wogma rating: Watch when on TV/online (?) - Mani Ratnam fans may want to watch this on the big screen, nonetheless
A film that I won’t dismiss outright, but one that I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by, Kadal is way short of Mani Ratnam’s best. There is enough to like in Kadal, but the film fails to truly draw the audience into the world that it is set in. Mostly because of inconsistent writing and editing, Kadal underwhelms.Read more
The saying that a film is written twice – once on the writing table and once on the editing table – has been used and abused more often than is completely healthy. Yet, the experience of watching Mani Ratnam’s Kadal is fraught with moments where you are reminded of this uncompromising theorem repeatedly. Enough, at least, to make the most ardent Mani Ratnam zealots like myself wonder if the great man’s heart was really in this film in the first place.
Set primarily in a Christian fishing village, Kadal is tale of love, faith, revenge and loss. An incident in a seminary between two men leads to an enmity that lasts a lifetime. Years later, caught in the middle of this saga is a young orphan Thomas, who is essentially a wanderer – a boy whose choices, and hence destiny, hinge on the beliefs of these two men standing at opposite ends of the spectrum of faith.
The film, armed with an interesting premise, a legendary director and a slew of experienced and accomplished technicians, is at best a patchy effort – let down mostly by the screenplay (co-written by Mani Ratnam himself) and the editing, by his long-term collaborator, A. Sreekar Prasad.
Be it the narration of the story itself or the emotions that the scenes and situations intend to convey, the graph of the film is highly uneven. Strange, because Ratnam and Prasad are both masters at designing a narrative; at weaving situations together without dumbing things down, while not forcing viewers to make generous leaps of faith either. A number of their previous collaborations like Kannathil Muthamittal, Alaipayuthey and Aaytha Ezhuthu come to mind. Making matters worse is the runtime of the film, a whopping two and three-quarters of an hour.
Also, for a film named Kadal (which means ‘sea’), the most striking void I felt when I walked away from the film was how even the continuous presence of the sea in the film didn’t affect me emotionally or even visually. Intended perhaps as allegory for God – the sea, after all, is as all-consuming and unrelenting for sinners and yet as all-embracing and omnipotent for those seeking redemption, as faith itself – it fails to create the connect that viewers so desperately need while involving them in a story with universal values but with a highly local flavour.
A. R. Rahman’s refreshingly haunting soundtrack for the film helps to some extent; it stays with you long after the film. However, the manner in which most of the songs were filmed left me disappointed as well – 'Adiye' and 'Nenjukulle' in particular. Again, extremely strange, considering Mani Ratnam’s particular expertise in picturizing songs. Rajiv Menon’s cinematography, while slightly uneven, is largely an asset because of some enchanting frames. Undoubtedly a tough film to shoot, it manages to retain the gritty, rustic feel of the village without ever compromising on the contemporary look and style of the film.
Kadal marks the return of Arvind Swamy after a long hiatus of over a decade, and the man hasn’t forgotten how to act. His calming, serene presence adds an unquantifiable and undeniable measure of stability to the film, anchoring it throughout. The return of a veteran is complemented by the debuts of two star offspring. Gautham Karthik’s unconventional, scruffy look suits his character Thomas, but he still has some distance to cover in the emoting and dialogue delivery departments. Even so, Kadal is a good debut for the youngster. His love interest Beatrice is played by Thulasi Nair, who looks pretty, but is also still quite raw as an actress.
The nearly three hours I spent in the theatre had me almost frozen from start to end. As an ardent film buff and a student of cinema, I was left alternately in awe of the director whom I look up to more than most Indian filmmakers, and at the same time, disappointed because for perhaps the first time ever, my emotional and cinematic connect with a Mani Ratnam film was sporadic at best. The mastery is still there, no doubt, but I couldn’t help feeling that Mani Ratnam’s heart just wasn’t into it this time round.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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