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.


Oy!

I’m a sucker for movies with romance storylines in Telugu films and as a result I’ve watched, and generally enjoyed, most of Siddharth’s films. He’s always good as a romantic hero although he has a tendency to be rather too chirpy at times, and I would really like to see him in some more serious roles. Although I don’t think that ‘Oy!’ is Siddharth’s best film, it’s one where I think he gives a more restrained performance than usual and as a result his character appears more appealing and likeable.

Director Anand Ranga mentions Eric Segals 1970 film Love Story as some of his inspiration during the opening credits, which gives us a clue that the romance is not going to end well. However Oy! is more upbeat than the original, and there is plenty of comedy between the two leads making it less of a tear-jerker.

The story starts by introducing the two main characters, showing them as very different people who lead very different lives. Uday (Siddharth) lives for the moment believing that life is short and must be enjoyed. Sandhya (Shamili) on the other hand thinks in the long-term and likes to plan well ahead. She doesn’t want to rush into anything and takes her time to make well-considered decisions. They also come from very different backgrounds as demonstrated by their modes of transportation.

To my delight, Uday’s introduction takes place via a song filmed in Melbourne, and eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot a few locations which turned up in Orange more recently. I can’t believe I missed them filming this one though.

He does have it right about Melbourne!

Uday and Sandhya meet by chance in a club where Uday is celebrating his birthday which just happens to fall on New Year’s Day. He’s intrigued that Sandhya is sitting writing in her diary all alone in a bar but she really doesn’t want anything to do with him. To his initial conversation starters Sandhya points out that they don’t match as far as numerology goes, so it’s Happy New Year, Happy Birthday and Good-Bye. Alarm bells should immediately have started ringing at this point, but Uday is made of stronger stuff and immediately sets out to track her down with the aid of his friend Fatso (Krishnudo). Enquires around her neighbourhood also show Sandhya as a rather prickly character with no time for celebrations or religious festivals although she regularly fasts and is addicted to astrology, numerology and the like. So possibly not the best match for a party loving guy like Uday who enjoys the good things in life?

Uday’s father is a rich industrialist but as Sandhya hates rich people Uday doesn’t want to tell her about his background. Instead he pretends to need a place to stay just as Sandhya needs money to pay off a loan she has on her house and advertises for a lodger. From here the romance between the two blossoms as Uday sets out to charm Sandhya and convince her that she loves him too. This part of the film works well for me and I like the way the developing relationship between the two is portrayed.

However I do have a problem with the story from this point. Despite Uday proclaiming his love for Sandhya and asking her to accept him as her lifelong birthday gift, he still doesn’t come clean and tell her who he really is. This lack of honesty at a crucial point is a jarring note in the whole romance plot and isn’t helped as Uday continues to keep his real life secret. To add to this deception, Uday finds out that Sandhya has a life threatening illness and decides to keep it from her. Not just Uday, but also Sandhya’s doctors decide that she really doesn’t need to know that she is going to die in a few months. This does follow the plot of Love Story, but it was irritating then and just as nonsensical here. The idea of not telling someone they are going to die because you love them so much that you cannot bear to make their last moments unhappy is ridiculous. It is pure selfishness, a reluctance to deal with the reality of the situation and not love at all. Just as infuriating is that when Sandhya finds out she’s not even annoyed, but actually thanks Uday for making her last few months some of the happiest she has ever known! I wouldn’t have a problem at all with him taking her to places she wants to go, and making sure she gets to fulfil her wish-list if he’d only told her why he was doing it. This makes the whole second half of the film less enjoyable, although the trip to Kasi to immerse Sandhya’s parents and grandparents ashes in the Ganges could otherwise have been an interesting journey. There are still some excellent scenes in the second half though, and I love the crowd reaction when they go to see a Pawan Kalyan film on the first day, first show. As you can see it’s almost as good as the audience in Melbourne!

There is a separate comedy subplot which involves Sunil as an insurance salesman which ultimately forms the basis for why Uday and Sandhya discover she is ill. I usually like Sunil but apart from his initial scenes his comedy is rather laboured here. There is more unnecessary comedy on the boat involving Ali and Master Bharath which is best avoided. Really, the best comedy is in the romance between the two leads as Uday tries to conform to Sandhya’s list of the qualities she is looking for in a husband. Sandhya is a big fan of lists and seems to have one for every occasion.

What makes this film worth a watch for me are the performances from Siddharth and Shamili. The love story between the two is sweet and I like Uday’s happy approach to life in general. Siddharth manages to be cheerful without being manic and this more muted version of his typical happy-go-lucky persona is more realistic and easier to like. Shamili is good in her ‘girl next door’ role and the lack of glamour in her outfits is refreshing. Although she doesn’t have a lot of scope within her role, her change in personality isn’t too laboured and does seem fairly natural. Neither Siddharth or Shamili are brilliant dancers, but they are both fun to watch and the upbeat soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja is excellent.

Despite the issues I have with the story there is still a lot I do like about Oy! The film is well shot by cinematographer Vijay K Chakravathy, flows well and looks good with some beautiful locations including Sandhya’s fantastic house by the sea. It’s also lovely to see a different location especially when it ends up looking as well as Vizag does here. I really enjoy the first half of Oy and just wish the story could have taken a different direction in the second half. As a result it ends up being a 3 ½ star movie when it could have been much more.

Temple says:

Despite finding Anand Ranga to be pleasant, thoughtful and interesting in his interactions with folks on Twitter and in interviews, I find much of this film unpleasant and shallow. It is technically very well made and looks great but I have too many issues with the story.

I have to disagree with Heather on some counts. There is nothing likeable or appealing about the character of Uday, and Siddharth seemed to be playing another variation on his ‘rich kid in love’ roles. He sees Sandhya and decides he has to have her. After all, she is the ultimate novelty – a woman who isn’t interested in him. The rot sets in with his decision to move into her house under false pretences. Compared to other stalker love stories like Anand where Anand knows he will one day have to face the consequences of his dishonesty, or even Arya 2 where Arya is a total nutter and his stalking is shown as part of the madness, Uday has no qualms. He does it because he wants to and we are supposed to find that romantic. My biggest issue is with the treatment of Sandhya’s terminal illness. I’ve had the sad experience of watching loved ones die after battling an illness for some time, so this pushed my buttons. While everyone has a bucket list of things they would like to do one day, that list is often very different when a person is told they don’t have so many days ahead of them. Having Uday and the ‘medical’ personnel decide that Sandhya would be happier not knowing was just disgusting. It is selfish and shows a lack of empathy and respect. Sandhya is a woman who planned for everything, thought through all her options – and they denied her that. Shamili gives a good performance in a role that starts off reasonably well but quickly devolves into a device for making the hero look more desirable. It’s a shame as I liked the way her back story was gradually revealed and Sandhya became more likeable and sympathetic. There were some really nice scenes that showed their developing friendship and the growing relationship. But as this romance was built on lies and manipulation I couldn’t find it charming.

I agree with Heather that the songs and the locations are really lovely. But that isn’t enough. I give this 1 ½ stars, just for the songs (especially ‘Seheri’ which was filmed near my old office)  and the technical and visual aspects of the film.