Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Nayanthara
Director: Vignesh Shivan
Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal is a film by Vignesh Shivan. It's been a long time since I saw a film releasing in the folktale format, so far removed from the toxic macho, slasher, killer movies that have dominated the scene in the recent past. This film is also different from the usual melodramatic genre that our films are scripted within. These melodramatic films, in turn, lean into mythology for locating the good versus bad, heroes versus villains, values within which our morality is located — moral and immoral. Folk tales, on the other hand, are quite amoral in the way they deal with day-to-day conflicts. That is largely because in these scripts, this form has a narrator in the film narrating the conflict points to the audience inside the story, the film, and outside of the theater.
I must admit that Vignesh Shivan has done some remarkable job here with a lot of confidence and some style too. I was reminded of some of the films made by Ketan Mehta earlier called Bhavni Bhavai (1980) and Mirch Masala (1987), shot in this kind of a style. So, just imagine telling a familiar tale about our gods and their bigamous ways of existence. For example, we have Vishnu with two wives, Sridevi and Bhudevi. Krishna with two wives, Rukmani and Satyabhama. Muruga has Valli and Devayani and in the north of India Ganesha has Siddhi and Buddhi. But what we see in KRK is the presentation of this status as a pure idea and what happens if the primary protagonist Rambo played by Vijay Sethupathi is faced with an existential predicament of having to manage two wonderful goddesses: Kanmani played by Nayanthara and Khatija played by Samantha.
From a very contemporary realistic perspective, such a concept by itself is perverse and illegal in a nation which is sworn to monogamic relationship. But what Vignesh does is to transform the story into a folktale genre where one of the important narratives played by Lollu Sabha Maran keeps addressing the audience and to us outside in the theater and tells us about the ups and downs of the story. In this process, the script manages to distance us from asking so-called logical questions. Like how does a man spend the whole daytime with one woman and an entire night with another woman? Does he not need to sleep, get ready, do his daily routines? How do those family members stay as themselves just observing the journey of these three protagonists for 30 years? It allows dance master Kala to orchestrate a bunch of unmarried men to emotionally join the larger woes and confusions of an unmarried Rambo.
Then there is a mother character hanging between life and death for thirty years. One can ask how, why, what, but we don't ask these questions, because we, like the audience, have been co-opted into the guessing game, quite like the way we witness reality shows like Indian idol or Kaun Banega Crorepati, or the ways our grandmas have told us cock and bull stories or what we call as Kaka Kurvi kadha, the stories of crows and sparrows. If you watch closer, you can clearly see the dialogues have been very carefully crafted with catchy rhymes and phrases. What caught my attention particularly was the way both Nayanthara and Samantha address Sethupathi as Nee while Vijay Sethupathi keeps addressing them as Neenga, a very clever sense of agency for these women. The actors have certainly work-shopped and crafted their individual scenes with a lot of care and attention. I was particularly impressed by cinematographers SR Kathir and Vijay Karthik Kannan in the way they risk taking a few of these scenes in single takes.
A memorable scene is a single take sequence between Samantha and Sethupathi on a Metro rail bridge, an amazing shot, such scenes truly brought out the best of the characters via the acting abilities of both Nayanthara and Samantha, accompanied by an extremely well etched performance by Vijay Sethupathi. Anirudh, as usual, does not follow a systematic style of musical composing, but responds to every scene in extremely intuitive and spontaneous ways. Nothing remarkable, barring of course, the 'Two Two Two' song, which has been rocking the viral world for the past several months. But songs like this actually make me wonder whether our distributors and audiences are still in the 60s and 70s expecting a Koothu item number, especially towards the end of the film, only then it seems to qualify for a C center screening. I think by all the changes that we have seen, with multiplexes coming up, the C center has gone. Haven't we seen enough Indian films having done away with it?
This brings me to the real point, does this kind of story need two hours and forty minutes to narrate a beautiful folk tale like this? I remember the famous saying by Alfred Hitchcock, "The enjoyment of a film is directly connected with the pressure on one's bladder". I'm sure that if Vignesh and editor Sreekar Prasad sit together, they can easily knock off 20 minutes from this film and get for themselves a good international presence. For example, there is a magnificent point in the film where Rambo sits in pouring rain in the middle of a road at night, eating ice cream. That would be a great point for an intermission. Honestly, there is enormous potential in this very kind of folktale narration, which can actually reach a very wide audience and get a lot more acclaim if it is trimmed and presented in a way that viewers across the world can actually connect with a very Indian ethos.