Mani Ratnam. The name itself invokes an image of the veteran filmmaker, a generation-defining storyteller whose name alone is synonymous with excellent cinema. It's not often in the southern industries that director/music director/lyricist names make people flock to theatres, but the mystical combination of Mani Ratnam + AR Rahman + Vairamuthu is able to achieve that. He rarely is bound by genres, with a revered filmography and a knack for hard-hitting social dramas like the legendary Iruvar, Thalapathy and Nayakan, to name just a few.
Mani Sir (as he's affectionately called) also has a softer side, with his ability to depict the nuances of everyday romance in films such as Mouna Ragam, Alaipayuthey and, the latest, O Kadhal Kanmani. Starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen, this 2015 film is set around a young, ambitious, commitment-phobic Tamil couple living in Mumbai, as they traverse the trials and tribulations of a live-in relationship. Mani Sir fully intended to address contemporary Indian variations of romance, to be a "reflection of the modern mindset of urban India". While the characters Adi and Tara deal with difficult conversations like of marriage and the stresses of traditional values, there is one even more beautiful element this film has to offer: the parallel romance between Bhavani aunty and Ganapathy uncle, played by Leela Samson and Prakash Raj.
The love story of Adi and Tara is never alone, because we see a blossoming romance juxtaposed with one that has worn its years with pride. Adi and Tara share their home with an elderly couple: Bhavani aunty, a Carnatic singer with Alzheimer's, and Ganapathy uncle, a retired bank manager and the classic neighbourhood grouch. With contrasting personalities and playful banter setting the stage for the dynamic they share, Prakash Raj and Leela Samson weave magic in their representation of a love that stood the test of time, and now faces a new hurdle: old age and illness. This storyline where both couples coexist in the same house is what makes this a story for all ages, with each posing the questions and the answers fitting their individual generational positions. It is here, when they deepen their bond and observe the elderly couple, that Adi and Tara realise that there are few things more meaningful in life than their love for each other.
Now, in tandem with Mani Sir's unique narrative style is the cinematographic excellence that cannot be ignored. P.C. Sreeram stuns the audience with continuous shots in songs like Parandhu Sella Vaa, and the unique stop-motion filming style for the song Mental Manadhil, a tribute to Mumbai as much as it is to the fleeting impulses of young love. No review of OK Kanmani exists without the mention of the flawless score by AR Rahman, a peppy, youthful soundtrack that meshed the world of contemporary, techno beats with classical Carnatic music. Notable musical moments include the mix of dubstep with the Shuddha Dhanyasi ragam Carnatic kriti Bhavamulona, paying homage to Bhavani aunty, something only Rahman sir can pull off with finesse.
It is in well-rounded, wholesome cinema like this that our dwindling faith in modern love is restored. In an age of "sliding into DMs" and "ghosting" people, we think of how Tara bridges two worlds by singing Malargal Kaettaen with Bhavani aunty, and it convinces us that maybe things like love and music don't change with time after all.