O Kadhal Kanmani

[Cast: Dulqhar Salman, Nithya Menon, Prakash Raj, Leena Samson; Music: AR Rahman; Direction; Mani Ratnam]

I’m not sure whether O Kadhal Kanmani was the first Tamil film to deal with the idea of Living-In Relationship. I believe it is. There have been films that portrayed pre-marital sex. Nammavar did it way back in 1995. However, a boy and a girl deciding to live together before they even think about marrying is a novel, a tad revolutionary, idea for Tamil audience, something we badly need in today’s charged up social scenario. That way, Mani Ratnam deserves full marks for daring to take up this concept.

That much was fine. But a movie is much more than a refreshing one-liner. It needs a credible story, a central conflict, an engaging script and characters that are multi-dimensional. If you want to provide something beyond a mere entertainer, you also need to layer the story with sub-plots and over-arching social or personal issues that are at stake for the audience.

Alas, looks like Mani Ratnam thought otherwise. There is no central conflict to make us care for the characters. The lead pair is two reasonably affluent people who are extremely successful in their respective professions, who simply decide to live together until their next destination in their respective career. For the guy, a gaming programmer, it is the US. And her, the budding architect, it is Paris. They’ve got a few months. So why not fool around a bit? Obviously, they can’t expect to have any monetary problems. In fact, the girl is actually a daughter of an industrialist mother, so she is insanely rich, with the private jet and all.

So their central conflict should have come from the emotional side. They should have faced some emotional dilemma towards their own relationship. Do living-in couple face the same problems as married couple? Does the living-in guy snore? Does he leave the toilet seat up? Does he pick his nose? Does he help with household chores or does he simply guzzle beer and watch TV? Does the living-in girl decorate the house with girly stuff? Does she suspect his integrity? Does she try enforce changes in him? Do they discuss finances?

We don’t know. In this film, all they do is dance around. Laugh heartily. Paint the town red. And have sex, plenty of it.

The trouble is we don’t feel like dancing or laughing with them. Or revel in their gallivanting. (Let me clarify here. I’m not against living-in relationships. I have in fact endorsed it in one of the posts about Feminism and in fact I hold the belief that living-in is one of the most important ways that women can be liberated and empowered.)

Also, films can be made without a central conflict or a standard three-structured story. But such movies should have power-packed scenes and punch lines. Take ‘Before Sunrise’ as an example. The film has no story whatsoever, but the characters were so lively and the lines were so entertaining, you didn’t mind. Satyajit Ray’s Nayak was nothing more than just a train journey of a superstar actor. But the film was absolutely entertaining due to its power-packed dialogue delivery. In Hindi, they call it dialogbaazi. Mani Ratnam used to be a master in such unexpected, sharp retort. OK Kanmani lacks sorely in this department as well. In fact, there is only one line where I thought ‘Ah, that’s Signature Mani,’ but now I’ve even forgotten in which scene that appeared.

In the absence of all this, the film is nothing but a string of montage song sequences taking us lethargically from one pointless situation to another. I was sitting looking at the clock and frequently wondering what’s exactly the problem with these two, rich, spoiled kids.

I think Mani Ratnam has even diluted the idea of living-in relationship by dealing it via this uninspiring drama. Well, I even have problem with the way living-in is portrayed here. Everywhere in the world, living-in is chosen as a way forward for couple who are very much in a relationship. They might or might not eventually marry, but opting ‘living-in’ is a serious step towards it. By choosing living-in they say to one another ‘I like you enough to live with you, but I’m not ready to be married to you. Let’s see how much we’re able to tolerate one another. Let that factor decide whether we’re suitable for marriage or not.’

This is not the definition in which Mani Ratnam uses ‘living-in’. Here the lead couple say ‘We’ve got a few months before we go our own ways. Until then let’s fool around a bit and have fun. Hey, we can also save on rent.’

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P.S.: Since one needs to be qualified to write review for this film, here are my credentials:

Being a great film-buff, I have seen all the films in Time’s list of 100 Best Films, Roger Ebert’s List of 100 Greatest Films. I have seen the films of world masters such as Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurosova, Satyajit Ray, Eisenstein, Felini, Howard Hughes, Alessandro Gonsales, Stanley Kubrick, etc. I took Classical Hollywood Narration as the Elective module in my Masters in England. As a project for that module, I adapted a Somerset Maughm’s novel into a screenplay which received special appreciation from my course director. Predictably, I scored distinction in that module and stood first in the class. I have also made two short films myself. And I have been writing film reviews for more than 20 years. Suhasini would be pleased to know that my first ever review was of Nayagan, which I wrote for my hand-written magazine. Needless to say, I gave it a great rating.