So it's time we saw a Mani Ratnam film again. The director appears once every three years, with his insurmountable reputation and brings along a ton of critics who try to pass judgement. Every film of his is intriguing in one-way or the other irrespective of whether it tastes commercial success. As always, his project is spearheaded by Rahman's exuberant music, which has reached the height of creativity on this occasion. The real test of character will come in the theatres and we have a good idea what to look at.
The film begins in fabulous fashion and you feel the Mani Ratnam touch right away. The director has immediate impact and you get a feeling that this might just be it. Embracing a story that's quite conventional for his standards, he seems to be taking a safer path, quite different from his attempts in previous films. The screenplay clicks in well through the first period and what you get is a racy storyline. Sparks of brilliance here and there make things rather interesting. The attention to detail and character sketching are attributes to Mani's experience and earnest style that just clicks.
The movie tells the story of the lead pair, Thomas and Beatrice who struggle as their lives are caught between good and bad. Mani tries to instil the duality of nature in complex ways. Thomas, in an attempt to face problems thrown at him takes a path of aggression. He soon question himself on what to do oscillating between good and evil. How the protagonist manages to get through all the complex transitions taking place around him is the underlying story.
During the interval, you expect the story to improvise upon the efforts of the first half but unfortunately, things take a detour. Instead of going straight down and convincing the audience, the screenplay slopes down and turns to commercialism. Mani's expertise doesn't have too much room here, despite his ability to pack action and drama into his usual way of story telling. A few questionable moments and a lot of worrying logic lapses, you feel sad for what the movie comes down to.
One of the talking points of the film would be debutant Gautham Karthik. The youngster is full of energy and has an awful lot to do before the movie even settles down. And with the most engrossing sequences, he shines and makes you take notice. There aren't a lot of things going right for him, and his character isn't exactly ideal for a newcomer, but those are all little shrugs of the shoulder away from falling back on track. He deserves a pat on the back for his efforts.
Thulasi Nair, as young as a heroine might get at 15, doesn't get as lucky as her co-star. In all fairness, the actress looks out of place in a plot that could have had more for her. Her expressions are often cute and her smiles rather unique. But her efforts are far too little to handle a collapse in plot. Maybe at her age, being in the film is just as valuable as portraying an award winning role. She will have to wait it out until her next to impress.
Two pivotal characters in the film, Aravind Swamy and Arjun are pillars of strength to Kadal. The former, making a comeback after twelve years is at his best and will be an unsung hero at the very end. His acting has gone nowhere, and his refreshing dialogues catch you off guard and remind you of his existence. Arjun on the other hand dons a role that's quite new to him, dark and enigmatic. His dialogue delivery is exquisite and builds the story to better heights, even if an avalanche of mishaps is always around the corner. Thambi Ramiah seems to have finally gotten some attention he deserves and is making it to the big league. Lakshmi Manchu gets a short role and could have had more to showcase her skills.
As one might expect, A.R.Rahman's music is just brilliant. But great songs and background scores don't make up movies on their own. Out of the pack of amazing numbers, three manage to be stand out music videos - Elay Keechan, Adiye and Nenjukulley. The impact is certainly felt and the feeling of listening to the music is always special. However, some of the song sequences are just plain, and far below the director's standard. The racy score, as emotions hurdle up and down one scene after the other are highlights. At least, one man has delivered well.
Technically, Kadal is as brilliant as any other Mani Ratnam film. Rajiv Menon's camera brings light to the shots as wonderfully as you might expect. The locals are brilliant and lot of groundwork seemed to have been made to shape up the entire idea. Jayamohan's work on the dialogues is evident when you struggle to grasp on to the dialect on a few occasions where the slang is just overwhelming. An ideal combination, one would have thought to make up a great success story.
But at the end of the day, Kadal turns out to be very average. Dipped in commercialism that is very uncommon to Mani, the story slips and fumbles way to quickly in the latter half. Disappointing at best, the movie still has a few talking points like the music, or the exuberant lead actor and the roles played by Aravind Swamy and Arjun. However, the story tells you how even Mani Ratnam can sometimes suffer from a lack of consistency. Maybe we will have the raise the standards again to get the best out of the director.
Rating - 3/5 - overly commercial and no real Mani Ratnam effect
Verdict - too obvious to be an entertainer, too downplayed to be a classic