Film: "O Kadhal Kanmani"; Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Nitya Menen, Prakash Raj and Leela Samson; Director: Mani Ratnam; Rating: ****
It doesn't matter if you're a Mani Ratnam fan or not, his latest outing, "O Kadhal Kanmani" is sure to leave you with an everlasting smile on your face. The movie, which marks the auteur's comeback to the romance genre after a decade, is a refreshing take on contemporary romance and relationship.
The story is set in Mumbai, and the city, through lensman Sreeram's frames has never looked so beautiful, adding much needed oomph to the romance of Aadi (Dulquer) and Tara (Nitya), two well-educated, independent and ambitious individuals. Rahman's music, needless to say, is soul-stirring, if not as standalone soundtrack but it works so well in the movie.
Aadi and Tara first meet at a railway station. Well, they don't actually meet. They just glance at each other through the gaps in between the bogies of passing trains. It's not one of your best boy-meets-girl moments, but it works. Their second meeting is at a friend's wedding in a church where they are seated in the same row but a few seats away from each other. They introduce each other with a murmur and even exchange numbers.
The conversation then shifts to a phone call, and they talk about their friends who are about to exchange vows. They talk about the baggage that comes with marriage. It's a funny banter, but we quickly get the picture that both Aadi and Tara (who make an adorable pair) don't believe in the institution of matrimony. In another scene, Tara asks does one need a certificate called marriage to stay with someone.
Aadi and Tara live under the shadow of an older couple - Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) and Bhavani (Leela Samson) in their house. Ganapathy and Bhavani fell in love and got married a long time ago. She was a classical singer; he was a banker. They've grown old together and now Bhavani is suffering from Alzheimer's, and she slowly starts forgetting.
Ganapathy looks after Bhavani; cooks for her and even combs her hair. He politely reminds her of the simplest thing she can't remember like eating a meal. Bhavani, on the other hand, remembers how old she was when Ganapathy first met her. He thinks she was 20; but she quickly corrects that she was 19 when they first met. The best part about their relationship is that she hasn't forgotten him yet and that's what matters the most.
The way Aadi and Tara slowly get influenced by Bhavani and Ganapathy is handled subtly, yet beautifully. Ratnam needs to be applauded and suddenly you realise the film isn't actually about the young couple; it's about the older couple who sort of remind us that no matter what, we all need a life partner.
Towards the end, Tara says it's impossible to find someone like Ganapathy in any other woman's life. Aadi says it's possible and the following question sums up everything for us.
Otherwise, I don't see the need to include the love track of Prakash Raj and Leela Samson, who are extremely good in their respective roles. Never do you feel sorry for Bhavani's medical case. In fact, Ratnam reserves some of the film's best comical moments for her.
It's quite possible Ratnam didn't make Dulquer and Nitya act. He may have put a camera around them and captured everything that'll make the audience go head over heels for the pair. Dulquer was at ease, speaking his own lines in Tamil; he looked most suitable in the role. It was Nitya who stole the show hands down. It's impossible to not fall in love with her, even if you don't with the movie. The fact that the story is set in Mumbai, and all the characters spoke their own lines in Tamil really worked in favour of the film.
It's easy to say Mani Ratnam played it safe with "O Kadhal Kanmani". Maybe he did, given the risks he has taken with his previous works, but it's fine because it's been a long time since his film has been so enjoyable. This is his best work in years and this magical spell won't be forgotten easily.