Cheran’s initial movies focussed on the rural scene and were quite melodramatic. At one level the movie is just a typical village saga for family rivalries and the mindless violence that destroys many lives.
But the movie needs to be appreciated for it taut screenplay and nuanced performances that set it a cut above the run of the mill movies.
The movie opens with quiet scenes of a family returning to the ancestral home that now lies in shabby ruins and one is intrigued by the past tragedy that must have forced the family to abandon their roots and move to the city. Now relatively prosperous, the group of 3 brothers and 1 sister headed by Rajkiran, playing the signature role of an ageing patriarch, has decided to return for good and rebuild their old house to its former glory.
They approach Vijay Kumar whose forefathers had specialized in constructing heritage structures keeping in mind the natural environment and lifestyles of a bygone era. He in turn deputes his son Arun Vijay to the task. (A nice cameo by the real-life father and son duo).
Arun Vijay impresses the family with his approach and work ethic. He becomes friendly with Shamitha, Rajkiran’s niece. She is shown to be a well-educated girl with homely values and respect for her elders. It is the old mix that appeals to the segment since a girl with a mind of her own usually gets stereotyped as being a brat and selfish.
KB is an ace director and Mamooty a star actor, so I expected that the movie would be something special. But the KB’s master touch of creating credible characters and intriguing climax of interpersonal issues is missing this time. You can predict well in advance as to where the story is headed. So for once we have a feuilleton at hand instead of a classic but it too provides moments of entertainment.
Let us talk about the basic plot – you have Mammootty playing the role of a charming widower in his mid-30s who is a doting father to 4 cute kids and a budding hotelier. He has diverse interests including appreciating classical dance forms, reading classical literature and poetry and pursuing his degree in Literature through a part-time course. He is a good orator and makes witty observations that draw admiration from his listeners.
In the normal course of life he meets three interesting ladies – classical danseuse played by Bhanupriya, studious and serious teacher played by Geetha and a spoilt young brat who is friendly with his kids played by Madhu. And they all fall for him though he seems to be unaware of this initially and eventually he too falls in love with Bhanupriya.
I like to see Cheran movies as his stories ring true of the Lower Middle Class characters that he prefers to dwell on and there seems to be the sincerity brought in perhaps by the autobiographical nature of the content.
Undoubtedly parents make unending efforts to provide for a better future of their children and Tamil cinema provides you with an overdose of melodrama and ‘Thai’ sentiment. But surely it is unusual to see an ode to the role of the unsung father and one that provides him with a quiet dignity under trying circumstances. The movie rates a top score on that count.
Firstly to knock the demerits of the movie that was strong on content and did reasonably well on the Box Office, the length of near three-and-half hours was excessive even in 2005 and would be regarded as monstrous in present days when 2 hours is regarded to be the benchmark. And a lot could have been crisper without losing the message particularly in the second half.
And the movie seems to promote the role of the benevolent Patriarch who brooks no-nonsense from its members and is not inclined to negotiate an amicable solution by tactfully engaging with them. It is a neat trick to spot as well since the character tends to be empathetic but will not cede an inch when it comes to a questioning of his own beliefs and sense of reality. Still this is not far from the truth in these lives and indeed one may argue that life is a larger battlefield for them to bother about what they regard as symbolism and niceties of the privileged.
“Looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct and separate, and piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing”
-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk
As Managers one learns well to tackle the nitty-gritty of the physical world – what gets measured gets done, you need to strike the right balance on efficiency and effectiveness and the cost of achieving it, have the right motivations tools including the ‘carrot-and-the stick’ to drive desired outcomes, learn the ability to multitask balancing urgency v/s expediency, ownership v/s delegation.
The dualism is at the heart of the daily grind. You also learn to appreciate F Scott Fitzgerald when he said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Add to it the consistent ability to learn and adapt to the ever-changing world and looks like you have brought the bacon home.
Imagine being asked to read newspaper stories and analyse them to understand their impact on the Business world. It was unusual and entertaining way to learn about Business strategy and the need for constant renewal to survive in a competitive marketplace. It seemed an exaggeration then but the world truly is changing at a far more rapid pace than in the past and surely the nimbler players survive better in it than the stronger or even smarter ones.
The model was called PEST-E representing the strands of Political, Economic, Social and Technology factors that impact ones strategy. An overarching principle of increasing importance was ecology or environment that was then a newly evolving parameter. Over the years I have heard more complicated versions including PESTLE, STEEPLE, STEEPLED but the original paradigm was the first one to make an impact on me.
What is like a second nature to me nowadays was quite a challenge in those initial days. So any story in the newspaper was easily slotted in one of the above mentioned slots or so it seemed. But there was nothing without a context or subtext and the moment you set about unravelling it, you realized the interconnectedness of these factors that interacted in complex ways to create a story that was never quite that simple and not without intricate ramifications.
On a quick visit to Pune, I set up a meeting with a lawyer, who was an old school mate of my elder brother, and off-chance we decided to meet at the old South Indian cafe in one of the famous Peth areas in the city.
As I waded my way through the bylanes to one of those old ramshackle buildings, I wondered whether it will be trick or treat, coming back to a place that was part of our daily routine in my childhood.
It evoked the same pleasant smells of fresh food, freshly brewed Coffee and the strong scent of the incense sticks (agarbatti). The place was rather vacant which helped us a quiet chat but I wondered where was the bustle gone – usually one even had to wait for a while to get hold of a place to sit. It was run by a young chap in his thirties – the old proprietor had passed away and the place had exchanged hands.
Released way back in 1990, Keladi Kanmani marks a directorial debut of Vasanth who had assisted K Balachander in many movies. In my view it is his best work and a true tribute to his ‘gurunathar’- the great KB.
I regard it to be so as the story has no villains or overboard melodrama, typical of most Tamil films in those days. And it has a rare sensitivity of two loving adults who let go of their relationship because the child feels insecure and is not ready to accept anyone else in the place of her mother.
It is an off-beat love story between two ordinary real life characters – ARR (essayed by singer SPB) is a middle-aged widower and Sarada Teacher ( essayed by Radhika) is a mature and educated daughter of a ‘deaf-mute’ couple played by Poornam Viswanathan and Srividya.
Overall the movie runs for nearly two and half hours, but the first forty-five minutes could have been easily avoided as the focus of the story is ARR and Sarada Teacher. And the contrast of the narrative does make the opening sequence seem pedestrian and juvenile. Anju and Ramesh Arvind enact college kids puppy love romance with all its awkwardness and predictability. Indeed this segment may even put off many viewers from watching the gem that is to follow.
Vasanth gets his characters right – so we have ARR who is approaching middle age, unapologetically fat and not even having a proper vocation except possibly looking after his 10-year-old daughter, Anju. In contrast, Sarada Teacher is nearing 30 and has decided not to get married as she wants to spend her life looking after her ‘deaf-mute’ parents. Can one imagine a love story for such a couple and can one get people engrossed into their narrative? Vasanth answers the question superbly in about an hour’s time.