Statutory warning : Admiration for Mani Ratnam is injurious to watching Kadal
That in a nutshell is the problem with Kadal (which means sea), the latest offering from Madras Talkies. You go expecting the sky from the brilliant maker of Roja, Nayagan, Thalapathi, Bombay, Kannathil Muthamittal, Alaipayuthey, Iruvar and Anjali. Instead, you are at sea for the most part of Kadal. Both literally and metaphorically.
Mani Ratnam has always been fascinated by the grey in his films. In Kadal (Kadali in Telugu) however, he dwells more on the extremes - the black and the white, both of which fail to convince, as a result of which the canvas lacks depth and more importantly, conviction. The end, when it comes, leaves you feeling emotionally disconnected.
Kadal is the story of the good versus evil, represented by actors Arvind Swamy and Arjun. Intertwined in that clash is the love story of Thomas and Beatrice, with the sea - sometimes as serene backwaters, beautiful and peaceful, sometimes violent - as the backdrop.
Set in a Christian fishing village in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, Mani explores the Thomas' journey from tender innocence to heartless brutality, learning lessons of survival in a harsh world, how a good influence shapes him and how easily he gets drawn towards Satan.
The first 45 minutes of the film are brilliant, they raise hopes of Mani being in Kannathil Muthamittal like form. That is the most poignant part of the movie when the child who plays the young Thomas emotes like a gem and tugs at your heartstrings.
Mani, the master storyteller that he is, uses the empty gaze of the child to convey pathos like only he can. The child hugging his mother, without realizing she is dead and then his confused anguish on seeing her being crudely buried in the sand, is Mani Ratnam in top form.
Unfortunately for the movie however, Mani moves on. The loss of the mother is just to justify the sense of insecurity within the male protagonist and `Kadal' then goes into Christian territory, exploring the tussle between the good and the evil for the hero's soul.
Kadal marks the return of Arvind Swamy of Roja and Bombay fame to celluloid. Mani makes him shoulder the movie in the first half but the character lacks the necessary power to light up the big screen. Arjun too fails to live up to the black he is meant to be.
The romance is delayed and it is only in the second half that Gautam Karthik (Karthik's son) and Thulasi Nair (Radha's daughter) get to share some screen space together. Incidentally, both Karthik and Radha were launched as a Hindu boy-Christian girl romantic pair in the 1981 Tamil film Alaigal Oivathillai set in coastal Tamil Nadu.
AR Rahman's music sparkles, just like it did twenty one years ago for his first venture Roja with Mani Ratnam. Elay Keechaan sung by Rahman himself and Moongil Thottam are among them but the picturisation of Nenjukkule - the superhit song in the album - does not take it to another level, the manner in which Mani's films usually do. Otherwise, Rajiv Menon is the hero of the film, brilliant behind the camera.
Kadal comes after a gap of three years after Mani's last film Raavanan.
It is not the best offering from Madras Talkies and my concern is how the multiplex crowd in the cities will react to this very rather flat story set amidst the fishing nets and the Church. If it fails to take off and net too many admirers, Vishwaroopam which will release in Tamil Nadu soon, may end up looking bigger.