Kid: Neenga Nallavara Kettavara? (Are you a good man or bad man?).

Velu Naicker: “Theriyaleyeppaa…Theriyale” (I don’t know).


This film is about an orphan who comes to Mumbai for survival and eventually ends up his life as a Mafia Don. This story was inspired by the real life of the Mumbai Don “Varadaraja Mudhiliar”.


Nayagan is a story which was decided to be portrayed from Velu’s point of view. A clever screenplay is must to show several years in just a few hours. Here in this film, we have five parts. These five parts show the transformation of Velu from a common man to the Mumbai’s biggest gangster. Nearly 60 years of plot time was shown in just 135minutes of screen time. Plot time refers to the actual amount of time that passes from the beginning to end of the narration. Screen time refers to the amount of time the film is being portrayed on the screen and viewed by the audience. The story progresses with only important sequences in Velu’s life. A dissolve transition is used instead of a cut to elapse several years of time in the story. A dissolve is a gradual transition from one image to another. It also indicates that a period of time has passed between the two scenes.



Casting plays an important role in the filmmaking. There will be a separate person called “Casting Director” dedicated to handle and cast most suitable actors for a film. A good actor can even elevate the character’s emotion and drama, adding his own inputs wherever needed. It is the skill of the director to make an actor act in the way he wants. Here in this film, Kamal Hasan acting was the biggest asset to the film. It is very difficult to imagine any other actor in Velu Naicker’s role.

Kamal is seen in four different get-ups in this film which shows the perfect transformation of a young common man to a Mumbai Don. Kamal’s performance as Velu Naicker in this film has won him the National Film Award for Best Actor. A bad actor can destroy a film and be choosing a good actor makes the film half success.

“When an actor is able to understand and play with and to my lighting. I have been very fortunate to have worked with Kamal Hasan on more than one occasion. He has an exceptional ability to observe and incorporate light in his performance. It is not enough that you shine a light on an actor’s face.
The actor should be able to show that the light is coming on his face. I shot at sun set in Nayakan; the sun is a very important element in the film. And Kamal Hasan has the ability to interpret the rays of the setting sun on his face. His acting enhances my lighting. I find it stunning. That is real talent.”

-P.C. Sreeram in Interview with C.K. Muralidaran and Raqs Media Collective.


The Godfather – Adaptation:

The Godfather is an American crime film made by Francis Ford Coppola in the year 1972. This film is regarded as one of the greatest films in world cinema and also most influential, especially in the gangster genre. Nayagan has some resemblance with this film in terms of Kamal Hasan’s makeup, his acting and Cinematography. Some of the scenes in Nayagan directly resemble the scenes from The Godfather.

Velu Naicker – Vito Corleone

When it comes to aged Velu Naicker, the makeup, hair style and the gestures looks similar to Vito Corleone character played by Marlon Brando in the Godfather. Look at the below compared images. The behavior of Velu is inspired from Vito.


Father asking for justice:

The Godfather film opens with a person requesting Vito Corleone to seek justice and revenge for his daughter’s incident. The scene which happens in the second half of the Nayagan, which is also a key point in the film, resembles this opening scene from the Godfather. The meaning of the conversation seems almost similar. In Nayagan this scene is used as an important scene which further leads to death of Velu’s only son.


Revenge for his wife’s death:

When Velu Naicker wife’s cremation ceremony was about to start, Velu orders his men to kill all the people who are responsible for his wife’s death. The assassination shots of local dons were juxtaposed with the cremation ceremony shots of Velu’s family. These intercuts resembles the scene from the Godfather where Michael Corleone attends the ceremony of christening Connie’s new born baby. Simultaneously he orders his men to assassin all the other Dons in the New York City. The two scenes were juxtaposed with each other shot by shot. There are lots of similarities between both Nayagan and the Godfather regarding this scene particularly. The assassination of the local Dons looks similar in both the films.

Here are the pictures compared:




Top lighting and side lighting was preferred to light the characters. The light on the characters is hard light which resembles the world, where characters in the story take tough decisions and life threatening jobs. Top lighting creates hard shadows on the face and provides minimal eye-light making the subject a mysterious character. We can never understand the character’s intentions until and unless we communicate clearly with his eyes.

Velu’s face is relatively brightly lit in the scenes which has his family and friends. But when he deals with the Mafia and underworld operations, he was lit from above or from sideways which covers half of his face creating a large contrast between highlights and shadows. This resembles that every human being has both good and bad dark sides in himself. The well lit scenes convey that happiness always happens in the light. The reality always happens in the shadows. Thus light has been used as a visual metaphor to differentiate the dual world of Velu Naicker.



1. Frame within a Frame:

Frame within a Frame refers to the limited space, which is a combination of flat space and deep space. The idea is to create a flat plane which separates one plane from other using frontal planes. By placing the characters in the foreground, middle ground or background creates an illusion of depth in the frame without even creating a deep space.
A “frame within a frame” is a technique of drawing attention to a particular point in an image as it can be effective. The subject of importance is placed in such way that the shape in a frame holds the subject within its area. Thus the subject gets separated from the rest of the image. This creates a specific importance for the subject in the shot.
Aesthetically it generates a feeling of separation and isolation of the subject from the outer world. It gives a sense of imprisonment and character has no freedom either mentally or physically. This composition can be used either for one scene or the whole film depending upon the script. There are many films which has used this composition in the World Cinema. One such classic example is “In the Mood for Love”.
In Nayakan, initial scene starts with a frame within a frame composition, where Satyavelu was caught and enquired by the police. Here Velu was trapped and used to find where his father was. Later when he reaches Mumbai, he was framed as small as possible into Gateway of India. This denotes that Velu was isolated and lost in the vast city of Mumbai. From then he was always seen framed separately using natural frames like windows, doorways and pillars etc.


This composition continues even after Velu becomes the DON of Mumbai. This clearly conveys that his life has become insecure and secret. He was always trapped mentally and physically. Most of the important situations in Velu’s life are composed in this fashion. This composition also highlights Velu’s character throughout the film which also helped in directing the audience attention always on to the protagonist. Frame within a Frame composition is what made this film look dynamic and helped the story a lot in connecting with the audience.


2. Other Compositions:

Nayakan follows another prominent composition in which some shots aesthetically gives an impression of Velu being an outsider, was always observed from a distance. The frame has some or the other elements in the foreground while the action happens in the background.



Nayakan story belongs to a certain period of time. The color tone of the film looks more of sepia, enhanced with subtle colors throughout the film. The colors have a low saturation levels and the subtle color contrast took us away from the cliché sepia look. A white silvery backlight was used to highlight the characters in the film.



Mirrors, the most prominently used prop by Mani Ratnam in his films to convey some inner meaning of the story in a very poetic and subtle way. Mirrors are the best way to communicate with oneself. Here Mani Ratnam uses mirrors only two times in the film to show the transformation of a school going prostitute Neela to a married and respectable woman. If we can put together these two shots, a lot of inner meaning and emotion is being conveyed. In the first frame, Velu was startled to see a prostitute asking him to leave early so that she can study for the next day’s mathematics exam. Later after marrying this girl, Velu observes her looking into the mirror as a completely happy woman.


Even after 30 years of its release, Nayakan remains as one of the best classics of Indian cinema and a great textbook for the future filmmakers.

Dinesh A
M.F.Tech Cinematography.

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