Five Years Of O Kaadhal Kanmani: How This Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menen-Starrer Gave Us Back The Mani Ratnam We Love

O Kadhal Kanmani (April 17, 2015) ended the legendary Mani Ratnam’s 15-year-long dry spell in Kollywood. The filmmaker had touched new lows, at least on the box office front, with back-to-back creations Raavanan and Kadal. While Raavanan was essentially a slice from the classic RamayanamKadal was a mutation that went wrong — an evolutionary confusion;  a new species that did not know how and why it got created in the first place. And it was then, much to our relief, that O Kaadhal  Kanmani (or OK Kanmani, as it was more popularly referred to) sprouted from primordial Mani Ratnam material.

What is the most-used thing in a Mani Ratnam film? A mirror. Followed by the train. In the very first scene of OK Kanmani, we see a train chugging into Mumbai CST; hero Aditya (a refreshingly urban Dulquer Salmaan) arrives; right then, through the gaps in the coaches of moving trains, he notices the heroine Tara (a bubbly Nithya Menen) almost on the verge of jumping in front of an oncoming train — she’s just had a spat with her boyfriend about marriage. Their eyes meet through the gaps. Cinematographer PC Sreeram joined hands with Mani after a gap of 15 years and this beautifully shot scene directly places us inside the Mani Ratnam kingdom. 

Mani Ratnam introduced us to cryptologists in Roja, and in OK Kanmani, he has a video game-developer as hero. If Karthik (Alaipayuthey) could be a software engineer in the dotcom times of 2000, Adi should be a video game developer in 2015. Simple linear career progression. But it works. And what is the game that he develops? Mumbai 2.0. (Mani 2.0?) Desi game, for desi kids. And the game too starts in a Mumbai local train. By then, OK Kanmani is already an overdose of the familiar Mani Ratnam delicacies. But that is what we had been craving for. Soon, just like in Alaipayuthey, the hero-heroine meeting takes place in a wedding. Within moments, they talk about their idea of love, marriage, family and life  —  in a few short sentences.  

The first ‘Mani Ratnam Film’ was Mouna Raagam. Released in 1986, it held a mirror to a love that was not to be, and a ‘forced’ arranged marriage. Mouna Raagam was a huge hit, and, in fact, gave us ‘Mani Ratnam’. After successfully exploring a variety of subjects such as the underworld, kids’ drama, and the biopic genre, the filmmaker got back to his ‘nice people being nice to each other’ mould with Alaipayuthey. The film showed that even love marriages can get close to failing if love and care go missing. 

Five Years Of O Kaadhal Kanmani: How This Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menen-Starrer Gave Us Back The Mani Ratnam We Loved

After 15 years of trying different genres, Mani Ratnam struck back with OK Kanmani. This time too, love won. But adapting the film to the times, rather than exploring ‘love’ and how it should be made to work in the tradition of wedlock, Kanmani found a sweet spot in ‘live-in’ relationships. This was not something new to Tamil cinema. The concept was embedded in Apoorva Raagangal (1975). Stretching it too far? Think of Karthik Subburaj’s debut Pizza (2012), then. However, with the magical touch of Mani Ratnam, the idea of a live-in relationship got fancier and more mainstream. 

OK Kanmani is replete with the usual seemingly quirky dialogues and beautiful ‘romance scenes’ that have been the director’s forte. Just watch the trailer of the film, and you will get a hint of what I am talking about. Even later, just after they make love for the first time, Nithya’s character  asks: Enna pudichirukka..?..illa indha kasa-musa thaana? He says: Kasa-musa pudichiruku.. atha thaandi unnayum konjam. Just konjam! Onnu-aaru rooba pudichirukku…   

The contour of the screenplay too is set up wisely. Firstly, the basic concept of ‘live-in’ is explained (to Vasudevan, played by Prakash Raj, representing the old generation), then a character belonging to the middle age-generation (Saroja, sister-in-law of the hero) opposes the concept, then we have Gen-Z (Tara and her friend) discuss the dos-and-don’ts of a live-in relationship and the final part of the screenplay  resolves the complex intersection of love-wedding-individuality without turning preachy. 

The film was loaded with the filmmaker’s trademark elements of strong female characters, beautiful romance, tasteful visuals, wonderful music, two-word dialogues, mirrors, trains and rain, songs that carry the story, dry wit and, above all, a ‘socially acceptable’ ending. That’s how OK Kanmani gave us back the Mani Ratnam film we had been longing for since 2000. It was like viewing a remastered version of one’s college slam book or old photo album. 

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