Preamble: Dear reader, While I AM irritated by @baradwajrangan for various things , including his complete intellectual bankruptcy and his tendency to invent stuff when noone suggests a netter idea (for example, about Kadal) , I do not have anything personally against him and have not written any rantworthy blogposts denouncing him in a juicily melodramatic manner. So kindly refrain from searching my site for “baradwaj rangan ” or similar search terms because you will only find complimentary mentions of the man on my site from my tendency not to spoil my blog with negativity. Thats not who I am.
By now the Box office has probably buried Mani ratnam’s latest excrescence.
This post comes from my mind being unable to reconcile facts with mythology. While the film Kadal is such a glaringly ordinary film that it does not merit people like Maniratnam Rajiv menon and A R Rahman taking credit for it, (its a DUH! when you see the film) , It’s not without potential for Slash/ Alternate interpretations, from someone who understands the sociopolitical history of South India.
Much has been made of the Christian and Catholic side of Kadal, People who delight in finding Dante and Aravindan (one a christian, the other a communist) influences in Kadal are not wrong as much as missing the wood for the trees. To mix metaphors, they are missing the elephant in the room. To further mix metaphors, they are throwing away the baby elephant in the room with the bath water.
They miss something basic about Mani ratnam the filmmaker. His first major tamil venture was Roja- a sociopolitical about the Kashmir situation. His most well known films(and well made ones) : Dil se, Iruvar Kannathil muthamittal , Bombay Nayagan .. have referenced SPECIFIC big socio political trends and personalities that are of immediate relevance to South India…Tamil Nadu. Of the last nine films he has made(including Kadal), ALL of them have had explicit political themes. Mani ratnam, in other words, in the 2000’s (after the LAST MR- Rajiv menon collaboration, Bombay(1995) ) has been an explicitly political filmmaker. His obsession has been to document the political history of Tamil Nadu ,and the biggest players affecting it. The only exception has been his ode to Mr Ambani, the populist -capitalist , in Guru, but even that has been of interest only because of the populist OVERTONES of Ambani’s capitalist, I wonder if MR would have made the film he did if ambani was a self obsessed navel gazing tycoon like one of the Birlas or the Singhanias.
So why is Kadal devoid of even one party flag leave alone reference to local state or national politics? This is the story of a fisherman village and the rise to power of a powerless orphan boy, does it make any sense that there are no references to politcal parties, the police/ prison system, the Liberation tigers of tamil eelam(who were very active in the local area?) Does it make any sense that The villain of the piece, a big muschtacioed mafia don owes more allegiance to the christian devil than to any local political grouping or guerrilla group? Surely, if an overtly political filmmaker like Mani ratnam isn’t Talking about politics in Kadal, it’s by design, rather than accidental!
Remember , we are NOT talking about the merits of the film. it has failed the critic (read review below) and seems to have failed the Audience as well, from the box office reports emerging. In a cinema context that means that the film did not strike a chord of recognition , emotionally, with the common man, and did not give the critic, by the way it was made, any clue as to the large themes, if any, that the director was addressing. This article, therefore is speculation based on the ABSENCE of any artistic or sociopolitical merit in Kadal’s big themes, instead basing speculation on what the film might have been designed to do, so all the standard disclaimers apply. I am not in touch with the filmmakers so have no clue as to their real intentions.
I started off having two theories about the BIG themes in kadal : ONE : It was about the film Industry, where the conflict set up was between a socially committed believer (Fr David) and a mercenary criminal sociopath(Bergmans) , one wants to make it all about God and the community, the other wants to make it all about himself, to the exclusion of everyone/thing else. TWO there is some political significance to the film that the filmmakers CANNOT talk openly about, because they are living a reality that prevents them from speaking freely about it. I will get to my second theory subsequently because I arrived t it solving for the missing pieces, and because, to quote Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” but I must first tell you why I don’t think theory number one is likely.
Why Kadal is not a film about the movie business : It seems to start off as the most obvious theory that the film tries to adress the movie business. the villain’s name is bergmans for crying out aloud! surely the populist impulse to laugh at the high falutin elitist (who watches films of ingmar bergman) is being used to paint the “internationalist” filmmaker as a villain and the son of the soil Thomas (as in Saint Thomas…as in mount….) as the hero. The more I think about this as possiblity more I see it as red herring. for one, its too obvious. for the second the narrative is too serious. there is NO time in the film when Begmans is mocked. (if I were making fun of someone’s elitism by calling him bergmans, I would inject plenty of kaundamani humor) more like feared as if he were the devil himself. Arjun’s character feels like the protagonist of the Omen trilogy, not like the butt of anyone’s jokes. For second, the film uses , and OBVIOUSLY, every last technique and language of international arthouse film, in a way it leaves one to suspect that mani was under the impression, when he was making it, that the film was doing something important, rather than populist. his audience was the person who watched international films (bergmans) , not the fisherfolk that are its stars. Watching the film , you don’t see too much flamboyance in the stunts or the dances. Gautam karthik’s dancing is almost amateur. the one big production number in the film feels like they got someone’s school play director cousin to fill in for a proper film dance director. The fashion shoot in the andamans, however, is real and means business. All this gives us to believe that the director is more serious about talking to people who take their fashion shoots seriously and not so much about people who take their singing and fighting in films .
I also think the “movie business” story is a red herring because there are no metaphors explained to the film business , even when there are obvious openings.
Is the film business like fishing? how? Is it like crime? how?? Is it like religion? what makes it so?
But , like people walking home in a gang infested town at night, the director keeps his eyes down and gets about the business of getting home safe, alive.In his narrating the film. There are no metaphors. The film wants to be taken as facts, Its conceit is the factual no….the TRUTHFUL.
So what Truth is Kadal hiding under its boringly placid surface? lets ….. dive a little deeper.
The biggest red herring , to my mind in the film is not its “divine comedy” three act structure of hell, purgatory heaven nor its catholic dogma and anti freemason rants, It is the IMPRESSION THAT THE FILM IS ABOUT FR DAVID AND BERGMANS. if anything, the two are merely backstory to the real heroine and hero of the film – Radha’s Daughter and Gautam Karthik.
She is played as a really young girl, traumatized in childhood, living in an institution , wearing white clothes (translate that to tamil) and has grown to be a complete angel …so much so that there is almost an unreal amount of worship directed her way, Gautam Karthick plays a poor orphan with mother issues who grew up on the mean streets, into a vulnerable and flawed , but by no means sociopathic boy who did take over his small fishing community for a while, but only so that he could give his maa a proper christian burial.
These are the Truths in the film, and the director does not embellish them rhetorically or melodramatically , instead letting the faces of the leads tell the sincere story even as the whole three act structure, bergmans, the amateurish production numbers and stunts, the meaningless fashion shoots and flashy cinematography…all go to pieces and fall apart around the Real…. The Duo
You do the math,
I ain’t doin’ it for you.
Meanwhile in a galaxy far far away
Mani Ratnam’s Brother in law Kamalahasan produced a film which could be classified as a straight stunt film ,
It accidentally featuring a Muslim protagonist and a muslim villain. The State government banned it. Kamalahasan is a known Atheist and this film was widely seen to be a blockbuster that would garner a few hundereds of crores to his …er…war chest.
A R Rahman had put his international ambitions on hold for Kadal, making very earthy music that would resonate well with local populations.
Kamal’s film was originally slated for release on January 26th (republic day) ,Kadal a week after. (That would have been a one two punch, wouldn’t it!). As it turned out, Viswaroopam was released a week after Kadal, well after news of Kadal’s expensive failure was confirmed both overseas and in India.
The Vishwaroopam fiasco also needs mentioning here . The film , which is currently slated to be one of the biggest blockbusters , from all the broughaha , was first scheduled to be released on direct to home premier and garner some unrealistic 225 crores from the premiere itself.
That was not to be because the traditional theater owners associations objected, and Kamal demurred.. THEN the state government banned it using its police forces across districts to enforce the ban. The ban was only lifted after kadal flopped, and it was clear that the film did not stike a chord either with the popular audience or with critics.
Not that I think the two are connected or anything….I should be writing film scripts 🙂
If there is a lesson to be drawn from this,maybe it is that we do not produce art in a vacuum. If someone is NOT making films, he probably has excellent reasons not to. Making him/her write/direct when he/she knows better…will result in a sea of …nothingness…o trash… couched as art.
Selvi Jayalalitha for her press conferences
Thiru Kamalahasan for his
The Kadal Team: Maniratnam, Baradwaj rangan , Rajiv menon (mindscreen film institute)
Indian News media(who are a joke! really!)
Post Sciptum: News from last night (US) is that there is a concerted effort by local distributors to picket Mani’s house because there”was no collection” in Kadal. Unusual for hardcore businessmen who know the risks of the film business to do this. presented without comment.