Released way back in 1990, Keladi Kanmani marks the directorial début of Vasanth who had assisted K Balachander in many movies earlier. 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 offbeat 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.
SPB and Radhika meet in an interesting sequence peppered with humour. They quickly move beyond being casual acquaintances and their intimacy is established by the conversational banter they engage in. Vasanth is entirely convincing in moving the story forward towards the inevitable marriage proposal. We get to see a lovely visual,‘Mannil Indha Kaadhal…’ wherein we are bewitched along with Radhika as SPB sings sequences in the song in a single breath. Thankfully neither he sounds breathless nor does the music take over the words. Such a unique and lovely experiment in the movie by SPB and isaignani Ilaiyaraja.
Janagaraj plays the role of a printing press owner, Adaikalam Sa’ar, – a perfect foil in a humorous cameo wherein he gets into tricky situations that he dreamt about and tries futilely to avoid his troubles by employing what seem like practical precautions. He is in love with Radhika and has tried to court her. She dismisses it as a joke but continues to be friendly with him as he is a jolly and good-natured character ever ready to help her. But he steals the scene wherein he realizes that Radhika has fallen in love with ARR. In a quirky moment he is shown to die as he dreamt about a funeral – some urge of realism one assumes but it could have been avoided.
ARR and Radhika are focussed on ensuring that ARR’s daughter is comfortable with their relationship. Unfortunately this is not to be as the child is insecure, has deep memories of her mother and does not want anyone to take her place. In her world she is happy to be left alone with ARR to take care of her.Vasanth scores in showing the situation through nifty images – Anju trying to pull off the sari that belonged to her mother is possibly the most powerful scene in the sequence. The inevitable parting realistically shown because Anju has run away to an orphanage and declared herself to be an orphan is as genuine as the tragic consequences that follow including the suicide committed by Radhika’s parents. It is a difficult situation and the closure is like unpalatable truth.
Eight years on, Anju has grown up and fallen in love with Ramesh Arvind. Unfortunately she is critically ill and about to undergo a life-threatening operation. She wants to redeem herself by reuniting her father and Sarada teacher.So we have a fitting climax where the hunt for Radhika’s whereabouts by the hero is rapid and furious but eventually unsuccessful. Vasanth them deploys the happenstance device to ensure a happy reunion and an open end where one can be optimistic about the future.
Once again I doff my hat to Vasanth for portraying such a sensitive love story in an entertaining manner – it was quite a rarity those days in Tamil Cinema.