MANI RATNAM has undoubtedly matured as a director since his earlier ``Bombay'' and ``Iruvar''. One saw distinct traces of this in his last work, ``Alaipayuthe''.
His latest, ``Kannathil Muththamittal'', (a hauntingly moving line from Bharati's poetry that roughly translates as ``A peck on the cheek?".) confirms that he has even a better grip on the medium. Although the film may not have a flawless script (note, for instance, the way the officer talks to the children when one of them seeks information about her long lost mother), Ratnam has worked hard on characterisation.
Keerthana, as little girl Amudha, virtually carries the movie on her frail shoulders, and full credit for this to Ratnam. Any layman will tell you how difficult it is to handle children, and the few others who mastered this tricky art included Vittorio de Sica and Satyajit Ray. The pinnacle, so to say, of Keerthana's performance is the scene where she meets her biological mother, nine years after she abandoned her: Keerthana does not play to the galleries, rather, she subdues her raging emotions in a way that is splendidly convincing even for a diehard critic.
Unfortunately, Nandita Das as the mother -- whose nuances and emotions are wonderful at the beginning of the movie (at her marriage, for example, when one sees traces of sheer excellence) -- seems flat and uninspiring in this crucial shot that could have been dramatic without appearing exaggerated and convoluted. One expected to see much more pain on her face when she meets her little girl after years.
Simran as the mother who raises Keerthana is surprisingly good, indicating that it needs a dedicated director to draw the best out of an artiste. To me, the weakest link in the entire film is Madhavan, who has really not been able to slip out of the mask he wore in ``Alaipayuthe''. Ratnam must think of newer actorsRatnam himself deserves much praise for the remarkable way he has helmed ``Kannathil Muththamittal''. Yet, there are sequences which are rank amateurish. It was appalling to see the way he handles the events where Madhavan and his family are caught in the crossfire between Sri Lankan soldiers and rebels. Even the scene where Madhavan and his friend are trapped by militants is awfully disappointing.
What is more, Ratnam must not yield to the temptation of breaking his narrative with meaningless songs and unrealistic picture postcard settings. These look, at best, like some glossy advertisements that rob the very soul of the film.
Which is, otherwise, powerful dealing with a pressing issue like adoption. The dilemma which probably confronts every parent who has adopted a child has been picturised with feeling, and the movie examines the completely different ways Keerthana looks at her father (Madhavan) and her mother (Simran).
The story unfolds against the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis: Das abandons her new baby in an Indian Red Cross camp to fight a war in her country. The little girl (Keerthana) grows up blissfully till Madhavan and Simran decide to tell her the truth on her ninth birthday. An adamant Keerthana forces her parents to travel to Sri Lanka in search of a mother she has never seen, and whose kisses she longs for.
``Kannathil Muththamittal'' is now running in several Chennai theatres, and is certainly a must for those who still believe in meaningful cinema.
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