The second film of every director is special, considering it is a make or break situation for most of them. Kadhalan came right after Gentleman made a splash at the box office counters of Tamil Nadu & the rest of South India. The film was remade in Telugu with megastar Chiranjeevi donning the lead role. The soundtrack of Gentleman was super popular and thus everyone was looking forward to seeing what the director will make after this solid debut. This was before Brahmandam (grandeur) and Shankar became synonymous.
It was perhaps the first time in Indian film history after Roja, that people across the coutnry were buying audio cassettes of a Tamil OST, because of A R Rahman. The visuals of the Muqabala song was a rage among Indian audience.
Kadhalan is a love story, but then it was the sign of times to come, of what was known to be Shankar’s brand. It is the usual poor boy meets rich girl story, but then Shankar being himself mounts this on a larger scale with a political background.
We have Prabhu (Prabhu Deva) who falls in love with the daughter of the Governor Shruti (Nagma). Let me begin with where the film flatters, very few such points few for me. As usual, the humour of Shankar is downright racist and particularly a scene explaining the type of females according to their physical attributes is cringeworthy.
Romance is not a strong forte of Shankar, but in this genre, if we include Jeans and Boys which did not involve vigilantism, Kadhalan is still the best and keeps us engaging.
Shankar gives us a pre-interval portion with the road trip to a temple town where he devotes time to show how the couple gets closer and the girl starts to develop feelings for the hero. This becomes an important part in the second half when we see Nagma rebelling, otherwise, those second half portions would have fallen flat as for major part in the second half the lovers do not meet.
The interval block again shows the acumen of Shankar where we see the camera zooming out and we see Prabhu in the middle of the temple town. Fun fact, Magadheera has a similar scene in the interval block.
If you look at our Indian film heroes, they are mostly projected as a larger than life superhero. This being a Shankar film, despite just his second film, the hero just cannot be a simple common man. But Shankar makes the character believable by showing him as a student of martial arts; he learns dance quickly due to love which becomes kind of his superpower.
Shankar’s penchant for violence is something which becomes much more visible in this film. The major part of the second half is devoted to set up for the Muqabala song, but the preceding scenes before that are dark even today for most Indian romance films. Shankar cannot resist the urge to show how the system creates a vigilante, we see the hero being wrongly accused of planting a bomb and the cops ask him if he is Khalistani, Pakistani or even Palestinian. In tge background Shankar shows a Tamil Eelam freedom fighter being tortured.
Even in Boys later on Shankar showcases a scene where how the government can misuse the law like POTA.
Despite being 26 years old, the film is relevant if you look at the role of a Governor even today, there is a doubt if a few of them are loyal to the constitution or the central ruling party.
Shankar apart from the maverick director that he is, I feel is a director who knows his market and caters to them. Like Gentleman, even Kadhalan dubbed into Telugu (Premikudu). He uses Telugu actors in the film, sets a part of the film in Andhra Pradesh, pays tribute to NTR and his legacy to cater to his Telugu market, which in the coming years would be as big as his home market Tamil Nadu.
Kadhalan would not be special without Head Constable Kathiresaan ( S.P. Balasubrahmanyam) who plays an endearing father to his son. The movie elevates to another level when he and Prabhu come together on the scene, it is a refreshing take on a father-son relationship where the father is not put on a pedestal like in most Indian films.
Talking about Kadhalan, and not talking about the music would be a sin. This is my favourite album of A R Rahman and it still sounds fresh. It does not transport you to 90s like most music at that time do.
Kadhalan is a solid entertainer from the director who was getting more comfortable in his skin and was not under public pressure to create the typical cinema experience every time.
The film is streaming on Amazon Prime.