Mani Ratnam’s new film lacks courage
May 05 2015 11:22 PM
LOVE STORY: A screen grab from Mani Ratnam’s latest film.
LOVE STORY: A screen grab from Mani Ratnam’s latest film.

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

Fifteen years ago, when Tamil director Mani Ratnam made Alaipayuthey with Shalini and Madhavan, I liked the film, in fact enormously. The couple’s onscreen chemistry sizzled, and the trains which formed an almost another character added to the romance, and lifted the movie to the skies. Alaipayuthey came after several films that I did not care for, and these included Roja and Bombay.
However, there was one irritant about Alaipayuthey which I found hard to ignore: its songs. When I asked Ratnam why he had to include them, his answer was simple and straight. “Gautaman, I do not have the guts to make a movie without songs.”
Unfortunately, Ratnam’s latest film, O Kadhal Kanmani, also exhibits lack of courage. Mammootty’s son Dulquer Salman and Nitya Menen are Aadhi and Tara, a pair which decides to live together without the trappings of marriage. Good, I thought when the movie began to roll. Ratnam is getting gutsy. But by the time O Kadhal Kanmani was on to its last chapters, Ratnam had lost his nerve to defy society. Aadhi and Tara walked up the alter, and the reason for them to do this was not exactly familial pressure, but the opportunity that each got to study/work in two different countries — he in America and she in France. They wanted to make sure that they would get back together once they completed their assignments in places, separated by hundreds of miles.
Honestly, I could not digest this dramatic drop. After all Aadhi and Tara had, in the first place, decided to live together only because they did not believe in the institution of marriage. They had their reasons. She had seen her parents bicker and break up, and he felt that legalising a man-woman union spelt the death of love and romance.
So, could not have Aadhi and Tara flown to their destinations promising to couple again after their return? Did they need a piece of paper to cement their commitment? Was it so fragile that mere physical distance would kill it?
Obviously, Ratnam was not bold enough to make a movie that legitimised a live-in relationship. That certificate which Aadhi and Tara signed in the end had to be done in order to legalise their union, to make it acceptable to the community.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s first work, Swayamvaram, made in the early 1970s was the story of a man and woman living together in Kerala without tying the knot. Mind you, the film came 40 years ago, when Indian society was far more conservative than what it is today. Now, thousands of men and women live together and they do not feel the need to sport a mangalsutra or a ring. Or, even sign a certificate in the marriage registrar’s office.
If one were to overlook Mani’s moral dilemma in shifting his movie to a different track, O Kadhal Kanmani is a hauntingly beautiful love story, crafted with finesse and feeling. The editing is tight, and the helmer does not distract us with sub-plots. Of course the songs do seem stretched.
Aadhi and Tara meet in a railway station in an unusual situation. She is threatening her boyfriend that she would kill herself by coming under the wheels of a train. And Aadhi sees her across the tracks from another platform and urges her not to jump. She does not, and lives to meet him later, ironically during a wedding in a church. Sitting far away from each other, their eyes meet and they start to talk to each other in sign language. A delightful sequence where we see the beginnings of a hot chemistry between Salman and Menen.
Both the actors perform with remarkable ease and they are naturals indeed. O Kadhal Kanmani is worth a second look for the way Salman and Menen have portrayed their characters — characters who come alive.
Also, a whole lot of credit must be given to Prakash Raj and Leela Samson (her screen debut, and she once headed the Central Board of Film Certification and Kalakshetra). As the older couple in whose home Aadhi and Tara build their love nest, Raj and Samson (as a woman fast losing her memory) are just fantastic. For Raj, this is a blessed relief from the bad men he had been playing time and again — barring a few occasions like in the case of Kanchivaram, where he was brilliant as an impoverished silk weaver.

Impressive Cannes jury
This year, American director-brothers, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, will head a Competition jury of seven men and women at the Cannes Film Festival, running from May 13 to 24. The jurors will be key figures in the world cinema from Canada, Spain, the USA, France, Mali, Mexico and Britain.

Here is a brief look at each one of them:
Rossy de Palm (Actress – Spain): She is an icon of Spanish cinema and Pedro Almodóvar’s muse: she inspired his 1986 film Law of Desire, performed in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kika and The Flower of My Secret, and then Broken Embraces (2009 Cannes). She rose to international acclaim in the early 1990s with directors like Robert Altman, Mike Figgis, Patrice Leconte and Mehdi Charef. She is set to appear in Pedro Almodóvar’s next work.

Sophie Marceau (Actress, Director – France): After winning a Cesar for Best “Espoir” at the age of 16 for Claude Pinoteau’s La Boum 2, her career grew impressively. Films include Police by Maurice Pialat, and L’Amour braque by Andrzej uławski. She caught international attention for Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995) and the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough (1999). Other notable credits include Don’t Look Back, directed by Marina de Van and presented at Cannes in 2009. She has also written and directed two features, Parlez-moi d’amour (2002) and La Disparue de Deauville (2007).

Sienna Miller (Actress – Britain): She first gained recognition with her role in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake (2004) and later in Sam Mendes’ Cabaret, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher (which debuted at the 2014 Cannes) and in American Sniper by Clint Eastwood. She has just finished filming High Rise by Ben Wheatley.

Rokia Traoré (Singer, Songwriter - Mali): The inimitable Mali-born musician and singer Rokia Traoré has charted a distinctive course between tradition and modernity. Influenced by a nomadic childhood spent between Europe, the Middle East and Mali, the first disk by this singer songwriter with a captivating voice, Mouneïssa (1998), was highly acclaimed. 

Guillermo de Toro: (Director, Writer, Producer - Mexico): Toro is one of the most inventive among the new generation of Mexican directors, alongside Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Del Toro, who started out as a make-up artist and special effects specialist, now lives in the US. His filmography boasts a rich array of distinctive and flamboyant works shot through with fantasy and imagination. Toro presented Cronos, his first movie, in a parallel section at Cannes.
Xavier Dolan (Director, Writer, Producer, Actor – Canada): After shooting his first full-length movie, I Killed My Mother, at 20, he directed Heartbeats and Laurence. Both got an enthusiastic reception at Cannes’ A Certain Regard. His Tom at the Farm was shown at the Venice Film Festival, where he was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize. His latest, Mommy, clinched the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes. Dolan is now working on his next feature, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Actor, US): Jake Gyllenhaal was raised in a family of artists and made his cinema debut at 11. He was first noticed in 2001 in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, and he built a career composed of both independent cinema and blockbusters. Considered one of Hollywood’s increasingly bankable stars, he appeared in Jarhead by Sam Mendes, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (Golden Lion in Venice) and in Zodiac by David Fincher (Cannes in 2007).

* Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and world cinema for over three decades, and may be e-mailed at [email protected]

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