OK Kanmani

Let’s start with the meet cute at a church wedding — it is a rom-com after all. They recognize each other from a brief glimpse at the railway station some days ago. They’re sitting on opposite sides of the aisle, so their initial few lines are whispered and mimed. He asks her for her phone number.

Notice how she hesitates for just a second before she goes ahead and mimes it to him by putting up nine fingers, then three and so on. Watch how their subsequent whispered conversation over the phone involves exchanging cynical statements about marriage — you sense that their relish comes at least in part from the fact that they’re having this conversation at a wedding.

Observe how PC Sreeram shoots the scene, focusing on one while blurring the other as they exchange witticisms, as if to indicate how, at this stage in their relationship, the focus is still singular, not plural. This is the first of many sequences in the film where the visual strategy plays a big part in how Mani tells the story, and the kind of conscious thought that seems to have gone into the picturization is one of the highlights of the film. A key conversation in the end happens in the midst of a downpour. Using the rains to provide percussion to the emotions unfolding on screen is nothing new, but rarely have I seen it done so skilfully.

Listen to how the characters speak and observe the conscious strategy there. The older characters speak in fuller, longer sentences while the younger ones seem to be having a spoken conversation that might as well have been on Twitter or Whatsapp.

There is much straight talking in evidence. When Adi’s sister-in-law confronts Tara with the evidence that they’re in a live-in relationship and asks “What’s happening here?”, she responds with “Blackmail, it looks like. Why are you having this conversation with me instead of with him?”

And yet, the plot is about how straight talking is not always the same as real honesty. There is a moment late in the film between an older couple (played wonderfully by Prakash Raj and Leela Samson), where she is told that she has Alzheimer’s and asks a simple, wrenching question. For the younger couple watching them through a crack in the door, that kind of emotional honesty is almost too much to bear even listening to.

It is only after they reach a certain level of physical exhaustion that they find that they no longer have the mental energy to expend in walling themselves off from each other or even themselves. The last half hour is a thing of beauty, in its construction as well as execution.

This is a film that does so much so gloriously right.

And yet I walked out of the movie theatre feeling a tad underwhelmed. I felt like a narrative of this size might have worked better with a shorter running time. All those repeated shots of the couple canoodling all over a gorgeously shot Mumbai felt a bit like a relentless Instagram feed from a cute couple who look good together, but need to ease off on the sharing. The abbreviated Mani Ratnam-speak between the lead pair got a bit tiring after a while. I found myself longing for adult conversation. I couldn’t wait for them to get home so that I could see more of Prakash Raj and Leela Samson.

I found myself imagining a film with roughly the same overall plot, but where the screen time given to the two couples was more or less reversed. More to the point, I found myself wanting to see that movie instead.

Maybe, like the Danny Glover character says in every Lethal Weapon movie, I’m getting too old for this shit.

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11 thoughts on “OK Kanmani

  1. Quite enjoyed it, the film and the review. I was definitely not underwhelmed but he did play it safe after punting on the subject. It was still a great exercise on what is pretty much a plot-less narrative.

    Thankfully did not get the I am too old for this shit feeling :D. I must say Mani is successful in reinventing himself though the gold standard is probably Meera-Arjun from AE.

    • Oh yes, this is the safest film he’s made in a while. I wonder, though, if he would’ve made it at all if Kadal had turned out better. To use a different sports analogy this time, it felt like a batsman working himself back into form, concentrating on what he knows he can do well.

      • Yep, Sachin 241* in Sydney? Not a double maybe but well executed idea of no fishing outside the off stump or even attempting a cover drive but at lease a century nonetheless.

  2. Yeah, it was a lot more fun to watch Laxman play that day (he was making a decent bowling attack look ridiculous), but you could see what Sachin was trying to do.

    Now the wait begins for Mani Ratnam to pick a bigger subject and handle it perfectly. Quite frankly, he hasn’t done that in a while.

  3. Raj says:

    Agree on your comment of liking the movie but being underwhelmed and looking for an adult conversation. As I was seeing this, remembered this Bengali movie(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1359552/). Similar structure, very different message and take.

    Adding to your other point of “getting old”, I felt I would have been more satisfied with the director trying something less safe and failing than watching a run of the mill formulaic film. If I want a safe movie I will watch Rohit shetty film than a Mani ratnam one.
    But then I saw the sporting analogies in the comments and thought it is a bit unfair to expect a tendulkar to score like Gayle in his final years in ipl.

    • Ah yes, the sport analogies. The trouble with those analogies, of course, is that they miss out on one crucial difference. Barring a miracle, Federer isn’t going to win a grand slam title as a fifty year old. Mani Ratnam, on the other hand, could still come up with a classic when he’s sixty.

      Could he go on to make a film that connects with the youth of today, and with an older audience at the same time? Could he make a film that deals with the personal and political with equal felicity? I believe he is capable of it.

      Thanks for the Bengali movie reco, by the way.

  4. S says:

    It’s funny you should mention visual strategy. It’s probably why I felt that I simply couldn’t watch this on tv after having seen it once on the big screen. Gave it a try nonetheless since it was on our Netflix queue, but had to quickly switch to Friends Season 9 coz of that “I’m too old for this shit” feeling. Plus the visuals in the opening Aatakaara sequence simply fell flat and that put me off instantly (though I was riveted when watching in the theatre back then). Weird.

    • A lot of the animated stuff didn’t work so well, I felt. The bits with the computer game are by far the weakest in the film. Not the animation itself. It just didn’t seem plausible that something so sophisticated would’ve gotten developed in so short a time.

  5. S says:

    Speaking of sophisticated stuff developed in so short a time, I guess the fact that the relationship arc went from meet cute to marriage in a span of two odd hours helped me somewhat suspend the plausibility argument wrt game development 😊 But I see what you mean.

    And oh, I threw in that Friends reference earlier coz of your note on the finger miming. In the One with the Pediatrician episode phoebe agrees to go on a sham of a double date with Joey and the latter does some futile finger miming to Mike the fake date guy to get with the program and feign familiarity. Number of sisters Joey has = 7 but we see him signal to Mike with 6 fingers LOL, and obviously Buffay calls his bluff! Rudd goes red in the face, sweet.

  6. S says:

    Speaking of phone and finger miming and Friends episodes, here’s an awesome sequence from the episode I mention above, where Paul Rudd goes “OK Kanmani,” acquiescing to Phoebe’s zany request. http://youtu.be/gAgIaLEJiEk
    Her look instantly took me to Annian’s “Nokia” song… “Octopus viralgalaal surutti vittaai…”🙃

    • S says:

      P.s. I was just happy Phoebe progressed from going on a date in the previous episode with a hobo prick, to a classy pianist. Seriously, the guy in that earlier episode grins and says to her “I have a PhD, you know” and pulls his chair back a tad to look down at his, um, Pretty huge D…!

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