Sudhish Kamath's Pad On The Net

Kadal: Mani Ratnam at sea as gospel meets masala

Kadal

Kadal is a difficult film to write about especially because a lot of why it doesn’t work lies in spoiler territory.

So do come back to read this only once you’ve seen the film. And yes, that means you must watch it. Even knowing that it is bad. Simply because even a bad Mani Ratnam film is better than most films made.

To begin with, the faulty Prologue should have been done away with at the editing table. It gives away too much information that makes a significant plot twist before interval predictable. We were better off not knowing how exactly Arvind Swamy and Arjun know each other. Because once we know their equation, it’s easy to see a twist coming the minute Arjun returns to the scene. This weakens quite a bit of the first half of Kadal.

The prologue is a weak first scene because Arvind Swamy’s priest comes across as a little too uptight for us to see him as good. He’s like that pest in class who gets you caught for copying. Which is a pity because the character actually blooms into a real person a little later when he enters the village the film is set in. He smiles a lot, he likes people and as tolerant as he is with mischievous urchins, he doesn’t hesitate to slap the kid when needed. And just like that, an uptight stereotype became a real person. Wish we saw more of this human side with his nemesis, who takes character exposition to new heights by taking the name of the Devil in almost every scene he appears. Saataan this, saataan that! Yes, we get it. You don’t have to come in black-and-black to talk about Saataan post interval, we understood who you represent from the very first scene.

It’s not just the simple black and white, good and bad stereotyping that fails Kadal, it’s also the lack of character motivation… What are the these people doing in the film?

An orphan boy who wants his “father” and the whole village at his feet, signs up with the Devil halfway into the film… So far, good. But ten minutes after interval, his “father” is dead and there’s nothing left for the boy to do but wait for the climax to redeem himself. So he bides his time romancing the heroine.  A couple of songs with almost similar visuals – and at least one same reused shot of the couple in a bicycle on the shore in both songs – put the film into a time warp.

Nothing happens. One principal character is away and the other free to do what he wants to.

The priest who has to prove his innocence and win back the trust of the villagers… does it instantly on return! And the Devil of the villain has absolutely nothing challenging him till the climax.

To re-emphasise, as the film does again and again all through the second half, the villain’s graph coasts along gloriously smooth, the boy’s is stuck in a time warp and the other is in exile finds himself suspended from the film and the story.

We have the boy turn all out killer without the slightest hesitation and turn soft again almost instantly every time a romantic song sets in. This is as uni-dimensional as any Tamil masala film, not what you would expect from Mani Ratnam. But it also wants us to learn lessons of forgiveness from the church! Only Mani Ratnam would have thought of making masala meet gospel!

There are some great moments where you can see the class of the master – like the scene during the opening credits when we see the child for the first time, as he discovers that his mother is dead. It’s such a powerful sequence all the way to the burial and you wonder why he didn’t just open the film with this compared to the weak opening at the seminary.

The first half has many such moments – especially the first half hour when the village warms up to the priest who employs a tape recorder to break the ice, the priest’s relationship with the orphan, his attempts to tame the runt all the way to the arrival of his wounded friend from the past! The subplot involving Lakshmi Manchu is quickly forgotten in the second half and the boy’s transformation from bad to good happens with the weakest of Mani Ratnam’s heroines… a girl who behaves like a child (like Priyanka in Barfi, not as over the top). Mani Sir, this is not a new type. Almost, all Tamil film heroines behave like they are 14 year olds with a crush on the hero!

Rahman’s songs are picturised great and the film looks fantastic no doubt but the overdose of the simplistic Biblical good versus evil discourse turns the film predictable. But for the unbelievable unprecedented technical excellence in the picturisation of the climax (Rajiv Menon’s cinematography brings the storm alive), there’s very little the second half offers in terms of good cinema.

The actors are mostly good. Gautham Karthik reminds us of his father and gets a dream debut, the girl is bad but that’s probably because of the ill-etched character she’s been assigned while Arvind Swami gets to make a superb comeback and Arjun gets to be all out bad, even if uni-dimensional. But they have all worked hard on getting the diction right. The technical team gets the milieu somewhat right. Rahman has given us a rather eclectic unusual soundtrack and if the film is let down, it’s only by the weakest material Mani Ratnam has ever been associated with (the screenplay and dialogues are credited to Mani Ratnam and writer Jeyamohan).

For a more superior and authentic film set in this milieu, go watch Neer Paravai (incidentally Jeyamohan wrotes dialogues for this too) which had a lot more to do with the sea than Kadal, where the sea, barring the spectacular climax, is just pretty wallpaper for the rest of the moral science lesson set inside a church!

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10 responses

  1. Ralph

    It is sad to see reviewers don multiple hats when they write ‘reviews’. You should make your intention clear on what do you want to write about. You want to review it ? fine, but stick to the job of reviewing it. If you want to make a film , then go ahead and make it like you did for Good morning / Good night ( or whatever it is called ). Don’t get stuck in the middle.

    When you say “the faulty Prologue should have been done away with at the editing table “, you are now trying to put on the director’s /editor’s hat, which is fine if you were part of the film’s creative team. Unfortunately you are not. What you are effectively doing is ‘ recommending’ or worse ‘advising’ on how the film should have been done in ‘your’ way.

    I fail to see why reviewers do that, what gives you the authority to do so ? I see this happening a lot in India. I have never seen a review of A.O. Scott or Ebert or Pauline Kael make a comment on how a film needs to be edited, even when they don’t agree with the film maker.

    February 2, 2013 at 1:36 am

    • rajan

      I am sorry..I cant understand your point..everyone has their preset notions of what is a good movie and what is bad..and when we see a bad movie we think it should be done better(using our idea of good movie as a benchmark). .Even a normal movie goer does that..I don’t see the reviewer has done anything different

      February 2, 2013 at 8:26 am

  2. Abid Suhail

    Well said. The best of the moments of the film, especially the initial 30 mins, out-rightly belongs to Jeyamohan. Never have we seen in a Maniratnam film, another writer’s voice so profound. And this is the part that resembles those classic Malayalam films belonging to the writers. And then the screenplay starts falling, precisely when it starts becoming Maniratnam’s voice. However, I think there’s a radical shift in the director’s taking and narrative style in Kadal, which is remarkable.

    February 2, 2013 at 2:43 am

    • Vivek

      Yes, the screenplay did loose its grab towards the intermission, but that doesnt mean the intial 30 mins or so shouldnt be credited to Maani Ratnam. Mani Ratnam knows how to handle child actors, its kinda of a trademark, proved time and time again.

      February 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm

  3. Vivek

    Certain points duly noted, like the passage of 4 years to be characterized mostly by love scenes, but your idea for the prologue was really…well…just your thought. Mani ratnam always starts off his films with, there i say it, two prologues; one before the Credits, and one after it…it was very apt for the film.
    The heroine – I was really disspointed too of her potrayal as the cliche supposedly-cute tamil heroine but i feel it was sublty justified later on in the movie.

    The movie did have its own touch of masala, but “masala meeting gospel” was just you trying to be a bad-ass reviewer. If you really wanted to complain, there were many other parts of the film that lacked logic; you could have picked those.

    February 2, 2013 at 1:52 pm

  4. Siddarth

    Maybe Aravind Swamy’s priest is by nature like ‘that pest in class’ ,but in time he realises that you cant preach Christ’s teachings in such a rigid way,that you gotta be tolerant of people’s faults,He ultimately changes himself to be a better priest

    I personally had a problem with the way Thomas’ character switches from good to bad.One minute he wants to get hold of the guy who is responsible for Swamy to land up in jail (Arjun),and when he does find him he immediately becomes bad and talks of wanting the people who insulted him to fall at his feet.That was quite queer and inconsistent

    February 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

  5. I agree with most of your interpretations, but not your verdicts. Such in-your-face symbolism, cliche ridden plot (the hero is introduced through a song, the first shot of the heroine is of her feet and so on), disability used to get our pity in any lesser-renowned director’s movie would have led to it being dismissed contemptuously by reviewers. A movie stands on its own feet, and the verdict for this should have been – not worth the money. And this bad Manirathnam film is not better than “most” other films.. Why this bias in favour of Manrathna,?

    February 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm

  6. Hi Sudhish,

    I’m new to commenting here but always have read a lot on your this blog (Btw, you know me on twitter)

    I have some questions about the movie (songs) and am curious to know if you have answers. Or I want to know if you felt something similar about the same.

    Nenjukkulla.. the song, as we listen to the lyrics, does not sound like it was made for Thomas-Bea pair at all (Vanna maniyaaram.. Valadhu kai kadiyaaram.. Aana puliyellam adakkum adhikaaram)

    What about these words in Magudi? Naan onna nenappen.. Nee enna marappa – what’s shown is montage shots of Thomas’ mother from the past.. But some portions of the lyrics sound more like that of a lover’s words (Naan magudi da.. nee paambu)

    I’m just wondering if Mani Ratnam had really planned the songs just as we see them in the film or he had something else in mind.

    February 4, 2013 at 12:35 am

  7. Pingback: Vishwaroopam, Polarisation and Duality « Cometh The Hour, Kamath The Man

  8. Nithya

    Hi Sudhish – I am really on a rampage today and have already commented on 2 other reviews, but I actually watched the other 2 movies. Iam, however not really sure I will be watching this one. Why not ,you ask? Simply because I am not comfortable with watching a movie where a 15 year old girl is cast as a lead, nay as a romantic lead. Like it or not films influence a lot of minds and maybe she is projected as older in the movie, but its well known that she is 15, if we cannot accept our 15 yr old daughters/ even neighbors kid falling for a guy, same age or older, how can we condone this in our films. Heroines have always been objects of fantasies ( and this is quite alright ), but I would feel quite creeped out if this kid is being fantasied out. Then you may ask, what about Shriya’s and Rajnikanth’s age difference, is that not creepy? Yah, for sure, but she is of legal age and somehow that makes it seem not as bad as this instance.
    I am, certainly not a card carrying member of the moral police, but this just doesn’t feel right to me….

    February 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

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