The director-writer duo of Uyare — Manu Ashokan and Bobby–Sanjay — are back with their second film but with Kaanekkaane, we realise quickly that we're dealing with a more complex film, not just in terms of premise but also the way it is presented. To start with, this is one of those films that have spoilers from the first scene and you'll be shocked at how different the film is from what trailer gave away. Without revealing much, it's the dynamics of the film's 'modern' family that makes it extraordinary rather than the plot itself. We hear Sneha (Aishwarya Lakshmi) calling Paul (Suraj Venjaramoodu) 'Pappa' the first time we meet them but her calling him this acquires new meaning as we go along. Even Paul's first dialogue, where he asks a shopkeeper for a bar of chocolate and a pack of candles, reveals more than we think about his state of mind. With a mind that's unable to overcome grief, he is dealing with the realisation that he's losing the only person he has left. Although he's unable to move past his own memories, he needs to come to terms with how others have started to forget and move on, something he perhaps will never be able to.
It is this aspect of a person's memories, both Paul's and Allen's (Tovino Thomas), that the writers have used to give us a layered screenplay that keeps going back and forth in time. These touches are brilliant, and given the subtleties, it's not easy to differentiate between past and present. It requires one's complete attention but you're able to see an extra layer unfurl in the way even these characters go back to these memories. In Paul's case, these scenes from the past represent a beautiful time, a piece of normalcy and happiness that he will never get back (these scenes get us to look at Allen differently though). But when we see Allen's memories play out, we're pushed into a darker space full of regret and what-ifs. Even the film's initial portions prove to be deceptive in hindsight. Even in the picture of a perfect, happy family, we learn that there are cracks widening because its very foundation is built on a secret and lies. In a film that's already dealing with a lot, we get small touches like Allen's messy clothes and an addiction that opens up whole new worlds into his psyche.
Unlike Sneha who seems to have dealt with her issues better, Allen's mind has remained closed to everyone. What this lack of communication has done is slowly rot his insides to the point where he's unable to function both in the marriage, and at work. Yet what's fascinating about Kaanekkaane is how it leads us into the minds of such characters and leaves us there to figure it out for ourselves without explanatory dialogues about their feelings. This gives us the space to place ourselves in their shoes and never see situations in black-and-white. Which means that even though a lot of the film is seen through Paul's eyes, we do not once think of Allen as a terrible person with a missing moral compass. And when the film gets us eerily close to a similar event a second time, we too subconsciously realise that we're not too different from Allen on a bad day.
This is an aspect of Kaanekkaane that really gets us to invest in these characters. Every character is painted with a shade of grey and they are never judged for their actions. It gets us to see them as people reacting to situations no one wants to be in. So when the film's two male characters finally break down, you feel as though they are crying for the first time since their separate tragedies. Given that the film itself is also about second chances, it leaves us with enough conflicts in our minds for the film to stay there for a long long time.
A big reason for this is Suraj's performance. In Paul, we see a volcano that's waiting to erupt. Having held back his emotions his entire life (he must have dealt with his wife's passing rather peacefully), we're now seeing a person who is denied even the very little he had expected from it. In a way, the film even gets us to see where Paul would be if he pursues his concept of retribution and justice. And if you ever needed an example of just how well he's figured out his character, see him in the scene where Paul talks to his NRI daughter about his grandson's future. With nothing but his eyes and his voice, we see infinite pain and hopelessness in seconds.
Which is why you feel let down when the film begins to wobble towards the third act. The premise is so powerful that I'm sure the writers had multiple places to take it to. Yet they chose an option that feels…convenient. It's too symmetrical and it functions in such a moralistic space that you feel you're watching a folk tale. The thriller-like treatment dissipates and the film's moral undertones suddenly appear on the forefront, pushing back its subtleties. One more reason why one feels this is the clunky filmmaking in certain portions. This is most evident in scenes where there are others apart from the three extraordinary main actors holding it together. The staging of an important lunch scene feels artificial and flat and this is the case with a lot of them with other actors in the film.
In portions where Suraj gets some of his best moments, you don't understand why certain cuts exclude him, breaking the emotional continuity we're mapping for his character. Some of these issues take away the power from a film that deserved more dexterity in its treatment. But with such a premise, you can never really go terribly wrong.