About twenty years ago, Mani Ratnam made a movie -- Bombay -- about two young people from different communities who elope and make Mumbai their home.
In Bombay 2.0, or OK Kanmani as Madras Talkies insists, the young lovers are not fighting communal tensions but the prison of marriage or what it represents: commitment for life.
Now, I wish Mani Ratnam lived in Mumbai.
Because he would have enjoyed the freedom Jaideep Sahni had with Shuddh Desi Romance (a not-so-perfect film redeemed by a great ending). Because OK Kanmani could have been THAT film that challenged the sacred thread. The mangalsutra, the knots often worshipped down South: The supreme thaali (Before you North Indians think of a bad pun, Yes... it is also one that gets you - both men and women - unlimited meals for life and we are not just talking about food here).
While Shuddh Desi Romance intentionally made young people seem flippant and confused about what they want, OK Kanmani is about two confident, independent young individuals - consenting adults - who choose to live and sleep together knowing very well what the future holds for them.
Mani Ratnam basically takes that Trisha-Siddharth (or Vivek Oberoi-Kareena Kapoor) love story from Aayitha Ezhuthu (or Yuva) and fleshes it out with all the things people have come to expect out of him - the modern middle-class family dynamic, the irreverent tone (with which you call your parents by name), public transport (trains, of course), great looking houses with tasteful production design (even if it's meant to be a seedy lodge, it better have a swing, yo!), talkative kids who are quick to spot lovers up to mischief, people professing love sitting across the room, attractive people dancing to Rahman's funky music, terse dialogues in staccato Mani-Ratnam speak, magic hour and finally, rains to resolve everything. A squeaky clean ending and the smell of petrichor. You know you love it.
By now, a Mani Ratnam film is genre by itself. And you can't question the genre because the man invented it. It's like telling Jobs or Cook: Dude, in my opinion, the new iPhone bends. You used to make cooler phones.
Even if an Android has better specifications, nothing quite matches the feeling of wielding a highly acclaimed, incredibly beautiful, classy symbol of the elite (and the aspirational upper middle class).
As much as I enjoyed the home comfort and the easy-on-the-eye sophistication of Mani Ratnam's storytelling (and the writing truly marks a return to form), I did find the old-fashioned endorsement of marriage a little too outdated. But then, Mani Ratnam's films don't just respect the sanctity of marriage -- they celebrate marriage.
In Mouna Raagam, he made a dysfunctional marriage (marred with baggage from the past) work. In Roja, he made a woman from a small town get in to war territory in search of her husband. In Bombay, the marriage of people from two communities was a symbolic representation of India as a secular State. In Alai Payuthey, lovers who secretly marry almost lose each other before they understand the true meaning of marriage.
Mani Ratnam continues this tradition of making even the most commitment-phobic young people f***ing toe the line.
While you could expect someone on the other side of 50 to not understand how young people meet and greet these days (I found that long-drawn meet-cute at the wedding contrived), it is a little disappointing personally to see Mani Ratnam's persona as a filmmaker change from the rebel (I always see Mani Ratnam as Karthik - Manohar from Mouna Raagam, or say Suriya - Michael from Aayitha Ezhuthu) to the father figure (now I see him as Arvind Swamy - from Kadal or Prakash Raj - from OK Kanmani) - the preacher! That visiting uncle who has only one question to passive-aggressively ask every time he meets you: "Eppo Kalyanam?" (Good News?)
"As much as I enjoyed the home comfort and the easy-on-the-eye sophistication of Mani Ratnam's storytelling (and the writing truly marks a return to form), I did find the old-fashioned endorsement of marriage a little too outdated. "
OK Kanmani is kind of like that uncle who makes you believe that marriage is the answer to your conflict of living in without any expectations from each other. He wants to say it's good to have expectations. It's good to miss each other madly and want to hold on to each other. Marriage is so good you know you want it. It promises you unlimited meals of chicken soup for the soul. Go marry already. I want to eat Kalayana Saapad (wedding meals), unlimited thaali please.
But ideological differences aside, I LOVED the exquisitely famed (PC Sreeram) modern day fable on the soul-stirring beauty of good old-fashioned marriage (where you are there for each other, in good health and bad). Especially because the chemistry between the lead pair of Dulquer Salman and Nithya Menen is crackling (the young actors make you live their confusion) and equally adorable is the portrayal of the older couple (Prakash Raj and Leela Samson are terrific) in an Amour-like situation.
Yet, it's a lost opportunity. Towards the end, there's a lovely scene in there when the boy gifts her a necklace. He may not believe in a mangalsutra/thaali but gets her a parting gift that symbolically means the same damn thing - I love you and want you to wear this around your neck so that I know you love me. Isn't that enough surrogate and subtle endorsement of marriage enough? Why take it all the way to a literal court acknowledged State-approved registered marriage with a vengeance, Mani Uncle.
"By now, a Mani Ratnam film is genre by itself. And you can't question the genre because the man invented it."
As it is, it's very difficult for young people to find houses in Mumbai (especially, bachelors - forget live-in) and you KNOW this (especially because you had to pass off spacious bungalows and five-star hotels from Chennai as Bombay though I must add it's a big come down for The Park's Pod to be de-promoted from New York in Good Night Good Morning to Bombay in OK Kanmani).
So pardon me if I don't agree with the convenient solution of marriage to resolve complex relationship issues of space (physical and mental) and choices (professional and moral).
But I remember the ground reality of home.
It is not yet legal in Tamil Nadu to speak about pre-marital sex. Ask Khushboo. (As a friend's father often says in denial when told that young people these days do things other than sleep on a bed together: NEVER BE!) And any discussion on the need for a thaali is interpreted as an insult to your own mother. Ask Puthiya Thalamurai.
Which brings me back to what I started the post with.
I wish Mani Ratnam lived in Mumbai.