Kadal- A Mani Ratnam legacy

Ratnam has actually elevated his intellectual level of filmmaking to a new league that only requires understanding, not judgement.

Disclaimer: This is not a movie review, because as someone whose formative years were defined by moments inspired from Mani Ratnam films, I do not feel I have the right to judge a good or a bad film. Honestly, I don’t think any of us have any right to criticise Mani after what he had contributed to Tamil cinema over the past two decades.

I am sorry, Mani Ratnam. I am sorry because I allowed myself, for even a moment, to doubt that you have actually made a bad movie, judging by all the reviews and the critics’ verdict in the first few days since Kadal’s release. I remember walking into Raavanan as one of the first viewers and being mesmerised by the film, though the entire world seemed to think otherwise when the verdicts started coming out.

When a young Thomas starred at Chetty with contempt at the latter’s house, and the screen froze to give way to title credits, I knew that Kadal has so much to offer- only question whether the viewer is able to discern Kadal’s offerings and cherish them.

To begin with, Kadal is obviously an indirect sequel to Mani’s previous offering, Raavanan, which I considered to be a wonderfully made movie and will hold true to that no matter what some smart critics think about it.

As Bharadwaj Rangan had aptly put in his review, Mani Ratnam is already a legend- he has nothing left to prove. What he is doing now is building legacy, and that means finally making films that matters to him on a personal level, probably in a way probing his own faith in the grey shades of humanity, and in the process, making movies that are way ahead of their times.

I have said during my Raavanan review itself that the film will probably be celebrated 10 years from now (like how Iruvar became a cult classic a decade after its release), and the same holds true for Kadal- in fact, Kadal’s offerings are much more complex than Raavanan.

Understandably though, pulling off something like Kadal with reasonable entertainment quotas is no mean feat- the film is obviously inspired by the Biblical stories, and unlike Ramayana (Raavanan) or Mahabaratha (Thalapathi), the Bible’s parables are a combination of different stories, and Ratnam has tried to incorporate all of that into one movie.

This is where the problem comes with Ratnam’s new filmmaking avatar, people who watched Raavanan and Kadal think he should retire and that he has run out of ideas for a movie plot, but the reality remains that Kadal is made for a niche group of viewers, and that Ratnam has actually elevated his intellectual level of filmmaking to a new league that only requires understanding, not judgement.

Kadal’s plot incorporates so many elements and explores so many different shades of faith that even the critics who commented that the movie was an extremely predictable good vs bad story, in my view, were badly mistaken. In fact, Kadal’s trump card appears in its much criticised climax, which many felt was a letdown.

Here are the things that I took away from Kadal:

1. Being a priest does not define goodness and being someone who commits murder does not define Satan. In the climax scene, Father Sam overridingly loses his faith in his own kin and God, to finally decide to commit a murder by killing Bergmans, but the man who comes out of that entire climax with his heart in the right place is actually the young Thomas. Mind, Thomas is no angel. He is someone who had walked with both the angel and the demon. Human are a bit of both. And in the tussle between angels and demons, it is human’s capability to forgive which shines through the gloom of the situation.

2. The problem with religion and mankind is that men tend to become subjected to blindly follow religious texts without ever exercising their discretion to love a fellow human being or show compassion. While Father Sam’s character was impeccable, he was the one who created the Satan in Bergmans that he ends up battling in the entire movie. Bergmans is a reflection of Father Sam’s inability to merely forgive a fellow man’s indiscretions- and an insistence to follow the book of religious principles- an insistence that leads to him raging and being prepared to kill Bergmas at the end of the movie. Like Bergmas so validly points out- ‘God doesn’t say you cannot have fun’.

3. The definition of ‘sins’ is extensively questioned in the movie. The act of sex, extramarital affairs, prostitution, and even murder are shows and later described as sins. But an ingenious Beatrice smiles at this list despite being a Convent, and in a childlike manner cleans the slate and merely warns: “Don’t do it again.” This is the movie’s most pivotal scene. The burden of sins is created my men, and it is entirely up to us to be able to forgive and levy that burden to pave way for a more harmonious life.

Humans are indeed capable of very bad things and very good things at the same time. But humanity is about being both an angel and a demon yet being able to find that little ray of light at the end of the day, whether you define that as Hope or God, whichever that suits you. Kadal is all about that- it is raw, it is life. Life, like sea, is not scripted. It’s out there, in the open. It’s vast, it has plenty of stories to say, but only if you are prepared to listen. It is full of stories of normal people’s indiscretions and mistakes and also normal people’s great acts. But the only depth that we are left savouring is humanity.

There’s something very subtle about humanity- the triumph of humanity is not in a good or bad context alone- it’s uniqueness is in the ability to err and then to forgive. The emotions of letting go. In so many ways, that’s how we surmise the emotions we experience in life.

Kadal, for me, is a classic, and there is no judgement call on who acted well and who did not. It is a story about how humans are capable of offering hope. That’s all there is to it.

If you do not understand it, you are the one missing out. If you hate it, then I feel sorry for it. If you are one who says the movie, along with Raavanan, will ‘flop’, I’m pretty sure Mani Ratnam lives a far more comfortable life and is much better off than those who actually think movie making is all about hits and flops.

If you don’t like Kadal, kindly bugger off and respect the maker and those who actually like it. If you don’t understand it, you are nobody to pass a judgement on the film.

Thank you to the Kadal team for this small marvellous piece of work. It may not be appreciated today, but like Kamal Haasan so famously said in his emotional press conference two weeks ago, ‘If I fall, I will fall like a seed. I may not experience the benefits but the seed, is mine.’

The seed is yours Mani Ratnam. The seed is yours. Thank you for everything. I hope you never fear being ahead of us, ever again.

Kadal music review- Soft like the sea itself

ARR’s sounds and music have been as vast, ambiguous and serene as the sounds of waves that crush against rocks and sweep through sandy beaches.

THE title may sound ever so simple- ‘Kadal’, which means the sea, but I don’t think one word could ever sum up the career of AR Rahman better than ‘Kadal’, and who better to give this project to ARR than the unimitable Maniratnam, the pearl who unearthed Rahman, and has collaborated with ARR for every film he has made over the past two decades. ARR’s sounds and music have been as vast, ambiguous and serene as the sounds of waves that crush against rocks and sweep through sandy beaches. Combined with the fact that this movie represents a fisherman’s relationship with the sea off the coasts of Rameshwaram, where Mani had briefly portrayed the situation there with refugees from Sri Lanka in his 2002 classic Kannathil Muthamittal (also composed by Rahman), expectations for Kadal runs high for people like me (read: people who literally melt at Rahman’s creation and have grown up with it).

Nenjukulle- Sakthishree Gopalan

Of course, this song had been heard numerous times ever since Sakthisree crooned it with amazingly honest emotions in a MTV Unplugged clip under the watchful eyes of Rahman- a video that was released over a month ago. While the live version was bare with its emotions with limited orchestration, the studio version polishes with soft touches of the piano and violins that accompany the song throughout. I often run comparisons for Rahman’s compositions with his past numbers, but Nenjukulle seems to somehow stand out on its own compared to all his previous composition- thanks in a large part to the fact that very few movies have actually documented the lives of those in Rameshwaram, where the language flavour has an added Eelam influence to it. Nenjukulle is full of soul, and Sakthishree gets every stanza and every word right in expressing a village woman’s romantic feelings. This is as beautiful as a romantic song gets, something that you can listen to time and again if you are watching the rain and just feel like indulging in your thoughts. Soon enough, you’ll realise that you can’t quite get the tune or Sakthisree’s infectious voice off your head. Too bad there isn’t a male version to this one.

Chithirai Nela- Vijay Yesudas

There’s an unwritten rule for Indian albums, regardless of language, that the best songs often have to be the romantic ones, because of their potential to be infectious and melodious- probably a composer’s boon. But AR Rahman is probably one of the first ones to have redefined this rule- beauty in his composition is all encompassing- you can find it even in a song preaching about patriotism, or a quirky meaningless number. Chithirai Nela celebrates the birth of a baby, and by the end of the number, you will probably feel that the baby sobs had grown into a confident man- because the number improvises itself and surprises you with every stanza. Vijay Yesudas handles this transition just like an expert can- it takes two legends to tango- and this song demonstrates just that. This song will be underrated for some time, but some time in the future, it will go in the annals of Tamil music as one of the most genuine, genius compositions to have graced this music scene. If I were to find a word to describe this- then it’s simply majestic.

Adiye- Sid Sriram

This song says ‘adiye enge nee kutti porre?’ (where art thou bringing me). That’s probably the same question we can ask ARR as this number goes on. You will never, ever find a more unconventional romantic song in Tamil, because it has such such strong Gospel singing influences! But that doesn’t mean it makes for an awkward number- this works like a charm if you have an ear for beautiful music. This is as full of soul as anything ARR has ever come up with it- and mark my words- only AR Rahman can do something like this. Sid Sriram deserves special mention for doing such an impeccable job behind the mic, and the chrorus no less sensational themselves. It’s as though you are sitting in the middle of a Western concert- only with an eccentric and original Indian touch to it. If you listen to it often enough, maybe you’ll find it difficult to stop yourself from clapping along when the chorus comes.

Anbin Vasale- Haricharan

The church plays a big role in the plot of Kadal, and nothing gives that fact away more than this song- which is a true celebration of Jesus Christ. In the past, we have seen ARR compose beautifully for Islamic spiritual songs- (Khwaja Mere Khwaja, Kyun Faaya Kun), and also Hindu ones (Pal Pal Har Bhari)- and this song probably makes that CV of Rahman’s so complete. Christians probably now have an ARR composition that helps them keep in touch with their spirituality. ARR very rarely gets his choice of singers wrong, and Haricharan handles this song with a touch of finnesse- while the chorus compliments him perfectly. It might take some time to get hooked to this- but for those who have enjoyed church singing in the past- they will celebrate this one peach of a beauty.

Magudi Magudi- Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam

It is quite ironic that I am listening to this number one day after I heard Dinesh Kanagaratnam perform at a concert here in Malaysia, in which he was introduced as the guy who sang a song for ARR in Kadal. That was probably the endorsement any singer needs on his CV- that he or she has sang for ARR. Magudi will surprise you if you were in a melancholic and soulful mood thanks to all the previous numbers in this album- because this is a hardcore techno number, one that infuses energy and makes you tap your feet. ARR’s innovativeness even for a techno song shows as the sound arrangements makes sure the tempo is maintained throughout. But the only downside for this song would probably be the fact that it doesn’t have much going for it in terms of lyrics and the word Magudi was repeated a tad far too often.

Moongil Thoottam- Abhay Jodhpurkar, Harini

A throwback almost to the Rahman of the 90s. He uses minimal instruments and allows Abhay and Harini to strike a crooning chemistry is rendering this slow-paced melody duet. It’s the first real number in the album that is a duet (and the only one actually)- and it turns to be a textbook ARR melody with the minimal usage of electronic instruments. In many ways, it resembles songs like Dil Gira Gaaftan and Tum Ho. The suckers for such slow romance would love it, and expect this song’s significance to be heightened with its visuals during the movie.

Elay Keechan- AR Rahman

Save the best for the last, shall we? Once you hear AR Rahman’s ‘Aye’ in the background, you just know you are going to croon to this for a long, long time to come. Again, this is something that only ARR can do. This is a song about fishermen and their lives, but its just so catchy that the fishermen would probably be celebrating this song for a long time. AR Rahman sings the way only he can do- and the song in some ways reminds you of Veera from Raavanan, only that the more subtle touches in the composition and ARR’s voice makes sure than this is both catchy but also breezy at the same time. And expect Mani Ratnam to do full justice to this special number. This will the life and soul of ‘Kadal’ and will run through as the thematic number for the whole number. The Eelam touches in the song also brings resonance of the Senore song from Kannathil Muthamittal, which was one of the most underrated numbers in the past decade.

All in all, just say ‘ithu pothume’ and listen. Because it’s not everyday that you get AR Rahman coming up with a authentic, heavily southern flavoured album. And when there’s Maniratnam involved, expect pure magic.

Rating: 8.5/10