Kandukondain Kandukondain

Kandukondain Kandukondain is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and one of the first Tamil films I saw. It’s still one of my favourites, largely due to the good performances and the strong screenplay. Tabu and Aishwarya Rai play the sisters – sensible, thoughtful Sowmya, and the mercurial Meenakshi. Rajiv Menon retains some of the novel’s ambiguity about whose way is ultimately better, and he and dialogue writer Sujatha focus on the characters and how they develop.

The heroines’ characters required little adaptation. Regency heroines and filmi ones tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the right man or angling for a suitable husband so it probably wasn’t much of a challenge. The suitably ladylike occupations of music and teaching are retained which happily allows for more songs than one might expect from Jane Austen. The female characters in the film are memorable, distinct and very appealing. And I do like the image of big burly film directors reading Austen or Georgette Heyer for their inspiration!

Tabu has a lovely gravity that makes Sowmya very sympathetic. There are small things that make her seem so real – in scenes talking to her ailing grandfather Tabu’s face was sweet and serene, but the sudden slight tension in her throat gave away her real feelings. Tabu’s performance was wonderful, and I totally believed it when Sowmya decided to open her heart to a persistent suitor only to find that she may have been mistaken.

True Love rarely runs smoothly and there are obstacles, real and imagined, that try Sowmya’s patience and resilience, challenging her apparent acceptance of her lot in life. Her confusion and disappointment over Manohar was palpable.

Sowmya thinks that her bad luck has relegated her to a life of service and domesticity in the family home. Her journey towards accepting that she has a right to her own love and happiness is one of the elements of the novel that I enjoyed. She avoids being a stereotypical Regency novel spinster – she is intelligent, personable and has a sense of fun. Sowmya also has a decent job and shows determination in pursuing a career and financial independence.

This is one of the films that made me decide Aishwarya is a capable actor but needs a director who can coach her. She has a lively spark that suited this version of Marianne Dashwood, and Meenu’s feisty streak was always in evidence. The opening song shows off Meenakshi’s extrovert nature, features some excellent dancers and lets Aish show off her animal impressions including a valiant attempt at tiger face.

Aish and Tabu had great rapport and details like the way they leaned in to speak to each other, or would catch each others hand as they talked were really charming. But Meenakshi wasn’t all sweetness.

When she was angry she let fly, and Aish was excellent in those high energy dramatic scenes. Meenu confronted her mother over a family secret, and threw Bala’s love back in his face with no compunction. But she wasn’t malicious so much as impulsive and emotional, and I think the script and the performance combined to show this clearly.

Meenu grows to realise that love encompasses respect and friendship, not just passionate attraction to a dream hero. She doesn’t exactly become her sensible sister but she decides what she needs from her life partner and chooses to look beyond the obvious. When Srikanth makes an offer he thinks she won’t refuse, things become crystal clear to Meenu. She sets about getting her way with all the vigour she had previously put into avoiding Bala.

Mammootty is excellent as the embittered drunk with a loosely fitted prosthetic leg, Bala (based on Colonel Brandon). Living with his war injuries and a sense of disillusionment he seems intent on pissing his life away. He is drawn to Meenakshi’s beauty but I think it is her fiery temper and cheeky disrespect that really captures him. Mammootty transforms from angry man to shy boy and then seems to regain his love of life and enjoyment of people, resuming a full and happy life with no booze and less anger.

Unlike Colonel Brandon, he has loyal sidekick Sivagnanam (the excellent Manivannan) to provide strategic advice and moral support. The ‘talk to the hand’ scene was sweet and very funny. Bala had the maturity and patience to deal with Meenu, and the intelligence to realise that she would come round or not but he couldn’t force it.

He helps the family from decency, not to buy Meenu’s favour. His thoughtfulness and generosity made Bala a hero. And of course he does save her life.

When it looks like Bala might see his dreams come true, Mammootty shows the underlying vulnerability gradually give way to joy. It’s such a well judged performance and he supports Aish beautifully.

Ajith is hampered by the least successful storyline. In the novel Edward Ferrars is gentry with strong principles and a secret engagement he is unable to break, torn by his love for Elinor and his duty. Making Manohar an ambitious film director didn’t carry the same limitations and so he came across as more selfish and whiny than noble.

Manohar made the decision to leave Sowmya until he had made his first film. There was no need to make such a choice and it was silly. I struggled to see him as the right man for smart sensible Sowmya. The supposed ‘other woman’, the top actress and action hero Nandini Verma (Pooja Batra) was lots of fun but again her occupation and personality didn’t match the dynamic from the novel and it fizzled. Instead of being worried about being forced to marry an unsuitable woman and lose the one he loved, Manohar often looked quite content with his situation.

Well, until the day he decided he was finally ready to claim Sowmya. Ajith was adequate in the role but the lack of credible tension in his story left me unconvinced.

Srikanth (Abbas) was perfect for the film’s Mr Willoughby. I don’t think he is at all attractive but his entrepreneurial character and silly floppy hair fit the style of the society man on the make. And talk about making an entrance…

The wet shirt scene was completely unnecessary and did him no favours in the inevitable comparison. Srikanth was self centred, self satisfied and avoided responsibility. His relationship with Meenu was based on his surface appeal and her dreamy silly notions and very pretty face.  Srikanth was devoid of substance and sense, and seemed genuinely shocked when things fell apart.

The supporting cast are all very good. Shamili as little sister Kamala, Srividya as the mother who wanted the best for her girls and Manivannan as Bala’s friend were all great. Rajiv Menon and dialogue writer Sujatha gave the support actors lots to do which helped reinforce the domestic feel. Bala’s mother (I think) is obsessed with weddings, and long suffering Sivagnanam even gets the family cats married to keep her quiet. Thankfully the comedy is centred on necessary characters and incidents.

The soundtrack is lovely but the song picturisations are a mixed bag. Some look amazing and others are like something from a high school rock eisteddfod. Some have a bit of both!

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran made the most of the lovely rural locations, and also captured the more enclosed and subdued lighting of the city. He certainly made his leading ladies look stunning.

It’s a beautiful film, with a quality AR Rahman soundtrack and some excellent performances. And it’s one of the more successful adaptations of a novel I know well and am very fond of.  4 stars!

Heather says: I’m generally not a fan of adaptations of Jane Austin. I fell in love with her books as a child, in fact Sense and Sensibility was the first I read, and so far nothing on either the big or small screen has lived up to my expectations. Kandukondain Kandukondain is no exception, although I do think it is one of the best adaptations I have seen.  Despite that, I failed to connect with the characters and although the whole film looks beautiful and has some lovely songs in the soundtrack, it’s not a film I really enjoyed.

Kandukondain Kandukondain is shot to make the best use of scenery and to accentuate colour in the landscapes as might be expected from someone with Rajiv Menon’s background.  The indoor scenes look just as good and I like the way the colour and light of the first half gives way to duller lighting when they move to Chennai and the family have to fend for themselves. In fact this is the best part of the film for me as I enjoyed Sowmya’s search for work which felt very realistic. Meenakshi’s singing and her career problems were also well depicted and I loved the way that Mahalakshmi was also secretly working. At this point I was able to forget any Jane Austin links and the characters started to come alive. But then the film went back to the respective love stories and I lost interest  again. I didn’t feel that the original characters from the book were well adapted into modern-day romances. While I thought the lives of the sisters were modernised and well written into an Indian setting, the men, (with the exception of Major Bala) seemed to be poor copies of the Jane Austin characters and I didn’t like them at all. Ajith was fine as the film director but like Temple I had problems with his decision not to marry until he had made his first film. Or rather not so much the reluctance to marry until he was established, which did have some legitimacy, but rather the long separation without any contact which just seemed ridiculous. Abbas looked too much like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet for me to be able to see him without grinning. Especially when he donned a cloak in one of the songs! His character isn’t supposed to be likeable but I couldn’t even find him charming here, and Meenakshi’s devotion to him was only based on his ability to recite poetry. Again this follows the book to some extent but there is so much more to the whole romance than that and for me it wasn’t well brought out in the film. Aishwarya was absolutely stunning as Meenakshi, but I thought there was too much beauty and not enough depth in her portrayal. However I think this is more the fault of the character she played rather than a problem with her performance, which was actually quite natural and one of her best. Despite the changes in the story, I wasn’t able to forget that Meenakshi was basically Marianne from the book and in that context she wasn’t my mental view of that character. Although Sowmya was a more individual character and I thought that Tabu gave a good performance, I couldn’t connect with her at all. By the end I really didn’t care if she managed to get married or not despite having originally felt some sympathy for her. I wanted her to get on with her life on her own terms and not be so reliant on a rather weak man. But then, that’s often a problem with both film and regency romance heroines. The one character that I really enjoyed watching was Major Bala. Mammootty was fantastic and I did empathise with his situation and his attempts to win Meenakshi. His performance was the definite stand out and his interactions with his friend Sivagnanam were some of my favourite moments in the film.

There is nothing really wrong with Kandukondain Kandukondain and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to just forget about Sense and Sensibility. But I would much rather read the original book again rather than watch the film.   It still gets 3 stars from me but they are nearly all for Mammootty and a beautiful soundtrack.


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10 thoughts on “Kandukondain Kandukondain

  1. Heather,

    The first time I watched this film, I had pretty much the same reaction. Didn’t like any other characters other than Mammooty. On subsequent viewings, the other characters grew on me more, especially Soumya and Manohar, whose romance I initially found very dull and uninteresting. Personally I still don’t like Meenakshi and Srikanth. I think they deserved each other and Major Bala deserved someone much better.

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    • Hi Meenkaran,
      I’ve watched it twice and really it didn’t improve the second time for me :)
      There are definite parts that I did like though, so maybe I will try again at some stage. Although I have such a large pile of films to watch it may take a while for me to get back to it!
      Still love the songs though :)
      Heather

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  2. I think I can sympathize with Heather. I am one of those book readers who doesn’t find any film directors doing justice to my own imagination :).

    Having said that, ‘Sense and sensibility’ is the least favorite for me among all the other Austen’s works. Despite being a rabid Austen fan I can’t seem to love this. I am not fond of the men in ‘S and S’ at all (even Col. Brandon) and so I find it incredible that Mamooty’s character came across much more sympathetic and Ajith’s character was at least daft instead of being an out and out cheating case. So, not following the spirit of the book made the movie more workable in the modern sense.

    Aish gave her best here I think despite her tendency to emphasize beauty over passion. Because, Abbas was so weak it was much easier to accept that Aish moved on to Mamooty. I think it played out more as a crush rather than a true heart-break. Abbas was nicknamed ‘the chocolate-faced boy’ among my teenage friends. His appeal is limited to only girls and never to women. So, I agree with Temple that he doesn’t stand in comparison to the manly man ;).

    All Rajiv Menon films are visual treats. His first directorial venture had great visual aesthetic but low on story that made any sense (Minsaaru Kanuvu) and so he was wise to chose a strong story and add his strength to it. Also, comparing ‘S and S’ adaptation (with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) with Tabu and Aish, I find Tabu and Kate would have worked the best as Elinor and Marianne. ;)

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    • Hi Violet – I’m also dubious about many film adaptations, but if they are going to be made I want them to be interesting and well executed. My least favourite Austen novels are Emma and Mansfield Park. My friend Jenni has invented a job title – Tight Slap Administrator – and I would like to have that gig in those books! I really like Sense and Sensibility despite not liking all the characters as the story stacks up a lot better and it feels complete. I don’t actually like most of the men in Austen’s work as they are all quite irritating in one way or another – Colin Firth’s best aquatic efforts notwithstanding :) But they do serve a purpose even if only to provide a contrast for the heroines. I would pay good money to see Tabu and Kate reprise their roles – what a great idea :D Temple

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      • Ha-Ha. Love ‘Tight Slap Administrator’ post. I tend to take much more kindly to silliness in women than in men in that society. But I can see where TS Admin can achieve a lot of good :)

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  3. This was also my first Tamil films, and probably one of the first 15 Indian films I ever saw, back in the day when I was searching the library catalog by stars’ names. Since I was comparing it to KKHH and HANK, it definitely came across as something different and more ambitious.

    On the one hand, I completely appreciate Austen’s portrayal of John and Fanny Dashwood, and the tart reminder that sometimes petty, awful people end up ahead. On the other hand, I loved that KK provided the “Dashwood” women with the power and means to purchase their own home, AND the ability to say “we are ok, we don’t need this” when the remorseful sister-in-law tried to give them the home back.

    I also loved Mannivanan, and I appreciate Mammothy so much more now than when I first watched it. Probably my favorite little thing is the odd film within the film at the interval.

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    • Hi Liz – Yes! You are so right about that change to the Fanny Dashwood storyline. I tend to find Jane Austen quite disapproving of a lot of her characters and she was merciless when skewering some of the unpleasant aspects of human nature or society. It worked well within this adaptation to have a more positive direction in that episode as it allowed the ladies to move on under their own terms. Cheers, Temple

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  4. Ooooh, I want to watch this so bad. You said it’s not that good if you’ve read the book (and I have, plus I’ve seen the awesome Hollywood version), but I still think I’ll enjoy it.
    Especially because of Aishwarya and Tabu…

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    • Hi Mette – I think it is a good adaptation, with only a couple of elements that didn’t work so well. It’s a well made film and does the story justice. I’d recommend you watch it and see what you think. Cheers, Temple

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  5. I must say I quite enjoyed the film – at least as much I enjoyed the English version with Emma Thompson, if not more. I agree that Ajith’s reasons for not committing doesn’t ring true, but as I tended to focus on the women, I didn’t let it bother me. But I agree that its Mamooty who makes the film work for me, he is superb!

    The music and some dances are excellent and I would recommend the film for that alone. I did a post in my blog for the music : http://sujamusic.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/listening-to-kandukondain-kandukondain-2000/

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