carried information and wisdom from one to another. But, CP doesn’t mention one of the famous traits of Naaradan for which he was notorious among gods — he was a troublemaker. He tells on people, that usually leads to discord and conflict. In the film’s context, Aashiq Abu could not have picked a better title than Naaradan given that it’s both playful and accurate.

The director probes how power works across different levels of society. He also looks into the role of the Indian Constitution in maintaining the equilibrium in the society. The system doesn’t always work; it has its flaws and loopholes that allow powerful people to escape scrutiny and punishment. But, the society will be in chaos without it. And when the system finally works with the help of clear consciousness of noble people, the misuse of power could be checked and how.

So how does the power work? Take, for example, CP wants to stop a live telecast of a news report on his rival channel. And he phones the editor of the channel and demands so. When the editor in question refuses, CP threatens to release a nude video of his daughter. So the editor obliges. That editor cares about his daughter and CP owns something that could destroy his daughter’s life. So CP controls that editor and in effect, the latter’s news channel and everyone working in it.

And there is another kind of power hierarchy. A highly-paid senior advocate looks down on the judge of a district court. A, because that court ranks low in the judicial system and, b, the advocate takes pride in his upper-caste surname, something the judge who presides over that bench doesn’t share. It shows how one can never really escape from the caste prejudice no matter what position one holds in society.

CP’s style of journalism is inspired by the prime-time, high-decidable, shoutout matches that play out on our television screens every night. The movie is replete with references to real-life incidents — from inciting violence to demeaning the guests on the panel, moral policing to shame outspoken women to churning out sleazy news stories for the sake of eyeballs, manipulating TV ratings to running hyper-sensationalized news reports that dehumanise people.

Taking incidents from real-life, Aashiq Abu spins a thriller around a deeply insecure and amoral man, who rapidly grows into a news demon. He sows discord and wreak lives in a well-protected power ecosystem that demands very little accountability for his lies. The pulsating background score and the unhurried frames of cinematographer Jaffer Zadique add depth and suspense to each scene.

What is CP going to do now? This is the question that keeps us invested in the movie. And he does terrible things.

Tovino Thomas, Sharafudheen and Anna Ben are in form and deliver a solid performance. Watch out for Indrans’s performance as a skinny judge, who inspires little respect from bigoted men. But thanks to his Constitutional weight as Judge Thomas (Indrans), he makes bigoted men shudder in fear.

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