Kadal

Cast: Arvind Swamy, Arjun, Gautham Karthik, Thulasi Nair; Music: A R Rahman; Direction: Mani Ratnam

Kadal starts off with a great promise. Too bad it remains just that: a great promise, but unfulfilled. Yet again, Mani Ratnam dabbles with one of his favourite themes, of good and evil. It is difficult to think that the viewer would look at it as the ‘Nallavana Kettavana’ dilemma. Rather they will watch it as a hero versus villain fare, and they can’t be blamed either. Because, just like Raavanan, the Good and Evil remain very clearly identified without any shades of grey to make this exploration complex and interesting. The evil in Kadal has several shades of The Joker and the climax even eerily reminds us of The Dark Knight’s. What lacks is the layered complexity of the Thomas character, played by Gautham Karthik.

Also, it’s clear that Mani Ratnam and Jeyamohan have clearly read and discussed Narcissus and Goldmund and Appollonian and Dionysian during their scripting sessions. The first 20 minutes looks up respectably towards Herman Hesse’s classic. The main theological exploration, however, borrows from The Dark Knight. According to the design, Gautham is supposed to be caught and oscillate between the forces of good and evil, and we’re supposed to be panicking at every one of his shifts to Satan’s side and rejoicing his return to Good, or perhaps vice versa depending on whose side you are. But we feel absolutely nothing. We don’t know if it is because of the weak writing, or of weak acting; perhaps both. Gautham comes with a very few set of emotions and it’s hard to figure out what he feels. Often, even the music is confusing: what is the significance of the song ‘Magudi’ and ‘Nenjukkulle’ to those associated situations. Well, not just music and the protagonist, there isn’t much explanation for many of the actions of other characters as well. Some are too abrupt and some are downright melodramatic, the most crucial one where Beatrice’s (Thulasi Nair) returns to her childhood home.

And then the film hurtles past towards its climax, as if the director felt he has explored the shades enough and it’s time to wrap them up. And why is there a storm in the climax? Is it because the director felt that it will make better action drama? Or did we want to make the clash of God and Satan into an epic battle? Or did he realise towards the end that there isn’t absolutely any connection to the title Kadal (Ocean) to the actual theme being explored so he wanted to show the ocean enraged in the end?

There are other questions as well: did Satan have to always keep talking about sin in order to justify its character? Even an arbitrary telephone conversation overhead is about the ‘virtues’ of sin! Since when did Mani Ratnam need to make things so obvious? If Bea’s recollection of her childhood horror and the cure from her mental illness is so easily achieved, how come Sam’s acquittal made so impossible, where circumstantial evidences could have easily helped him, especially after Satan’s own admission of the crime?

Jeyamohan is a great writer. His contribution to Kadal in bringing the nativity and the Christian fisherfolk is extraordinary. But he is not a skilled scriptwriter. He wrote powerful lines in Naan Kadavul, but couldn’t help Bala hold the story together. Alas, he has failed Mani Ratnam in the same way. Four years on, Sujatha is still being missed dearly in the Tamil film industry, especially by his most frequent employer: Madras Talkies.

The great beginning could have been capitalised to build a power-packed confrontation between God and Satan, with highly focused and tensed narrative in the midst of the fisherfolk, with their own violence and dilemmas. Nolan did something similar in The Dark Knight. He made Gotham the field where Good (Mayor) and Evil (Joker) and, well, a confused one (Batman) play it out, with the people of the city being pawns in the game. Kadal fails where Dark Knight succeeded triumphantly, a tension-filled narration, immensely layered script and powerhouse performances. Kadal has highly lagging, predictable narration, flat script and insipid performances. The Dark Knight comparison, unfortunately, begins and ends with the Satan hanging upside down with God toying with the dilemma of losing the rope!