Gritty, thought-provoking thriller about broadcast journalism, ethics and accountability

Tovino Thomas simmers as a television journalist obsessed with being on top in this intriguing feature from filmmaker Aashiq Abu.

In the age of 24-hour “breaking news,” it’s hard to get the right facts in the race to be first. News channels report first and rarely apologize for missteps or embellished truths along the way. Aashiq Abu’s Naradan (2022) examines a journalist’s rise to the top, as well as his unwavering belief that he cannot be touched.

Tovino Thomas’ Chandraprakash is a star presenter at News Malayalam, where he is constantly pushed by his editor to stay on top. He and his fellow reporters (all male) get together to let off steam in a bar after hours. Friendly barbs and banter flow easily, but Chandraprakash is one to hold grudges.

Pradeep John (Sharafudheen) is in many ways the opposite of Chandraprakash; he is principled, honest and works for the low-funded chain Vartha 24X7. But Chandraprakash feels threatened by him and when Pradeep is hired by his editor, his rage and jealousy rises.

He leaves New Malayalam and is approached by big investors to create a new channel to support their interests. Chandraprakash agrees and making this channel a top competitor among others becomes his main motivation in life. His worldview, which is already misogynistic and sexist, turns to getting the story at all costs, he informs his newly formed team.

Soon the Narada Channel is launched, inspired by wise storyteller Narad Muni, with an explosive sting operation about a minister preying on a young woman for “special” favors. With his new show, Chandraprakash becomes CP, and he is the one who creates the stories, not reports them. As his influence and ratings increase, his arrogance also increases, believing he can do no wrong. A game of one-upmanship ensues with his former chain and rival Pradeep, and CP does his best to sabotage them.

But an incident with a rapper Mudiyan leaves him stinging, and when the young man gets involved in a dodgy drug deal, he asks lawyer Shakira Mohamed (Anna Ben) to fight on his behalf. The impartial young lawyer takes on CP like no one has before.

Naradan’s last 40 or so minutes turn into a thrilling court case with actor Indrans presiding as judge. The film presents a magnificent portrait where money and influence do not take precedence over truth and justice. It would be great to see such results in real life as well, but that’s life!

Naradan has an intriguing storyline from Unni R, which highlights the rights of ordinary citizens who are easily slandered in the name of a broken story. Channels and journalists are not held responsible for ruining their reputation. The film also has a more realistic approach to showing a newsroom than the glitzy, well-oiled machinery of recent Hindi feature films.

But the story and screenplay get a bit frantic in places. In the first minutes of the film, we are thrown a lot of information to digest at once. Once Chandraprakash quits his job to start Narada, there’s a long montage of his transformation (physical and otherwise) from just one of the guys into a skilled business leader, vaping while plotting his next move. He gets his motivation from a self-help guru, which sometimes gets weird. Even its investors are becoming aware of the monster they have created.

Actor Tovino Thomas embraces the entire Chandraprakash journey, from ordinary anchor to starmaker. While many praise actor Fahadh Faasil (and rightly so) for his choices, Tovino Thomas has also taken risks in his career, showing what he is capable of.

Last year alone, he starred in revenge thriller Kala, slow-burning family drama Kaanekkaane and superhero origin story Minnal Murali. Even if you hate his on-screen actions, there’s something inherently powerful about his performance; he is not afraid of being unsympathetic.

Anna Ben, while good, doesn’t have much to do until the film goes to court. Sharafudheen is impressive as a solitary journalist with a spine, while veteran actor Indrans is remarkable as an objective judge.

Aashiq Abu raises many pertinent points about the ills of broadcast journalism, not just here, but around the world. Whether it’s filling up airtime with unnecessary detail or stalking those who come online to speak in panels, there’s a lot of toxicity out there. Simply raising your voice doesn’t make you right, the film intones.

There is also a lot of truth in the court scenes, with Indrans emphasizing the importance of our Constitution above all else. While these are all highlights, the movie’s execution falters a bit here and there.

But overall, Naradan is an intriguing look at today’s broadcast journalism and whether ethics and responsibility still matter.

Naradan was released in theaters on March 3, 2022.

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