I did the strangest thing this weekend. I did not, as is my wont, venture out to watch this Friday’s releases, instead opting to watch in the home cinema hall, the original movie of the officially remade OK Jaanu, the latter hitting the screens this week. Don’t ask me why, but peering through the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I’m so glad I did what I did. For, the original movie, O Kadhal Kanmani (Tamil, Oh Love, Apple of my Eye) a.ka. OK Kanmani, released in 2015, is an absolutely likeable, winsome, and true-blue romantic experience, a shining adornment in this genre of movies.
Director Mani Ratnam weaves such unfettered magic on the screen, you want to purloin some dreamy moments for yourself and then replay them on your overcast days. And that’s how you discover, as with La La Land, the magic of romance at the movies. As also you discover in Mumbai, the pair of Aditya Varadarajan (Dulquer Salmaan) and Taara Kalingarayar (Nithya Menen). He, a video game developer, wanting to become the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, waiting for the big call from Uncle Sam. She, an architect, wanting to go to Paris to pursue her studies there. If their paths on Google Maps are divergent, they converge right into the surety of dissing the concept of marriage, exchanging hushed notes during a wedding that would have made Groucho Marx reaffirm his crack on this institution.
You also learn that before Uncle Sam, Aditya has to heed the call of his landlord “uncle”, Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) – an ex-senior-at-work to his brother – and his wife, Bhavani (Leela Samson) who’s slowly but surely shuffling into the land of no return of Alzheimer’s. His life as a paying guest in their old, spacious apartment in Opera House, is speckled with sparkling conversations about love, life, marriage, and relationships. In the meantime, there’s also his burgeoning relationship with Taara that segues from friendship to love to passion and then a need that culminates into a live-in relationship. At some point, as you rightly guess, the embassies of USA and France cut right into Aditya and Taara’s lives, and this is where the couple struggles with choices of love and careers.
If all this appears to be a trope-filled, dreary, much-traversed path in cinema, you couldn’t be further off Cupid’s mark. For, in director Mani Ratnam’s loving, caring hands, his story (yes, he’s the writer too) blooms into a beautifully captured, lush, and sensitively colored tale that reaffirms your faith in love and staying together with the one you love. With cinematographer P. C. Sreeram, Ratnam makes O Kadhal Kanmani a fun-filled, love-filled, precious journey that’ll have you smile you ear to ear for the most part. And no one quite captures the enigma, pace, and zest of Mumbai like he does, and he does it here with such an assured panache, you can’t help but miss it if you’re an ex-resident, or want to book tickets if you haven’t been. Take the zippily shot number Mental Manadhil or the lovely scenes on the BEST buses, especially one where the passion between Aditya and Taara is boiling, as she steals a kiss and then forces him to sit on the seat behind – the sunlit deck there is a hope-filled shot. The director also captures the tenderness of mature and solicitous love from outside a room, through the lens of a semi-opened door, as Prakash Raj’s Ganapathy lovingly puts Leela Samson’s Bhavani to bed, and she insists on knowing what’s happened to her. When he pecks her forehead and tells her, and she asks him in hushed despair, “Will I end up forgetting you one day, Ganapathy?”, all you can see is the screen blur with your heartbroken reaction – that’s such a loving, moving scene, all without the camera getting inside their bedroom. And then, of course, the anxious, rain-lashed climax on the streets of Mumbai, where there’s multiple things happening to the characters onscreen and to you – them hunting for a loved one and realizing what they feel for each other, and why they need each other, you hoping, heart-and-lump in throat, for all to go to well. Fortunately, the director doesn’t drag things to the airport for a been-there-done-that denouement, and ties up things in time.
O Kadhal Kanmani wouldn’t have been the winner it is without A.R. Rahman’s absolutely ace soundtrack. The composer makes you want to pop the champagne bottle with this effort. Using hip-hop, funk, and a strong, classical melodic base, Rahman belts out a repeat-shuffle-repeat-again score. Listen and get lost, then, in the absolutely haunting Parandhu Sella Vaa , where he employs the rhythm of a smooch, unpredictable chorus, back-ups, halting beats, a dreamy tune melding with lovely classical alaaps, and symphonic violins when you least expect them, making you float in bliss – superbly sung by Karthik and Shashaa Tirupati, this one. Or, the song for you to turn to when you despair the loss of melody and meaning in Indian cinema songs – Malargal Kaettaen, that’s a winner all the way from 2015 to 2017 and beyond, taking you to the Rahman of Duet, Pavithra, and Indira. Steeped in Raag Bihag, this beauty sees the composer employ soft ghatam and mridangam, some goose-bumpy flutes, and the pristine vocals of Chitra. By the time the composer steps in to back her up, you’re all but in the arms of this melody, helplessly and hopelessly lost. And there’s the winning background score that Rahman pulls out with Qutub-E-Kripa – the naughty shehnai like peppy rhythm a lot of fun; or that scene in the BEST bus, there’s such beautiful flutes, you’re on top of the double decker.
And then there’s the supreme cast in this project. Dulquer Salmaan is so damned likeable and natural, you overlook his occasional slip in accent. He powers his character with a sincerity and understated energy that’s so every day, so believable, and so real-life. When his character does profess what he wants from Tara in the end, he’s simply a winner, gently pelting out his desperation and realization. Prakash Raj is absolutely tops as the loving husband, spiking his hopeless situation with gentle, old-wordly humour in a way that only he can. When Nithya Menen’s character begins singing the aforementioned Malargal Kaettaen number, note how his eyes crinkle with paternal affection. Simply brilliant. Leela Samson is quietly breathtaking in her halting, tending toward dis-orientation act. And as Taara, Nithya Menen is the shining star of this project. She delivers a hard-to-look-away-from emotional tour-de-force, so pure and transparent a performance in every scene she’s in. Her eyes and expressions sparkle with just the right heft – when she’s reminiscing about her father in the ashram, her fingers digging into the meshed window for support; or when she looks at Aditya dancing in celebration of his US trip, her eyes a vehicle of love, pride, and yet, impending sadness; or when she’s sobbing as she pillion rides with Aditya, as his travel date comes nearer. There’s not a scene where she doesn’t reign with a grace that’s simply irresistible.
O Kadhal Kanmani might not eventually challenge the very concept it sets out to question – the premise of marriage and its seemingly dimming role in modern life, and might seem to fall victim to predictability. But it does give you the reason to find yourself a companion – that could be the only lighthouse in your twilight years; it also gives you a reason to fall in love, a reason to believe in love and its magic. And for that heady feeling, the movie’s not just okay, it’s more than okay, darling. Until you turn your door key and realize the dishes aren’t done.
O Kadhal Kanmani is rated UA (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years). There’s some suggestive scenes and dialogues, but nothing to make you blush if you can spell ‘live-in’.
O Kadhal Kanmani
Director Mani Ratnam Running Time 2h 18 min
Writer Mani Ratnam
Stars Dulquer Salmaan, Nithya Menen, Prakash Raj, Leela Samson
Watch the trailer of O Kadhal Kanmani here: