Movie Review: O Kadhal Kanmani

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Film:  ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’
Genre:  Romance
Written & Directed by:  Mani Ratnam
Starring:  Dulquer Salmaan, Nithya Menen, Prakash Raj, Leela Samson
Music by:  A. R. Rahman
Storyline:  Two people in love, living together, explore if there is more to their relationship as future unfolds. 
Cinematography: P. C. Sreeram
Edited by:  A. Sreekar Prasad
Production Company:  Madras Talkies
Running time:  138 minutes

Indians and melodrama – inseparable. Courtesy – never ending TV soaps, punch and sentiment packed masala entertainers. However, Mani Ratnam reminds us time and again – that when life happens, it happens in the most subtle manner. It unfolds day by day, minute by minute, devoid of exaggeration. This time, he plunges into a danger-zone: Live-in relationships, a big ‘no-no’ for a conservative audience (Did you hear a Tamil aunty exclaim “Ada kadavule!”?), but comes out clean and classy, with much aplomb.

Meet Tara and Aadi, (played by Nithya Menen and Dulquer Salmaan), quintessential youngsters of today, the central characters. It is by chance, that they come together. Tara and Aadi stand at either sides of a railway platform and chance upon each other through the gaps of passing trains, in a signature Mani Ratnam-PC Sreeram-style. One is sure to know that the meeting is not a one-off.  

The next meeting is the beginning of their ‘flirting’ cum ‘sweet nothings’ cum ‘I can’t take my eyes off you’ moments which breeze through the entire film, wanting anyone watching the movie to be in that space – irrespective of age. Come on, who doesn’t want to be loved?

Aadi is a game developer and Tara, an architect. Both wear two hats each – career and fun. They are in no mood of a long-term commitment to a relationship, let alone marriage. But, right when you start wondering if they are similar personalities, the master that is Mani Ratnam, adds layers to each of these lead characters. Aadi is fun to be around, especially if you are ‘his girl’. He can’t stop drooling over Tara, and his unabashed flirting does sweep her off her feet. But, apart from flirting and pursuing her, Aadi has the attention span of a kid in a candy store to anything serious in life. He is childish, in the moment, has no plans for future. And this exact nature, adding to his spontaneity, helps him both in career and in love (or rather charming the girl?).

On the contrary, Kanmani – Seerum Sinamika – Tara. No matter how she is referred to, she is magical. She has much depth to her that we, audience, and Aadi explore together as the story progresses. She is vulnerable, yet strong. She hates marriage, yet longs for companionship. Mani Ratnam creates Kanmani for an audience who has been dying to break-free of the ‘super-model-like-Tamil-actresses-with-killer-looks-and-zero-acting-skills’. It is such breath of fresh air to see Nithya Menen as Tara (Kanmani).

Is a relationship as strong as a girl wants it to be? You wonder! Ever since Aadi falls for Kanmani, he pretty much does what she wants. He leaves it for her to decide what she wants to do next – be it deciding to move in together with him, or wanting to sleep with her. He proposes, but she decides. She is always in control, knows exactly how to tease him and win him back – “en aasai kothamalliye! Aambalaiya kenja vekkaadha di..” begs Aadi in an attempt to wake her up as his brother is about to catch them living-together.

Unbelievably candid dialogues, impeccably composed songs and background score that only the living-god A. R. Rahman can, breath-taking visuals of Mumbai-city and the lead pair’s beautiful chemistry – all add magic and sparkle. But who leaves with you when you walk out of the Cinema hall is truly, Kanmani. In a way, the entire movie is about her, as the title clearly hints – her childhood trauma, the reason why she hates marriages, her dilemma between going abroad and staying with Aadi. Infact Aadi at one point blurts to his friend – “Naan panna periya thappu – Tara”, because she is not someone who he can easily move on.

Soon time flies when having fun, Tara and Aadi find themselves on the brink of a major life change. Do they give-in to their convenient temptations or evolve as individuals to commit to something big? This is where Mani Ratnam never resorts to melodrama. They must decide the fate of their relationship – not because there is a child involved or because the girl lost her virginity to this boy, (remember Priyamanavale? – Vijay, Simran, marriage-on-agreement, child born, Tamizh Kalachaaram, Happily ever after). No, clearly no! They must commit to each other because they want to. Simple. If not, there is no need to. The movie dwells in this space, and the simplicity is astounding.

Yet one could accuse Mani Ratnam of being too “upper-class” in rooting the movie. It is staged in Mumbai, and like the city never sleeps, the characters never stop having fun. They have huge career dreams, and don’t mind sharing their spaces with each other without any legal or social bonds. (That Tamil aunty won’t let her kids see this, never!) He also refrains from preaching anything – what is good or bad for a couple to do. He lets the audience decide. But hey! no matter what you do, there is always this someone who has something to say.

To those saying “’there is no story – just visuals and music” – Face palm, dudes. Seriously. What did you expect in a romantic, ‘slice of life’ kind of movie that is all about experience and not suspense or drama? – Murder? Kidnap? One kills another? Sorry, watch some other movie.

To those saying ‘Mani is back’ after Alaipayuthey, yada yada – you didn’t watch Kannathil Muthamittal? The movie won 6 National awards dude! He has always been there. Come back? From where? Stop overlooking good work.

Now enough said, go watch ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’ this week, you won’t regret it.

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