Before starting with Baradwaj Rangan's 'Conversations with Mani Ratnam', I decided to catch up on films by the renowned filmmaker which I had not seen. I saw Mouna Ragam and it immediately struck me how I was giving way too much credit to newer Tamil films for getting certain things right. This is a man who had made such mature dramas decades ago. His Raavanan was a misstep, but the intention was novel. This juggling between Bollywood and Kollywood business didn't bode well. Like everyone else in this part of the country, I was in love with Rahman's soundtrack but my heart sank low when I saw the trailer. My fears came true when I saw the movie earlier today.
The concept of Good vs. Evil has been done to death in countless movies before Kadal. I wanted to love Kadal. I am still looking for reasons enough to make me fall in love with it but slim pickings. It starts off interestingly but ends up becoming this confused, repetitive sea monster looking to finish things off with a bang.
Some of the most iconic villains gained that status by having motivations which are above the inane material needs. Arjun's Berchmans is driven by his need to seek revenge from Aravind Swamy's Father Sam. Not plain killing him, but by pushing him into a corner and making him renounce his goody goody ways. That and all okay but it never quite comes across convincingly on the screen.
Thomas' childhood is filled with despair. He is born illegitimately to a Mother who is widely known in the hamlet as one fisherman's mistress. Right after her death and the gruesome burial, Thomas is disowned by his Father and thrown out to fend for himself. Growing up facing scorning rejection from every corner, he turns into a damaged and spoilt young boy who builds a shield around to save himself from further rejection. Father Sam's entry into his life changes everything. After instinctively abusing him on their first meeting, he loses control on his facade and breaks down, revealing a boy seeking acceptance and wanting a normal life.
After an unrewarding stint with Hindu mythology in Raavanan, Ratnam dabbles into Christianity to further explore the good vs. evil idea. In the fast life of cities, religion has taken a backseat and people probably would have scoffed had the central story of Kadal been located in a one. Christianity thrives in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu and what better place to set the story in. But how essential is the whole fisherman thing? After a point, the setting becomes redundant, helping only to put across the Christian babble. Kadal is not a film about people questioning their own belief in God. Everyone is pretty confident about their unwavering faith and continue to remain so. Aravind Swamy is the Saint, Arjun is the Satan, Beatrice is an angel of mercy and Thomas is a wandering sheep. They know which side they are on.
During the stunningly well shot climactic sequence taking place right in the middle of a storm of biblical proportions, you cannot not get reminded of The Dark Knight, with Arjun hanging upside down and talking crazy things like The Joker. This is the most climaxy sort of climax you will ever find in a Mani Ratnam film. It all leads to this one big moment. It may have thematic depth but appears unnecessary on the surface.
There are filmmakers who use cute kids and make us go aww right before we throw daggers at them for being so damn manipulative. Deiva Thirumagal was one big culprit. Ratnam is known to be good with child actors and he himself did the manipulation bit in Anjali. But with Kadal, he has turned things on its head. It is like he realized this practice and challenged himself to do the exact opposite. Which is to cast an actor who is not very easy on eyes as his female lead and make the audience care for her. I commend you for going the extra mile, Mr. Ratnam, but I simply couldn't look at your heroine for more than 5 seconds at a stretch. I know there is no way of talking about this and not sounding like a complete jerk. If I am asked for one reason as to why this film doesn't work as well as it should, I will immediately point to casting Thulasi Nair as Beatrice. I will only get offensive if I write anymore about her. I am sure she is a great kid but.. okay I will shut up now. Oorla ponnada illa?
Technically, Kadal is superior product in so many ways. Rajiv Menon's DI-heavy cinematography achieves a really interesting look for the film. The dialect is impeccable and sometimes incomprehensible. Gautham Karthik is a true star material and I hope he does a lot of good work. His performance is pretty good. A special mention to the two kids who played younger Thomas.
Kadal may be disappointing but I will take an ambitious failure over a mediocre film any day of the week and twice on Sundays.view less