A wonderful movie with solid performances that tug at your heart strings

Date: Nov 1, 2018

We often underestimate the power of nostalgia. A seemingly tiny, insignificant detail can trigger a beautiful, yet ephemeral composition of disjointed memories. I usually experience them with a motley of emotions - nostalgia for the times that have passed, a sadness for the people who drifted apart, smiling at my own naivete and gratitude for all the wonderful moments. '96 managed to bring back a lot of memories that were safely locked away.

I had heard a lot of positive things about the movie. But then again, I didn't place a lot of value on them. I wanted to judge the movie for myself. And I absolutely loved it! K. Ramachandran (portrayed by the brilliant Vijay Sethupathi) is introduced as a lone wolf. A solo travel photographer. The character introduction through the song "The Life of Ram" was done so beautifully. From Scuba diving to Kolkata's Kalighat Kali, the picturesque shots leave you wanting for more:

I spent 4 years of my life in Trichy. During that time, I did visit Thanjavur quite a few times. When Ram was pointing out different places in Thanjavur, I couldn't help but smile and recollect my student days. It spawned multiple threads, each reliving a fond memory. One of those threads somehow connected my recollections to a conversation between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell's classic, Gone With The Wind.

"I like these days better," she said. But she did not meet his eyes as she spoke. "There's always something exciting happening now, parties and so on. Everything's got a glitter to it. The old days were so dull." (Oh, lazy days and warm still country twilights! The high soft laughter from the quarters! The golden warmth life had then and the comforting knowledge of what all tomorrows would bring! How can I deny you?)

"I like these days better," she said but her voice was tremulous.

He slipped from the table, laughing softly in unbelief. Putting his hand under her chin, he turned her face up to his. "Ah, Scarlett, what a poor liar you are! Yes, life has a glitter now--of sort. That's what's wrong with it. The old days had no glitter but they had a charm, a beauty, a slow-paced glamour"

I think that's the closest I'll come to capturing my social life in NIT Trichy vs my current social life. I did have brief periods of bliss, moments that took my breath away. But it never lasted long enough to be deemed charming and beautiful with a slow-paced glamour. Ramblings aside, my point is the movie made me retrospective. The Director C. Prem Kumar has done a brilliant job. He keeps it light and subtle. There were so many scenes where I would've expected a run-of-the-mill director to veer into melodrama, but not Prem Kumar. He keep things realistic. I loved that aspect of the film. It doesn't suffocate you with overpowering background scores and corny dialogues that tell you how to emote. Instead, it lets you step inside the shoes of the character and experience it yourself.

Trisha as S. Janaki Devi is just terrific throughout the film. Even at the peak of her fame (circa 2008ish?) I never found her attractive. But was blown away by her grace and elegance in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. She managed to impress me once more in this film. While Ram still looks like the salt-of-the-earth, grounded individual, Trisha looks every bit the levi's clad, upper class girl living in Singapore. I literally laughed out loud in the theatre when she asks Ram - "Are you a virgin? Kanni paiyana da nee". It's just adorable when Ram says "romba puppy shame ah iruku, topic divert pannalam."

The second half felt a bit slow, but I actually didn't mind. All the actors were terrific - a special mention to the child actors in the movie. They took me right back to my high school days. I loved the what could've been scenario between Ram and Janu. Anyone who's ever experienced unrequited love would know what I'm talking about. The imaginary sequence was a bit too close to home. When Ram asks if Janaki is happy (சந்தோஷமா இருக்கியா?), and she replies that she’s… at peace (நிம்மதியா இருக்கேன்). It’s not the answer to his question. Yet it answered everything.

I'm a sucker for antique items. I loved the decorative items in Ram's house. The old prints of Lord Ram, museum like statues and paintings, the Aristocrat suitcase filled with nostalgic memorabilia, it was all perfect. I didn't put a lot of thought into what my future house would like. But I could see myself owning such items. When the film ends with Ram placing Janaki's clothes in his memorabilia suitcase, I was happy. The climax was open-ended. But whatever it'd be, I think they'd both be fine. If the multiverse theory is true, I'd like to believe that their story had the what could've been happy ending that Jaanu concocted. Alas, in their reality, all they can cherish are the disjointed memories that remain frozen in time, just like a photograph.

When Janaki tells Ram that he should find a girl and get married, he casually remarks and ends the conversation with "S Janaki Devi mathiri oru ponna love pannitu innoru ponna love panna mudiyathu", I knew exactly what he meant. I couldn't help but smile in sadness at the innocent, naive ideals of love. It sounds great on paper. But life does move on and time heals all wounds. If not, time atleast numbs the pain. Fortunately for me, I'm not K. Ramachandran. It took me a while, but I did manage to bounce back with only a few scars. But for all the other K. Ramachandrans in the world, I truly feel sorry. If by some accident, one such K. Ramachandran is reading this post, just hang in there. Know that I can truly empathize with your suffering and heartache. Reach out to me if you need someone to talk to.

It'd be remiss of me not to comment on the soul-stirring music in this film. Govind Menon's violin just transports me to another world. I haven't heard such fresh, wonderful music and lyrics in Tamil Cinema in a very long time. I hope we get to hear more albums like this.

P.S: I wanted to talk about the scene where the power goes off and Ram frantically searched for a flashlight when Janu starts singing Yamunai Aatrile (யமுனை ஆற்றிலே). But this post on Facebook did a way better job than I could. Unfortunately, I do not know who posted it originally, but the content deserves to be saved here:

In a scene in the movie, Ram goes to his room to take an emergency light when the power goes off. Suddenly, he hears Jaanu sing from the other room, the one song he had been yearning to hear for 22 years. He’s stunned, euphoric and perplexed. Bewildered, he takes few paces towards Jaanu, but swiftly stops and frantically runs to his room to hunt for the light. Madly searching with no care of himself or his surroundings, he dashes back to Jaanu after he finds it, only to reach her just as she finished singing.

Even when he’s choked with emotions and urges, Ram fights and hides his own selfish desires for happiness, to see his love singing that song, so that he could bring light to Jaanu’s life as soon as possible. That’s exactly what the whole movie is about.

As exceptionally well interwoven episodes from the life of Ram and Jaanu, this movie is a gem. Reminding me, with each passing shot, of how much I could see myself in Ram, it set my heart sprinting, as fast as it did for Ram whenever Jaanu came closer to him. Nostalgia, reality-checks, school life, blue-white uniforms, lost love, Ram’s memory suitcase and the concept of pure selfless unadulterated love and longing for years, etched this beautifully created poetry firmly into my heart.

Vijay Sethupathi is a charm, blowing me away with his Ram. Love, confusion, innocence, embarrassment, sadness; everything was lit up in him at the same time. So were Trisha, the 2 child lead actors and entire support cast. I’ve been a fan of Govind Menon’s violin tunes for long, but I couldn’t even figure out that the movie had songs. They were so beautifully blended to the narrative, that it felt as if each of those melodious verses were the hearts of Ram and Jaanu singing when they emoted. Such perfection.

It made me feel like a schoolboy again, who’d happily scream his name like Ram did when he saw his name in the school honours board, who’d look elsewhere foolishly when she glances back or who’d happily sit with the security to crack badam with stones. It’ll be a miss if you can’t watch this movie in a theatre, with the picture quality and sound effects not limiting any kind of the feast the director has prepared.

The following (translated to English, though much more beautiful in Tamil) from a song that fills the air when Jaanu & Ram are in the metro, drafts out the entire movie in an octave:

“Am I the fire that’s getting wet?
Are you the showering moon?
Will I get extinguished?
Or is it the rendering of a tune?
Is this love just dreams?
Is this the unending journey, is it not enough?
Is time the only question?
Enough…my heart is melting and is dissolving as I come near you.”

I found yet another beautiful review/comment about the movie written in Tamil. Unfortunately, that comment and the video have been deleted on YouTube. Nevertheless, let me post it here:

கரடு முரடான பாதைகள், இருந்தும் குருடான உறவுகள்..
பணத்தை தேடி சிலகாலம், வெற்றியை துரத்தி பலகோலம்.. கொண்ட பயனம் நீண்டது, தலை நிரை உதித்தது, நீங்கா நினைவுகள் பதிந்தது, மனம் கனம் சேர்ந்தது...
இன்னல்கள் கண்டிட, வலிகள் சுட்டிட, இதயம் மறுத்திட, காலம் மருந்திட, வாழ்க்கை தொடர்ந்தது...
ஓய்வு சற்று கிடைக்க, சோர்வு கொஞ்சம் கழிக்க, சாய்ந்து பார்த்த பட கதை, மனம் நெகிழ்ந்து போனது முடியும் வரை...
வசந்த கால நினைவுகள், புரட்டி போட தொடங்கின, சுகத்தை மட்டும் வைத்துகொள்கிரேன், இன்னும் கனம் சேர்க்க வழுயில்லை...