Mani Ratnam’s ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’ (Oh Love, My Dear)

Mani Ratnam is a class act when it comes to portraying modern love in Tamil cinema – Mouna Raagam, Alaipayuthey, and Aaytha Ezhuthu have in particular become classics that are much admired by critics and viewers. Inevitably we find reflections of these in his latest movie set to decode the meaning of romance and love for the millennials – possibly the children of the generation that grew up in raptures of Mouna Raagam.

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Dulquer and Nithya – lead cast of Mani Ratnam’s ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’  Image Courtesy – Tamil Film News

The movie is a pleasant soft souffle that floats like a dream of rich imagery for us – no villains or unpleasant scenarios, linear narrative with a predictable fairy-tale ending, embellished by Mani Ratnam’s  old hands – A R Rahman and P C Sreeram. In fact forget melodrama, there is even little of drama as we watch the ‘Dulquer-Nithya’ whirlwind romance unfold.

Set in Mumbai, ostensibly supposed to tell us the story of a ‘live-in’ couple, the movie is simply about an animation and video game-maker, Aadhi, who falls in love with an aspiring architect, Tara. They are from similar worlds (the upper crust of Tamil society who enjoy their newly found freedom in the ‘city of dreams’) and the ambition to be global citizens with successful careers scores over any compromise even it is meant to be for ‘true love’.

The so-called ‘live-in’ relationship can be easily glossed over as just being one of the things about their relationship – indeed they end up living as ‘paying guests’ who are suitably chaperoned by the doting elderly couple – Prakash Raj (Ganapathy) and Leela Samson (Bhavani).

What worked for me –

Dulquer Salman & Nithya Menon – The lead cast was refreshing and could act well for a change. Particularly Nithya Menon steals the show – she gives a performance of an animated and strong-willed young woman and joins the rank of Mani Ratnam’s star heroines like Revathi (Mouna Raagam), Shalini (Alaipayuthey), and Madhu (Roja).

Mumbai Magic – P C Sreeram does a great job of capturing the city’s rhythm in the montage song. The local trains zipping by, the lovely visuals of South Mumbai, the Bandra Sea Link, the pigeons at kabootarkhana, Mumbai rains, the sprawling Tamilian link to the city around Matunga – it’s all known to us and shared with verve with the Tamil audience. The city is known for its ‘match-box’ flats but the old city buildings have their charm and the movie makes it a point to give people a lot of space in the city of dreams.

Strong screenplay and clean humour – Lovely visuals, one-liner dialogues, poignant moments, strong characterization of the Tam-Brahm world in this instance and plenty of classic humour. Nithya gets the lion’s share in the screenplay – she teases Aadhi at the eatery about sharing a room with him, scares him with a marriage proposal involving their parents and doubles it up by marching him to a gynaecologist’s clinic teeming with pregnant women. Leela Samson too gets her moments – narrating her courtship tale with young and dashing Ganapathy, pulling up Aadhi after the Bombay Sister music kacheri etc.

Tamil Diaspora In Mumbai – For Tamilians staying in cities like Mumbai the movie bought a sense of deja vu. Shanmukhnanda Hall, Tamil Carnatic Music, the familiar sounds and smells of a Tamil kitchen, the Tamil bashai spoken with a lighter accent than in homeland, the mix-n-match choices of tradition and pragmatism are all there for us to savour. In particular I liked the way the Bombay Sisters concert was covered – we heard the music but the conservative artists didn’t show up to do a guest appearance in the movie.

What didn’t work for me –

‘Too-Clever-By-Half’– Situations were set up where one expected things to happen but there was always an anti-climax that deflated it. Ganapathy is shown to be retired Banker who is conservative and cautious. He warns Aadhi that he will be thrown out if there was any typical nuisance associated with a bachelor such as late nights, parties, loud music, booze etc. He starts out on the right note by objecting to a ‘live-in’ relationship but gives in when Tara wins Bhavani’s heart.

Aadhi’s sister-in-law is smart enough to unearth the live-in relationship and confronts Tara about it. Tara gives a strong response and one expects things to escalate and not just simmer down to simply ‘keep up the appearances’.

Tara’s mother is shown to be strong character and successful business woman. Her run-ins with Tara too simply fizzle out in a manner that is not credible.

The most outlandish tale and with all loose ends left unknotted is Tara’s mother setting the police on Aadhi and who apparently spent a weekend in jail as there was no Court available to bail him out till Monday morning.

Bhavani essayed by Leela Samson – On similar lines like ‘Arvind Swami-Khusboo’ in Alaipayuthey, Prakash Raj and Leela Samson play the role of a loving couple who are an example of all that is positive in a marriage particularly the love, support and companionship that we all need. Bhavani is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and Ganapathy devotedly looks after her.

Such a complex role demanded a more experience actress to helm it – Revathi or Shobana would have been the right choice for the role. The movie has many non-actors playing cameo roles but for this role the choice of a debutant is possibly not the best move.

 The ‘Live-In Relationship’ Hook – It is no big deal for the new generation and possibly it seems cool n contemporary to use it in the movie. But the movie doesn’t deal with the nuances of such a relationship. Its aseptic treatment of a sensitive social situation is certainly not a vote in favour of it being a matter of choice between two consenting adults.

Possibly it was done with an intent to address the core audience – the setting was away from the immediate family in Mumbai, an elderly couple seemed to act as stand-in guardians so to say, and little happened that was different from what would happen in the lives of a newly wed couple that was madly in love with each other. No wonder it doesn’t seem to be genuine article to the discerning viewer who would hate to be condescended to on such a mature topic of interest.

Overall the movie is still worth a watch as light ‘rom- com’ with its poignant moments.

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