Nayakan (English: The Hero), also spelt Nayagan, is a 1987 Indian Tamil-language crime-drama film written and directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Kamal Haasan. It is loosely based on the real-life Bombay underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar, and sympathetically depicts the struggle of South Indians living in Bombay (now Mumbai). The film also stars Saranya Ponvannan in her film debut. Karthika, Nassar, Janagaraj, Delhi Ganesh and Tinnu Anand play significant roles. The soundtrack and score of the film were composed by Ilaiyaraaja and was met with a successful response after release. The film has been inspired from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather.
Principal photography commenced in November 1986 with test shoots featuring Haasan. The film was released on 21 October 1987 on the occasion of Diwali and received critical acclaim worldwide. Kamal Haasan’s performance as Velu Nayakan earned him the National Film Award for Best Actor. The film also earned the National Awards for Best Cinematography (P. C. Sriram) and Best Art Direction (Thotta Tharani). The film was India’s official submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988 at the 60th Academy Awards, but was not nominated.
In 2005, the magazine TIME included Nayagan in its list of “All-Time 100 Best Films”. The film was also included in The Moving Arts Film Journal’s list of greatest films of all time. Nayagan was also included in NDTV’s list “India’s 20 greatest films”. CNN-IBN included the film in its list of “100 greatest Indian films of all time”.
The film was dubbed in Telugu under the title Nayakudu. It was also remade in Hindi as Dayavan in 1988 starring Vinod Khanna. A Hindi dub of the film was released in 1999 as Velu Nayakan.