So you go see the recent over-hyped, keyed up, inescapable films whose in-your-face campaigns are plastered all over your cityscape, television screens, the booming FM scene, mousepads, kitchen sinks, and sometimes transplanted hearts; films whose first-time stars do a Hrithik Roshan before the release, films that you come out of justifying how good it was because of the ‘subliminal’ message that has been stuffed down your throat with endless articles being written on how great the promotional campaign has been. Well, I liked Company anyway.
Then you hear of the good guys. Shringar and Adlabs getting together and building a fine (though under priced and terribly mismanaged) five-theater multiplex in Mumbai that promises at least one screen to be the bearer of good cinema: European, independent, regional, and digital (but not art).
Finally you put paragraph one and two together and fate and flair intersect to give you a most pleasant experience: Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek) that got a single theatre release in Mumbai. What a wonderful surprise this film is! Here you are – buying tickets for a film you know little about, you go in, the lights dim, the film begins, and the only thought that is running through your mind is concerned with why some films should never end.
The story is that of a pesky fifth grader who is told by her parents on her ninth birthday that she is adopted. The news is not taken too well and kiddo insists on meeting her biological mother. And trust Ratnam to make the mother a LTTE suicide bomber trainer (Nandita Das) in Lanka. The parents agree to take her to the island to find her real mother. Catch is, there is a full fledged war on. With a premise like that, and filmmaking skills rivaled by few, the film is a cropper! With none of the obvious jazzy visual flourish of his earlier work like Agni Nakshatram (1988) or Roja (1992), this film is more in the mould of his engaging Alai Payuthey (2000). The script is tight and yet irreverent at times, as they all should be.
With excellent performances from the cast including R Madhavan and Simran, and excellent technical skills (the war scene in Lanka gives Ridley Scott a run for his money), one thinks that Ratnam can do no wrong. The greatness of the storytelling lies in how Ratnam seems to have cracked the code to the human psyche. He has got his pulse on his audience’s reactions. He toys with them at times, as he has in the scene where Madhvan, an engineer and celebrity writer riding a two-stroke scooter, is courting Simran who is pedaling feverishly to keep pace and yet keeping abreast of the conversation and in yet another scene where the couple cannot stop embracing on discovering that they are going to get married. I feel that the one difference between Mani Ratnam and other Indian mainstream filmmakers is that Ratnam does not underestimate his audience’s collective IQ. There are no excuses and explanations in this film, and yet, there would be few who don’t get the point.
But the best part of the film is its protagonist: PS Keertana who plays the 9-year old Amudha. In one scene, her father and his Sri Lankan guide are having a conversation about the future of the world. While Ratnam takes a personal point of view about the modus operandi of war, the statement is unmistakeable: if indeed the future is in the hands of young talent like PS Keertana, then the future is in very, very safe hands.
Of the things that be criticized, there are a few, but I am not going to get into them. I just don’t feel like it.
Tamil, Drama, Color