Dilani Rabindran



An appreciative column on Mani Ratnam's OK Kanmani by Dilani Rabindran


Oh Kadhal Kanmani is Mani Ratnam’s return to masterpieces. Thanks to a combination of his singular directing style, PC Sreeram’s brilliant camera work, A.R. Rahman’s most infectious album of late and genuinely natural performances from all of the lead actors – Tamil cinema has received a truly refined film that I suspect will endure the test of time. 
As per usual, Ratnam has not shied away from topics not usually discussed in detail within South Indian cinema. Some may say he has pushed the envelope to unrealistic areas with the film’s acceptance of live-in-relationships; I beg to differ and say that it’s more like Ratnam has picked up the envelope and placed it, very beautifully decorated, in 2015, where the concept is no longer as foreign as it was before, amongst South Asian couples, but, simply is still not majorly discussed. Others may say that in the end the film was a light-hearted story without much weight, but I strongly disagree. In this generally happy-go-lucky romance lies extremely heavy messages – about sacrifice, equality, companionship and what true love really looks like, after the credits roll. 
We youthful fans got what we were hoping for – all the elements of a young, urban Mani Ratnam romance were met through the story of Tara and Aadhi. The coveted Ratnam signatures were all present – like romancing on public transport, smart aleck to-and-fro dialogues and stolen kisses amidst lovers, and deliciously melodramatic scenes where one character frantically searches for another and/or storms out on the other in passionate anger, only to lead to the most lovable of patch-up scenes. We got our healthy dose of young, crazy love through OKK’s main protagonists. But I have a feeling that when people recall this film for years to come, they will equally, if not exceedingly, recall Bhavani Aunty and Ganapathy Uncle, more so than Tara and Aadhi. 
Mani sir’s movies have constantly included some adorable older couples, serving as both comedic relief and the voices of reason. Whether it was Gigi’s aunt and uncle in Aayutha Ezhuthu or Karthik and Shalini’s landlords in Alaipayuthey – Ratnam has a way of writing those cool older adults who only add to the youthfulness of his urban romances. But he has truly hit it out of the park with Ganapathy and Bhavani, a full-blown second hero and heroine who almost steal the whole spotlight. 
Out of this secondary couple Ratnam created a film that, despite its bold focus on pre-marital relations, would likely appeal to even the most conservative of older audiences. Priceless scenes like the telling of their own love story, or how Ganapathy, portrayed most endearingly by the virtuoso Prakash Raj, cares for a luminous Bhavani (Leela Samson) built one of the most beautiful on-screen love stories Indian cinema has seen in years – a couple who are as sweet, after decades of marriage, as a fresh pair of flirtatious 20-something-year-olds would be. And, in addition to serving as a selling point for more mature audiences, it can be deduced that Ganapathy and Bhavani are meant to serve as Ratnam’s messengers for his own commentary on the sanctity of marriage. 
Aadhi: “How do you do it, uncle? I could never be like you.”
Ganapathy: “The way she calls ‘Ganapathy’ in the morning makes it worth it.”
Aadhi starts out the film determined to remain unmarried. He is not necessarily opposed to relationships, but just to the fact that people expect that a serious relationship must head down the aisle. But with such an uncle and aunty as his closest observation at marriage while he falls in love, the hero slowly learns through them what it means to be a husband, and to have a partner for life. Although Ganapathy is opposed to Aadhi and Tara’s proposition at first, Ratnam writes a character who ultimately goes against the grain and does not force the institution of marriage nor his dedication to it on them as an ultimatum. But, without realizing it, this customary ‘advisory uncle’ of a Madras Talkies film ends up convincing Ratnam’s most bold and progressive lead hero yet through his actions instead of his words – through the care he provides his own ailing wife. It’s this subtle manner in which I suspect the thoughtful genius, Mani Ratnam, has given us his opinion on the whole matter. 
The film’s symbolic and literal parallels between both sets of couples are what makes this film one for all ages, and possibly all relationship statuses. The way Ganapathy frantically searches for Bhavani at times, and Tara becomes a mess looking for a missing Aadhi; or the beautifully shot scenes of each couple in sequence – from room to room, embrace to embrace – convince me that OKK was never meant to be about young lovers alone. Mani Ratnam has used Aadhi and Tara to build a film questioning the overall institution of marriage in the 21st century and the belief today’s defiant generation has on it; and I believe he then graced the screen with Ganapathy and Bhavani to voice his own opinion that marriage is far more than a legal certificate. 
OKK is an instant classic in my books, and that’s not just a Ratnam fan girl speaking. Its timelessness comes from its eternal characters and equal representations of cross-generational views on a topic as old as time itself: love.  OKK is about the love people make vows about – in richness and in poor, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse – and those who happily honor them and their ‘kanmanis’ in the face of all obstacles, for as long as they both shall live. 
OKK is an instant classic because Ratnam has returned to glorious form and given us a brand new dream girl and boy to pine for – as well as a new dream man and woman to strive to be like. 
And, to our dear female readers out there: you may have gone into the theatre assuming you’re a ‘Tara’ after the love & affection of an ‘Aadhi’, like myself; but I think we’d all be far more fortunate to have a ‘Ganapathy Uncle’ to our ‘Bhavani Aunty’ instead.

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