The film O Kadhal Kanmani is sure creating mixed waves - while the young audiences are gungho about it, the older audiences (who we must remember, grew up watching Mani Ratnam films) are not so enthusiastic. I watched the film more out of curiosity to understand who stands vindicated and this is what I feel.
The Milieu: The film has an Urban, Upper Class setting- the story takes place in Mumbai, with the hero pursuing a career in graphics design and the heroine is interested in art an architecture, this is a refreshing departure from the spate of formulaic films we have been served in recent times.
The Theme: So what's the theme of the movie? Well at least everyone's clear about that- 'living- in relationship.'
Now I wonder, in a country like India, where strong societal systems are in place, where family bonds are strong, where marriage is very strongly encouraged and advocated, what necessitates the need to have a 'living-in' relationship?
But I didn't have to look far for the director's reasons for this choice of theme. In the 60s they made films about strife in the household centered around money and relationships -where 'falling in love' was taboo. Then Tamizh cinema moved and we've had 'falling-in-love' as the theme in all the films that followed. So Mani Ratnam must have gotten up one day and asked himself, 'Love story is old hat... So what next?' and viola- 'living together' must have suggested itself. It does seem cool and it appeals instantly to the youth population of the country, who are experiencing new levels of freedom hitherto unseen by earlier generations. They live in cities away from the stranglehold of an oppressive (read moralistic) family and are eager to experience the 'delights' that this new found freedom brings.
Mani Ratnam has cleverly set this film in Mumbai, the most progressive/permissive of Indian cities, and very far away from the constricting clime of Chennai.
Place Value of the Elderly couple: I feel the director has used the elderly couple (Prakash Raj and Leela Samson) to function as representatives of the older repressive society of India and their acceptance of the young couple's life choices suggests an acceptance of such practices by Indian society as a whole.
But what is puzzling is that neither the hero nor the heroine make any attempt to discuss their relationship with members of their own family( on the contrary they try to hide it) but they are very concerned about eliciting the approval of the elderly couple who are in no way related to them. The paying guest angle to the story that necessitates the coming together of the couples seems contrived- the guy is obviously making a lot of money- at least enough to rent a house on his own.
Characterization and plot: The films by the director that I have enjoyed the most are Thalapathi, Agni Nakshatram and the recent film Ravan. What makes them stand out is the depth in the plot, the remarkable character sketches and excellent acting. Unfortunately, all these three aspects are missing in this film- every thing seems so superficial and shallow.
Now coming back to the theme of the film-- well it's not very easy for a guy to pick up a girl or at least that's what Hollywood films tell me. Even the most suave of heroes experiences awkwardness, stress and hitches before he is successful. And a general protocol in the dating process that I have noticed is that the first kiss usually happens around the third date.
Now, surprise surprise!!! the hero here meets the girl fleetingly on a train and sits a couple of places away from her at a wedding in a church, and the two get talking (much to the annoyance of the people in between and us the audience) and just like that decide to start living together - its easy, it's a cake walk- and the 'impeccable logic' behind the choice goes something like - 'We are both going to part ways in a couple of months, so why not?' Really???
Let's face it- most cultures (the ostensibly progressive) would find even a one-night -stand, awkward and difficult to pull off and here is a couple who are willing go the entire length - all at the drop of a hat!
So, two people who share no common ground, who don't establish in any manner what connects them, still decide to live together.
And the greatest let down is the ending where the director instead of exploring the conflict that would necessarily arise from the coming together of two people on such flimsy grounds, does a somersault - goes all traditional and plays safe with the couple opting for marriage.
The other negatives in the film that I noticed is the jerkiness in the dialogues and filminess of the sets especially the room in the shady hotel in Ahmedabad.
My verdict - One more hyped up film bites the dust.
I only hope the old Mani Ratnam returns with a better plot and characterization in his next time!