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.