At a seminary, before they both become priests, Sam Fernando (Arvind Swamy) turns Bergmans (Arjun) in after the former catches the latter with a woman, leading to Bergmans’ expulsion. Bergmans swears revenge on Sam as he takes up the path of Satan. Meanwhile, young child Thomas loses his mother, and is rejected by his father (Ponvonnan), who fathered him illegitimately, and the entire fisher-folk community as well. Sam comes to the village as the local priest and takes Thomas under his wing. A grown up Thomas (Gautham Karthik) turns into a fiine fisherman and also falls in love with child-woman Beatrice (Thulasi Nair). Bergmans enters Sam’s life again when he is shot by his business rivals and Sam saves him. Still hurting, he frames Sam of adultery and murder using a woman, Celina (Lakshmi Manchu) and has him disgraced and jailed. Thomas joins Bergmans to get back at the village but Beatrice’s innocence and Sam’s return help him to take the right path. And then it is found that Beatrice’s child-like behaviour is linked to child-hood trauma caused by her father, who is Bergmans…
Kadal finally makes you ask that dreaded question – has Mani Ratnam lost it as a storyteller? Returning to a straight Tamil film after 2002’s Kan Nathil Mutha Mittal, Kadal is one of the filmmaker’s weakest films on a script and screenplay level, and one which even beautiful imagery, some fine performances and a great soundtrack cannot ultimately salvage.
Kadal suffers from the typical Indian-cinema-syndrome. It begins well and holds your interest with the battle of Bergmans and Father Sam setting up the major conflict of the film paralleled with the young Thomas’ mother’s death and his rejection by his father (and society), but then starts to lose its way by the time Thomas grows up, before derailing totally in the second half and finally ending with a ridiculous climax.
A tale of good v/s evil, set in a coastal fishing hamlet of Tamil Nadu, the film treats its conflicts and relationships far more on the surface than you would expect from Mani Ratnam. Much of the story elements appear more like a 80s film done with perhaps just a little more technical finesse. One has to admit there is a sense and maturity in the shot-taking without it being the obvious Tamil or Telugu mainstream wide angle dramatic frames but it’s the writing that is a big letdown. In a morality tale like this, you already know the outcome, so it’s all the more vital the central conflict and narrative flow engages you but what emerges is a simplistic and often sluggishly paced fight between a Man of God and a Man of Satan via a boy mentored by the good Father Sam. While the odd scene or occasional moment does take you back to the Mani Sir of yore, even if obvious – Thomas looking at the blood of a new born in his hands as against the blood of others has shed for Bergmans – they are just too few and far in between. Even situations, which were his solid strength in previous films like the developing romance, for instance, are developed superficially and are devoid of enough memorable moments.
The film fails to go delve sufficiently into its characters and their minds. We never feel enough of what is going through Thomas’ mind after Father Sam has been arrested even as he is grappling with other various issues and complexities – his position in the village, his father who rejects him repeatedly or his feeling the first flushes of falling in love with Beatrice. Consequently we are not with him really to understand his key decision to side with Bergmans, which appears more plot driven rather than character driven. The central conflict itself fails to be as strong with Bergmans being kept out of the scenario for long periods. Beatrice’s character as the angel in white is sketchily conceived and in spite of a back story, she is woven unconvincingly into the plot.
Still, Mani Ratnam’s strength with actors is once again brought to the fore tellingly with newcomer Gautham Karthik, son of 1980s and 90s hero Karthik and grandson of leading man of the 1960s and 70s, Muthuraman. No matter what the fate of the film, Kadal will always be looked at as a successful launching pad for him. He is totally at ease in front of the camera and capably handles the various shades of his role. Be it the rejected-by-his-father and hurt angry young man or the young lad discovering love for the first time, he is spot on. It is a great debut for the youngster. Thulasi Nair, on the other hand, has miles to go as an actress. The character of the child-woman suffering from a childhood trauma that stunted her mental growth is beyond her though her freshness still gets her through some of the scenes. Arjun suffers from a totally black characterisation that leads him at times into hammy territory while Arvind Swamy makes a welcome return back to the silver screen as the benevolent Father Sam. Lakshmi Manchu is ok in her brief role while Ponvannan makes the most of his role as the man who illegitimately fathered Gautham.
Technically, barring the song picturisations, one can’t really fault the film. The songs either bring the narrative to a grinding half when they do the choreographed bit, giving you a sense of deja vu of the director’s earlier works or are unimaginatively used in the background except perhaps for the one where Thomas works for Bergmans. And it is most disappointing to see THE composition of the film – Nenjukulle picturised over a few dialogue exchanges of Thomas and Beatrice. Apparently on a social media networking site, Lakshmi Manchu revealed the song was originally picturised on her and Arjun, maybe that explains it. In fact, the handling of the songs fail to do justice to AR Rahman. Otherwise, Rajiv Menon’s cinematography helps the film big time while going beautifully with the narrative flow, while the production design is amicable, and the locations beautifully used.
All in all, Kadal disappoints, proving yet again that if a film falters in its content, nothing can save it. Still, looking Mani Ratnam’s contribution to Indian cinema and track record, one sincerely hopes he will bounce right back and we see more films from him, albeit with a return to form. He has disappointed us long enough now.
Gautham Karthik, Thulasi Nair, Arjun, Arvind Swamy, Ponvannan, Lakshmi Manchu, Asif Ali, Thambi Ramaiyya
Mani Ratnam, Jayamohan
Vairamuthu, Madhan Karky
A Sreekar Prasad
Tamil, Action, Drama, Romance, Color