Balu Mahendra is an old school director. He believes in telling a tale rather than making a movie just because he has the hero's call-sheet.
Athu Oru Kanaa Kaalam, marking his comeback, is a good example of that. It is a tender story with plenty of emotions and events. You may like the story or not, but there is very little to find fault with Balu Mahendra's work as a director. He has got the best out of his lead pair---Dhanush and Priya Mani.
The movie is an emotional and a gripping tale of a youth who falls in love with his servant maid but ends up in prison for an accidental crime. Does the couple reunite or not forms the crux of the movie.
The movie is all about Srinivasan (Dhanush), a 22-year-old youth, who escapes from prison. He takes a lorry to go to a remote village in Ooty. On the way, he narrates his past to the lorry driver, who shows sympathy on him.
Srinivasan leads a carefree life till he comes across the servant maid Thulasi (Priya Mani). When his parents (Delhi Ganesh and Usha) go to a relative's place for a week, Srinivasan gets an opportunity to spend some time with Thulasi in his house and gets acquainted with her.
After a series of events, love blossoms between the two. Coming to know about their affair, Srinivasan's father naturally does not accept the liaison.
One day, Srinivasan and his friends land up in prison for crashing their car on a police vehicle. Unfortunately Srinivasan locks horns with an inmate in jail and when he pushes him in a fit of rage, he sustains a serious head injury and succumbs to it.
Eventually Srinivasan gets convicted for 10-year-rigorous imprisonment. His mother dies; Thulasi's family goes bankrupt and leaves to their native village in Ooty.
A dejected Srinivasan escapes from prison to meet Thulasi. Does the two join together forms the rest of the story.
Refreshing to see Dhanush getting his basics before the camera right, perhaps after Kadhal Kondein. The actor in him gets the right fodder as the director has bestowed enough faith on him. Dhanush's acting looks very matured, and this film should be seen as a coming-of-age on screen for him.
Equally stealing the show is Priya Mani. The matured performance from this up and coming actress deserves a special mention. Clad in half-saree all through, she not just emotes well but also is acceptably glamour. The comely girl has utilized the opportunity that has come her way.
Also in the cast are Karunaas, Kalai Rani and Thalaivasal Vijay.
Ilayaraja's music is a throw back to a different time when melody ruled. The camera work, as in any Balu Mahendra's film, is splendid. Has anybody shown Ooty more lovingly than him?
On the flip side, the movie loses its pace in the second half and ends up rather tamely.
A needless item song featuring Tejashree and laborious scenes in prison could have been avoided. Looks a total mismatch in the gripping tale.
Balu Mahendra's direction is from the heart. Yet, there is a cerebral touch. He takes up subjects that are every-day, but infuses in them a special meaning. He gives his own interpretation. They used to make for good cinema. But in these formulaic times, will it work? We have to wait and watch.
Athu Oru Kanaa Kaalam is certainly not run of the mill. And that is saying a lot.