20 Years of Kandukondain Kandukondain: A Pioneering Tamil Film In Many Ways

As I write this, we are 6 weeks into the lockdown, all thanks to the Covid-19 situation & most of us are working from home. With cinemas being closed (and with no clarity of when they will reopen again) and Satellite T.V facing an acute shortage of content (hence the re-runs of old soaps and reality shows), its thanks to the various digital/OTT platforms that we are managing to get our regular dose of entertainment. And with a mention of digital/OTT platforms it is also mandatory to add the point that in today’s times, the language barrier is not as severe as before and thanks to English subtitles (let me not elaborate on this as it requires a separate article by itself) a lot of regional cinema (and web-series) is being watched by people who aren’t fluent with the language in particular. Similarly, Hindi cinema (and web-series) is continuing to reach out to those who do not understand a single word of Hindi.

But while this is the situation right now, imagine the scenario way back in the year 2000. How many of us would have probably watched a film in an unknown language and that too in a cinema near you? But that did indeed happen in case of the Tamil film Kandukondain Kandukondain, a film which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary and rightly deserving all the adulation coming its way. It’s a known fact that Rajiv Menon’s second directorial venture (after Minsara Kanavu) is a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Sense and Sensibility. With a stellar ensemble cast toplined by Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, Mammootty, Ajith and Abbas and showcasing fabulous music by A.R. Rahman, obviously the film was eagerly awaited in the run up to its release.

Releasing close on the heels of Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (which released on April 14, 2000), Kandukondain Kandukondain (KK from hereon) was another jewel in the crown for A.R. Rahman who seemed incapable of taking any wrong step back then. I watched KK for the first time at the fantastic Devi Theatre (part of what is now known as Devi Cineplex) in Chennai and still remember instantly falling in love with the film, its characters and the songs. A few weeks later I went off to Jamshedpur to join B-School and to be honest I hardly expected the largely cosmopolitan student crowd there to be aware of the film. At best I thought that a few who hailed from various parts of South India and/or die-hard fans of A.R. Rahman might be aware of the film.

But I was pleasantly surprised to see the film gaining in popularity as weeks passed by, with more and more people talking about it. Soon I realized that Rajiv Menon had managed to release the film in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, with a distribution tie-up with Shringar Films. What made the release outside South India special was that it was not dubbed in Hindi, as was the norm with films from South India catering to a Pan India audience back then. Rajiv Menon’s first film Minsara Kanavu too was dubbed in Hindi as Sapnay, but the result was not all that great. This time around Rajiv Menon decided that the audience deserved to see the film with the original cultural milieu that it belonged to, thus releasing the film in Tamil itself with English subtitles, an unheard-of practice for mainstream theatrical release back then.

Various shades/moments from Kandukondain Kandukondain !

And mind you back then if one wanted to watch a Tamil film in Mumbai or Delhi then the best chance for the same was to visit Aurora Cinema in Matunga (Mumbai) or the Tamil Sangam’s auditorium in R.K. Puram (Delhi). But with KK there was a marked departure, Shringar Films managed to release the film in regular multiplexes too like the G7 (Gaiety-Galaxy) in Bandra (Mumbai) and PVR Anupam in Saket (New Delhi). Soon the film even released in other cities like Pune and Kolkata, so it was but obvious that people outside the typical Tamil population were also able to watch and savor the film. With the film running to several weeks in Mumbai and Delhi, KK was probably the precursor to films from South India getting a full-fledged wide release in North India (anything north of the Vindhyas) and preferably with English subtitles.

While the principal characters, Sowmya (Tabu), Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai), Major Bala (Mammootty), Manohar (Ajith) and Srikanth (Abbas) are all interesting, Rajeev Menon ensured that the film also had some memorable supporting characters as well. Sivagnanam (Manivannan), Major Bala’s associate and well-wisher, Padma (Srividya), the mother of Sowmya, Meenakshi and Kamala (Shamili), Lalitha (Anita Ratnam), Padma’s sister-in-law with a sharp tongue, Sowmya’s boss (Raghuvaran) are all very effective in whatever little screen time that is allotted to them. In fact, some of my favourite scenes and moments from the film also include a good contribution from the supporting characters. Take for instance the scene in Madras (now Chennai) where Major Bala and Sivagnanam are sitting in a restaurant and go on to try out “vaizhaipoo vadais” (fritters made from banana flowers) on the recommendation of the waiter. On consuming the same they get suspicious and head to the kitchen, where their fear is confirmed-they are upset to see Padma and Chinnatha (S.N. Lakshmi) working there to contribute to the family’s finances without the knowledge of the daughters.

Sowmya and Manohar, a very likeable pair !

Another interesting moment for me is when Sowmya reaches her office, only to find to her dismay that there is someone else working in her position. Her boss then informs her that she has been fired, saying that she has always been overqualified for the position of telephone operator, only to then surprise her by saying that she has been promoted as a junior programmer. This is a very subtle moment and there is no overplay of emotions, conveying the matter in a simple and effective manner. The confrontation scene between Lalitha and Padma’s family when they are sadly forced to leave their family home is powerful and convincing, setting the tone for the rest of the film.  Well I can go on and on but let me not get carried away and hence let me divert my attention to other aspects regarding the film. Talking of the casting choices and now that most of us are aware of how Rajiv Menon went about getting his actors on board, I seriously think that everything happened for the best interest of the film.

Today for me it is difficult for to think of anyone else in place of Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, Mammootty and Ajith to portray the characters of Sowmya, Meenakshi, Major Bala and Manohar, respectively. Each one plays out his/her part in a more than effective manner. In fact, it will not be an understatement if I say that even Abbas who portrays Srikanth has been well appreciated, this being easily one of the best films in his film career. A year post the theatrical release of KK, in the summer of 2001 I was slogging it out in the harsh summer of Delhi/NCR, doing my summer internship with an I.T major as a part of my B.School curriculum. And to my good fortune I happened to realize that there was a film festival scheduled at the prestigious Siri Fort Auditorium during that period. While Siri Fort is known to host film festivals and film screenings throughout the year, I was excited about the forthcoming event, because it was showcasing the National Film Award winning films of that year.

Padma and her daughters, characters of an endearing kind !

That gave me the opportunity to revisit KK, this time with English subtitles along with a Pan Indian audience. What made the experience even more special for me was that the screening of KK was in the main auditorium 1 (Siri Fort has 4 auditoriums), which has a capacity of 1865, perhaps the largest cinema hall in India currently (in terms of capacity). That I was in love with the songs of the movie is an understatement, I vividly remember getting totally lost in the blissful environment of Siri Fort Auditorium. Every time a song appeared on screen, I would be humming along with the lyrics, much to the annoyance of a gentleman next to me who told me that unlike me he is watching it for the first time & hence would like me to be silent. To that unknown gentleman I can only offer my apology now, saying with all honesty that I was not trying to be a pest on purpose. In fact, it was just unfortunate that he was seated next to a youngster who was unable to control his excitement while watching one of his favorite movies 😊.

I have gone on to re-visit KK many more times, never failing to get entertained in the process. What makes the film even more special is that the writing can surprise you even today, this includes the dialogues of Sujatha and the lyrics of Vairamuthu as well. 20 years after the film first released, I would like to reflect upon the primary characters and wonder how successful Manohar would have gone on to be in his filmmaking career. Similarly, how successful would Sowmya have been in her career as an I.T professional and Meenakshi as a singer. Most importantly it would be nice to reflect upon the relationships of Manohar-Sowmya and Bala-Meenakshi, hoping that they have been happily living together all this while and would continue to do so forever. In saying this I am not really asking for a sequel, I would not want to take the risk of getting disillusioned with the output if it is ever created, preferring instead to stay content with my thoughts.

On a parting note I feel bad to notice that I have not written anything in ages for MAM (or for that matter anywhere else as well), with my regular work keeping me busy. But I am happy to have broken the ice finally, and more than glad that it has taken a special occasion and a film like KK to draw me out of my shell and to make me write again.

 

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