Agni Natchathiram (transl. Scorching Star) is a 1988 Indian Tamil-language masala film written and directed by Mani Ratnam. The film stars Prabhu, Karthik, Amala and newcomer Nirosha, with Vijayakumar, Jayachitra, Sumithra, Tara, S. N. Lakshmi and G. Umapathy in supporting roles. It revolves around two half-brothers who come into conflict with each other in their claim for legitimacy as sons of a common father.
|Directed by||Mani Ratnam|
|Written by||Mani Ratnam|
|Produced by||G. Venkateswaran|
|Cinematography||P. C. Sreeram|
|Edited by||B. Lenin|
V. T. Vijayan
Ratnam intended for Agni Natchathiram to be his next film after Mouna Ragam (1986) and completed the script, but chose to prioritise Nayakan. Despite shooting some scenes during a break from that film, production on Agni Natchathiram was stalled for nearly a year and resumed only after Nayakan's release in Diwali 1987. The film was produced by Ratnam's brother G. Venkateswaran, filmed by P. C. Sreeram and edited by B. Lenin and V. T. Vijayan.
Agni Natchathiram was released on 15 April 1988, the week of Puthandu, and became a box office success, running for over 200 days in theatres. The film won two Filmfare Awards South, three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, and five Cinema Express Awards. It became a trendsetter in Tamil cinema for its setting of a new standard in the use of lighting, and was remade in Hindi as Vansh (1992).
In Madras, Ashok is the son of a senior government official Vishwanath IAS and his second wife, Kamala. Vishwanath has another son, a trainee IPS officer Gautham, whose mother is Vishwanath's first wife, Susheela. Both Ashok and Gautham inappropriately take out their anger at their father on others, and they display open antipathy towards each other.
Gautham meets the Commissioner's daughter Anjali, and they slowly become lovers. After graduating, Gautham is appointed as Assistant Commissioner in the same city. Around the same time, Ashok meets a mysterious girl, and they, too, slowly become a couple. Meanwhile, Vishwanath is appointed the head of an inquiry commission to probe a nefarious factory owner Chidambaram.
One night, Ashok and his friends run into Gautham and Anjali, and one of Ashok's friends teases Gautham. Gautham soon arrests Ashok's friend on a trumped up charge, abusing his police authority. Enraged, Ashok and his gang throw stones at Gautham's house, accidentally injuring Susheela. The next day, Gautham arrests Ashok after provoking him into attacking him. As Vishwanath is out of town, Susheela helps Kamala bail Ashok, but then offers snide unsolicited advice about raising her children to be law-abiding. Meanwhile, Chidambaram tries to bribe Vishwanath multiple times, but is rebuffed. Irked, he orders a hit on Vishwanath.
On the day when Ashok's sister Mallika is meeting a prospective groom's family for a matchmaking ceremony, Vishwanath fails to arrive, causing the groom's family to question the seriousness of the marriage between Kamala and Vishwanath. Enraged, Ashok goes to Vishwanath's house and berates him, only to realise that his paternal grandmother has died; Gautham throws him out. Later, Ashok learns that his girlfriend, too, comes from a broken family. The Commissioner learns of Gautham's romance with Anjali and doubts his monogamy, based on his father's behaviour.
Mallika runs into Gautham and Anjali on the same commuter train. Gautham ends up protecting her from a bunch of ruffians (hired by Chidambaram) harassing her, and he and Anjali accompany her home safely. Mallika addresses Gautham as her elder brother, but before he can respond, Ashok arrives and throws him out. Another altercation occurs at a wedding in which both exchange words. The next day, they get into a huge brawl in public. Vishwanath berates them both, lamenting his public humiliation at his sons' behaviour.
While Vishwanath is leaving his office, he is run over by a truck driven by one of Chidambaram's thugs and becomes comatose. Mutual fear brings the families closer as both Susheela and Kamala wait by his bedside. Chidambaram arranges for Vishwanath's murder in the hospital. When his thugs attack, Gautham and Ashok work together to foil the assassination attempt by switching to the ambulance that Vishwanath was in. The next day, a bandaged Vishwanath is brought into the commission's office by the brothers to submit evidence of Chidambaram's crimes. Chidambaram is arrested, and the brothers high five each other.
- Prabhu as Gautham Vishwanath
- Karthik as Ashok Vishwanath
- Amala as Anjali
- Nirosha as Ashok's girlfriend
- Vijayakumar as Vishwanath
- V. K. Ramasamy as Chettiar
- Janagaraj as Lakshmipathi
- Jayachitra as Kamala
- Sumithra as Susheela
- Tara as Mallika
- S. N. Lakshmi as Vishwanath's mother
- Disco Shanti as the prostitute
- G. Umapathy as Chidambaram
- Prabhu Deva (special appearance in the song "Raaja Raajathi")
After Mouna Ragam (1986), the next script that Mani Ratnam wrote was Agni Natchathiram. With this film, Ratnam intended to reach out to the audiences he could not with Mouna Ragam. Despite this, when he was approached by Muktha Srinivasan to make a film for Kamal Haasan (which eventually became Nayakan), he agreed. In January 1987, after two weeks of shooting on Nayakan, Ratnam resumed work on Agni Natchathiram, shooting scenes on Prabhu and Amala such as the song "Ninnukkori Varnam". However, Ratnam could not manage shooting two films at the same time, so work on Agni Natchathiram was stalled for nearly a year, resuming only after Nayakan's release in Diwali 1987. The film was produced by Ratnam's brother G. Venkateswaran, filmed by P. C. Sreeram and edited by B. Lenin and V. T. Vijayan while Thota Tharani was the art director and Mugur Sundar was the dance choreographer. It is the second time Karthik collaborated with Ratnam after Mouna Ragam.
Agni Natchathiram is the feature film debut of Raadhika's sister Nirosha. She was not initially interested in pursuing an acting career, having previously declined an offer to act in Nayakan, but at Raadhika's suggestion, joined this film. Vijayakumar, who had quit films and was settled in the United States, had come to India for a different purpose, when assistant director K. Subash met and offered him to act in Agni Natchathiram. Vijayakumar initially refused, but Subash remained adamant; when Ratnam narrated the script, Vijayakumar was impressed with the character and agreed to act, making his comeback to film. G. Umapathy made his acting debut, playing the antagonist Chidambaram. To make the film more commercially viable, a comedy subplot was created, involving a middle-aged man (V. K. Ramasamy) and his chauffeur (Janagaraj) trying to cavort with a prostitute (Disco Shanti) without their wives' knowledge. While the dance song "Raaja Raajathi" was being filmed, two backup dancers did not turn up. Sundar convinced his son Prabhu Deva to do the breakdance in the song. The entire climax was filmed with strobe-light effects.
The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja, and the lyrics were written by Vaali. Many of the songs are set in Carnatic ragas; "Vaa Vaa Anbe Anbe" is in Shivaranjani, "Thoongatha Vizhigal" is in Amritavarshini, "Oru Poonga Vanam" is in Sudhadhanyasi, and "Ninnukkori Varnam" is in Mohanam. For "Raaja Raajathi", Ilaiyaraaja used no string instruments and composed the opening stanza with only two notes. The song was adapted by Anand–Milind as "Tap Tap Tapori" for Baaghi (1990).
|2.||"Oru Poonga Vanam"||S. Janaki||4:25|
|3.||"Vaa Vaa Anbe Anbe"||K. J. Yesudas, K. S. Chithra||4:40|
|4.||"Ninnukori Varanam"||K. S. Chithra||4:37|
|5.||"Thoongatha Vizhigal"||K. J. Yesudas, S. Janaki||4:41|
|6.||"Roja Poo Adivanthathu"||S. Janaki||4:27|
|1.||"Raaja Raajadi Raajadi"||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam||4:32|
|2.||"Oka Brundavanam"||Vani Jairam||4:29|
|3.||"Neeve Amara"||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra||4:40|
|4.||"Ninnukori Varanam"||K. S. Chithra||4:44|
|5.||"Kurisenu Virijallule"||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Vani Jairam||4:40|
|6.||"Rojalo Letha"||Vani Jairam||4:30|
Agni Natchathiram was released on 15 April 1988, the week of Puthandu. The film became Ratnam's most profitable film to that point; it ran for over 200 days in theatres, thereby becoming a silver jubilee film.
S. Shivakumar, writing for Mid-Day, called it "Mani's loosely scripted work to date" but "What emerges on the screen is frothy and cracks like fresh pop corn". N. Krishnaswamy of The Indian Express wrote the film has "more light than heat", referring to the impact that Sriram's technique had on the film, and criticised the comedy subplot. Ananda Vikatan wrote that Ratnam proved that he could make an interesting and engaging film with just a small thread of script, adding that he had imagined each scene differently and presented them interestingly, giving the film a rating of 45 out of 100. Jayamanmadhan of Kalki criticised the film for Ratnam's direction and writing.
|Filmfare Awards South||Best Film – Tamil||G. Venkateswaran|||
|Best Actor – Tamil||Karthik|||
|Tamil Nadu State Film Awards||Best Film||G. Venkateswaran|||
|Special Prize for Best Actor||Karthik|
|Best Female Playback||K. S. Chithra|
|9th Cinema Express Awards||Best Film – Tamil||G. Venkateswaran|||
|Best Director (Special Award)||Mani Ratnam|
|Best Actress (Special Award)||Amala[a]|
|Best New Face||Nirosha[b]|
|Best Music Director||Ilaiyaraaja[c]|
Agni Natchathiram became a trendsetter in Tamil cinema for setting "a new standard in the use of lighting". Additionally, Lakshmipathy's dialogue "En pondatti orrukku poittaa" (My wife has gone to her town) in excitement when his wife leaves for her hometown, entered Tamil vernacular. The dialogue also inspired a song of the same name in Nenjam Marappathillai (2021). In 2004, Rediff.com appreciated Agni Natchathiram for its "Subtlety, diffused lighting, realistic fights, plain logic, a controlled Prabhu and a livewire Kartik", calling it a "landmark movie which never got the recognition it deserved up north". In 2018, Baradwaj Rangan called Agni Natchathiram one of the best films in the masala genre, though he noted that elements such as the loosu ponnu character played by Amala, and the "flashy, MTV-era cinematography" did not age well. The film was remade in Hindi as Vansh (1992).
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