‘Keladi Kanmani’ and ‘Rhythm’ remain sole traces that demonstrate how to make warm and fun grown-up romances.
Vasanth is probably not making as many films anymore (I hear his latest ‘Sivaranjaniyum Sila Pengalum’ is magnificent). But I can’t think of another filmmaker who is a master in depicting urban relationships — of mothers and daughters (Srividya and Gauthami in ‘Nee Paathi Naan Paathi’), of fathers and sons (Nagesh and Arjun in ‘Rhythm’) and most importantly, between two grown up adults of the opposite sex. The latter is the focus of this piece and I would like to talk about two relationships (each in a different movie) that move me considerably even today.
‘Keladi Kanmani’ begins with the story of the terminally ill Anu (Anju) falling in love with Sashi (Ramesh Arvind). As a death wish, she decides to reunite her widower dad (ARR, played by SPB) with his old flame (Sharada, played by Raadhika). We strap ourselves and get ready to experience one of the most beautiful romances (between ARR and Sharada) in Tamil (even Indian) Cinema.
Let’s start by ticking off the usual requirements of a romance. They meet-a-cute (zinger alert!). She mistakes him for a petrol bunk employee, a cook, a vegetable seller. They have a duet, the beautiful breathless ‘Mannil Intha Kadhal’. But there is more. Both come from a home with issues. He is a widower and her parents are hearing-and-speech impaired. Both display a great sense of emotional maturity. Moreover, they both posess a rare quality we see on the Tamil screen — acceptance. The most beautiful decision they make is to give up their relationship for the sake of Anu. A lesser movie would have gotten them married or pitted them against each other but here, they let go and move on. It’s almost as in life.
I am a sucker for these kind of romances and Vasanth lit me up once again with ‘Rhythm’. He had taken a bit of a detour since ‘Keladi’ but writing great relationships still remained his forte. I am talking about the brother-sister relationship between Shanthi Krishna and Suriya in ‘Nerukku Ner’ and father-daughter relationship between Poornam Viswanathan and Suvalakshmi in ‘Aasai’. But with ‘Rhythm’, he really found his groove. The relationship between Karthikeyan (nicely underplayed by Arjun) and Chithra (Meena shedding her cotton-eye candy image) makes a beautiful parallel to the ARR-Sharada relationship in ‘Keladi’.
We still have the romance usuals. She initially rebuffs him, only to warm up to his good nature. The density seeps in slowly. Both lose their spouses in the same tragedy. He lives with his parents and she lives with her adopted child. Both have had career transitions due to different reasons. Finally, both seem to share a warm rapport with their kit and kin (again, very lifelike).
The only difference in ‘Rhythm’ is that Vasanth is a much better filmmaker. It is no accident that the movie features trains (the tragedy involves trains too). Each character remains within an arc be it Vatsala Rajagopal (playing Arjun’s mother) or Lakshmi (playing Meena’s ex-mother-in-law). Except for a couple of mood-killing songs and a little over-the-top performances by Ramesh Arvind and Jyothika (which interestingly prove an apt counterpoint to Arjun and Meena), everything is organic and everything fits. Even scenes with great potential for melodrama are either tossed off with casual humor or an existential sigh. In other words, the movie itself is life like.
ps. Even if you don’t watch ‘Rhythm’ for any of the above reasons, you must do so for Nagesh’s performance (one in his swansong years). Be it smiling mischievously while realizing his son likes Chithra, breaking down when Chithra refuses to marry his son, discussing the tearable appalam or the eventual acceptance of his son’s future, he plays it all looking less like an actor but more like a loving father. Nagesh couldn’t get many recognitions (like the Dadasaheb Phalke) in his lifetime due to a set of legal battles. That doesn’t stop us from realizing he is truly one of the finest actors to have graced the silver screen!
– Sai Vikneshwar