Nayakan poster


  • 21 Oct 1987
  • 2h 36m
  • Crime, Drama
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Nayakan is a 1987 Indian Tamil crime film written and directed by Mani Ratnam. Produced by Muktha Srinivasan, the film stars Kamal Haasan, Saranya (in her feature debut), and Karthika. Loosely based on the life of the Bombay underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar and the American film The Godfather (1972), it revolves around the transformation of an ordinary slum dweller named Velu into a feared don through various stages of his life.

Cinematography was handled by P. C. Sreeram, and editing by B. Lenin and V. T. Vijayan. Principal photography began in late 1986, taking place primarily in Madras and to a lesser extent, Bombay.

Nayakan was released on 21 October 1987, Diwali day. The became a critical and commercial success, running for over 175 days in theatres. Kamal Haasan's performance earned him the National Film Award for Best Actor. The film also earned the National Awards for Best Cinematography (P. C. Sreeram) and Best Art Direction (Thota Tharani). It was included in TIME's "All-Time 100 Best Films", and CNN-News18's "100 greatest Indian films of all time". The film was remade in Hindi as Dayavan (1988).






  • Status Released
  • Release date 21 Oct 1987
  • Running time 2h 36m
  • Genres Crime, Drama


National Film Awards - 1987
Kamal Haasan
Best Actor
National Film Awards - 1987
P. C. Sreeram
Best Cinematographer
National Film Awards - 1987
Thota Tharani
Best Art Direction


Kamal Haasan, Saranya Ponvannan, Janagaraj, Karthika, Nassar, Nizhalgal Ravi, Thara
B. Lenin, V. T. Vijayan

An anti-government union leader's son Sakthivel "Velu" is arrested by the police to find his whereabouts. They trick Velu into believing them as his well-wishers and release him. When Velu meets his father, the police kill the latter. Feeling betrayed, Sakthivel stabs the police inspector and runs away to Bombay, where he is raised by Hussain, a kind-hearted smuggler living in the Dharavi slums. One day, when Hussain is ill, A young Velu, decides to carry out the smuggling activity on behalf of Hussain. His demand for a bigger commission from the smugglers enrages them, and they involve Inspector Kelkar to arrest Hussain and kill him in jail. When they close the case as suicide, Velu is enraged knowing the truth and murders Kelkar. He later takes care of Kelkar's family which consists of his wife and a mentally challenged son Ajit. Kelkar's wife knew that her husband's immorality resulted in his death.

Velu meets Neela, a schoolgirl forced into prostitution, who has interests to pursue her education. Her innocence and courage impress Velu, and he eventually marries her. They have two children: Surya and Charumathi. Velu's power and command gradually increases in Dharavi as he voices out in support of local people which gains him huge popularity among the masses. His rival smugglers try to murder Velu in an attack, but Neela is killed instead. After avenging Neela's death, Velu sends his children to Madras to safeguard them.

Years pass by, Velu's power further increases in Bombay and is fondly called Velu Naicker by everyone. Surya and Charumathi return to Bombay as adults after education. Surya follows Velu's footsteps, a fact that he is initially hesitant of, and later learns to accept. But when Surya is killed trying to flee the police in a botched mission, Charumathi blames Velu for the deaths of Neela and Surya. She decides to leave Bombay citing that she wants to get away from her father and his violent ways. Charumathi disowns her father and leaves his home. A new ACP, Patil is deputed in Bombay to eliminate gangsters; his first target is Velu. He collects all the evidence needed for the arrest of Velu. When Velu comes to meet Patil, he learns that Charumathi is married to him and they have a son. Patil too learns that his wife is Velu's daughter and suspects that she might help her father to flee from the police.

Velu absconds and his allies are arrested. He decides to surrender to the police to save them from undergoing torture in the police station. Through Charumathi, Velu sets up his surrender. Patil is shocked due to the lack of proper evidence against Velu as none comes forward from the public as a witness against the crimes committed by him. Patil meets Kelkar's widow and the now grown-up Ajit and requests to disclose the truth behind her husband's death in the court. She refuses and defends Velu's acts. But Ajit is shocked after learning the truth. Velu is produced in the court and is exonerated due to lack of valid and strong evidence. He is overcome with emotion when he meets his young grandson (Charumathi's son) Shaktivel. Velu steps out of the court amid a big cheer from his supporters, until Ajit shoots him to avenge his father's death; Velu dies on the spot.


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