In OK Kanmani’s second half, there is a scene where the young, carefree, commitment phobic, living-in couple Adiyta Varadarajan (Dulquer Salman) and Tara Kalingarayar (Nithya Menen) bring back their landlord’s wife Mrs Bhavani (Leela Sampson), who suffers from second stage Alzheimer’s and had forgotten her way home.
The landlord, Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) is tending to Bhavani, who’s curious to know what is wrong with her and does not want to hear Ganapathy gloss over her health problems. He finally relents and admits that her Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, after she says “I am losing my memory, not my mind.”
The door to the room in which the middle age couple are having this subtle conversation is slightly ajar, and the younger couple who stay in the same house are witnessing it from the small opening from the hallway. As that conversation progresses, Tara and Adi, who made a pact to just live together until they go their separate ways to pursue their ambitions, move closer to each other while eavesdropping.
At last, Bhavani asks Ganapathy the most packed one-liner question- “will I forget you one day too, Ganapathy?”. At this point, Tara, close to tears, is leaning on Adi’s chest.
That’s Maniratnam- his composition of a shot, his composition of minimalistic dialogues, and his composition of his characters’ body language. More often than not, his characters convey more through body language rather than dialogues.
This is the man who revolutionised Tamil cinema in the late 80s- the man who showed that its possible to make movies with minimalistic dialogues in an industry where lengthy dialogues and over the top drama ruled the roost. This is the man who could shoot songs in a single room by playing around with lighting and plethora of aesthetics. This is the man who perfected even the most simple scenes. Decades later, spanning three decades, Mani Ratnam had never shot a song abroad despite the fervour among many filmmakers to fly their crew to exotic locations for a song and dance sequence. He only broke the rule once to shoot a song in Turkey, that’s because a portion of the story in “Guru” took place in Turkey.
In his 1986 classic Mouna Raagam, Mani Ratnam told the story of a couple in arranged marriage who tries to come to terms with the fact that one of them had been in love with someone else before and could not change their minds just for the sake of marriage. It was an exploration of a changing social landscape. In 2000, Alaipayuthey explored couples who eloped and married without their parents’ consent and how learnt to deal with their issues later on. OK Kamani, in keeping up with the times, he explores live-in relationships and the dilemma many young couples face- the need to sacrifice their careers for the sake of a relationship or otherwise.
Tara, Mani’s effervescent firefly, an absolute beauty who ranks at among the most loveable female characters he had carved out in a glorious career, sums this up when her landlord asks her if she would choose between Adi and her career.
“If you asked me six months ago, I would say Paris for sure. Now, I have become a little too greedy. I want both,” she says.
Can we have both? Do relationships always have to mean compromising goals? As goals grow bigger in today’s world, can an institution like marriage evolve itself to be a supplement rather than a hindrance to youth ambitions?
These are the motifs of this new Mani Ratnam celluloid artwork, accompanied by his trademark appreciation of emotions without ever being judgemental towards the choices his characters make. I would run out of space if the scene highlights of this movie needs to be listed down- frame by frame, this is one of the most beautifully crafted, yet simple, straight-from-the-heart movies you will ever see. And the most important part is that you will see yourself, your wife, your husbands, your boyfriend/girlfriend/ex-partners in at least several scenes.
OK Kanmani epitomises stunning teamwork. Dulquer Salman enters the long list of the overtly charming, middle class, carefree, NRI-ambition laden Tamil youth archetype that Mani often creates in his movies. Compared to his Tamil debut Vaaya Moodi Pesavum, this is a massive upgrade on all levels. Prakash Raj as Ganapathy is endearing, and inspires the narration just as crucially as his appearance in Kannathil Muthamittal (2002) did.
But it is the women who own this film. Nithya Menen soars as Tara. Her eyes speak volumes, his mischief is unparalleled, and her dialogue delivery makes you feel like reaching out your hands and hugging her if Tara had existed in real life. An actress could have not asked for a better character to cement her standing and boost her career.
Leela Samson as Bhavani too has some of the best dialogues in the movie, and owns the scenes in which she is involved. This was one hell of a casting masterstroke by Mani.
PC Sreeram showed once again why he is the brilliant cinematographer that he is. His collaborations with Mani had always produced gems, dating back to the 80s, and the way the two of them set up aesthetics to shoot the best song in the movie, Parandhu Sella Vaa, within the confines of a simplistic lodge room is stamp two legends at their very best. There is also a gorgeous scene in Ahmedabad when Adi, from a high floor, converses with Tara, who sits on the ground floor at the edges of a cascading body of water, shimmering under the sunlight.
He also captures the pigeons of Mumbai with such beauty, in a scene where the huge flock of birds original to the coast metropolitan fly above the gorgeous Tara and Adi rides his Royal Enfield into the frame while she is feeding the birds.
Then, of course, there is AR Rahman’s music. Parandhu Sella Vaa, the recurring Naane Varugiren, and the sumptuous Hey Sinamika are all done justice to the way only Mani Ratnam can do, while the background music is faultless.
Even the voodoo game- Mumbai 2.0, is created with such great perfection that it did not seem like haphazard work.
The dialogues are like a long-list of collectibles that can be used and re-used in romantic situations in your life, and that is an amazing feat for a director who turns 59 this calendar year and had survived two heart attacks resulting from the high pressure environment he creates on the sets of his own movies.
There’s a long list of celebrated filmmakers across the world who make great movies well into their later years- Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood to name just a few.
But Mani Ratnam is not only the director who explores the juxtaposition between right and wrong atop a cranky bridge in a dense forest, as he did in Raavanan (2010)- n0 matter how old he gets, he hasn’t lost that ability to be young again and to be able to understand how the current generation negotiates love and relationships in a social and cultural context.
This understanding from a filmmaker of his age and calibre is astounding. Mani Ratnam did not direct OK Kamani, he packaged it straight from his heart. That’s a rarity very few can emulate.
OK Kanmani was Mani Ratnam’s love letter to the wind. The pleasure is ours that it has been translated scene by scene, and immortalised through a camera for generations to come.
Hence, that’s why Mani Sir is the legend that he is. Hence why he is a trendsetter. Now, anyone cares to call for his retirement again? (I just had to do that).
Rating: 10/10 (C’mon, I can’t give it any lesser).