Kathir (Vijay Sethupathy) is a semi-looser rowdy who dreams about owning a bar. Yazhini (Madonna Sebastian) is a graduated engineer searching for a job. At first glance, they have nothing in common other than being neighbors. First, they barely tolerate each other, then, they get to know each other, and, without realizing it, they become each other support system. So well that Kathir finally hits the rude guy who dared make Yazhini an indecent proposal during a job interview. Both end up at the police station and they take a selfie on the way back home.
And then this scene happens where the two neighbors find themselves drinking together to forget this troubled day. It’s a new step in their relationship, a step closer to their nascent love/or friendship/or whatever. This is one of my favorite scenes in KaKaPo, especially because of Nalan Kumarasamy’s choices of staging and the way he uses sounds in it. Indeed, he creates a beautiful parallel, or should I say, a meaningful braiding between Kathir/Yazhini’s story and Sridhar’s chef d’oeuvre, « Kadhalikka Neramillai » (No time for love), playing on the television while they are drinking. The old classic movie sounds offer a real background score for their conversation and also a real immersive experience for us, the audience.
This mirror game is visual as well as auditory. Thus, the scene itself begins with a shot on the tv screen on the bright title card of Kadhalikka Neramillai, a great “mise en abyme” of a movie within the movie. Then, the parallel is clearly shown with a lateral camera movement by DOP Dinesh Krishnan, from the television to Kathir and Yazhini who left their chairs to sit down on the floor. But what is very attractive about this scene is how, through an intelligent cut editing by Leo John Paul, Nalan Kumarasamy also creates an echo between the songs lyrics of Kadhalikka Neramillai and Kathir/Yazhini’s conversation.
For instance, when Yazhini scolds him for hitting that job interview man, Kathir proudly tells her that he would have done this for any girl… Yazhini mocking words – “Tamil cinema hero dialogues pesura” (You talk tamil cinema hero’s dialogues)– are immediately followed by a shot on the television screen, where we can see “Kadhalikka Neramillai” Ashok (Ravichandran) singing : “Unga ponnana kaigal punnagalamaa, udhaivikku varalamaa” (Should your golden hands be hurt ? Can I help you? )…Indeed, Kathir wants to act just like any usual tamil cinema hero, just like any man in a patriarchal society, and be the girl’s savior. In the same way, when Yazhini tolds Kathir that he is a good man who will find a good lover, we can hear, in the background, “Nenjathai alli konjam thaa thaa” (Take your heart and give it to me)… Is it a clue Nalan Kumarasamy gives us to understand how Kathir interprets Yazhini’s words ? Not only as an expression of her kindness but as an invitation to love her ? At last, after they chastely spent the night together, the television is still on and we can hear the horoscope of the day saying “they will unite with their life partner and be happy for life” while Yazhini wakes up in Kathir’s house and arms, discovering frightened what happened and trying to escape. Thus, Nalan Kumarasamy uses this television sound backgrounds as a meaningful but also ironical echo of his characters life. Of course, Nalan Kumarasamy creates a beautiful cinematic language with his cinematographer, Dinesh Krishnan. But above all, he shows, with his sound design and mixing team (Raja Krishnan, Vishnu Govind, Sree Sankar who also worked on movies like “Jiggarthanda”) how sounds are important in storytelling, how sounds can replace and be more effective than a too dramatic background music, how sounds can reflect characters emotions…
The parallel between “Kadhalikka Neramillai” and “Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum” is very meaningful in various ways.
First, Kadhalikka Neramillai is an epitome of romantic comedy in Tamil cinema, and for sure, a model for any director who attempts this film genre. Nalan Kumarasamy’s choice of staging is maybe a way of showing the filiation with KaKaPo, the legacy left by Sridhar’s absolute chef d’oeuvre (and one of my favorite films).
Secondly, the movie title itself is very relevant to describe Kathir and Yazhini’s lives : it’s just like they have “no time for love” or, should we say, they don’t leave room for love in their lives. But this scene changes the game as, for the first time, they spend time together and have a long conversation, for part of the night. Love is blossoming somehow because of this time spent together : “Neram irundhal, Kadhalikkelam”, should we say.
In fact, through his visuals and background score, Nalan Kumarasamy makes sure that we can feel the time passing. Indeed, we see Kathir and Yazhini at three different stages : first, they begin their conversation, comfortably sit it in chairs, then, as they become more drunk, they sit on the floor and finally, they sleep, lying on each other, in the early morning. But above all, Nalan Kumarasamy smartly uses the television sounds in the background to suggest that time is passing. If you listen carefully, you’ll find out that the director respects the real duration of Kadhalikka Neramillai. For instance, there is 46 sec sequence shot, between the moment we hear heroines saying “Neram achi, appa kaathuttu irupaar” and the shot on “Unga Ponnana Kaigal”, which is the exact duration in the old classic. This incredibly detailed work on sounds creates the conditions of our immersion in the scene.
Thirdly, I love this scene because it portrays realistically and genuinely gender equality. Indeed, Nalan Kumarasamy short-circuits the usual very masculine “sarakku scene” and, through Yazhini’s mouth, explains without drama why his heroine is drinking : “Ellam padathulla pasanga eppopathallum kudichuthirunda, naanga enna, vaayu pathuttu iruppoma?”. This equality doesn’t seem artificial, or out of context. The director doesn’t erase the fact that Kathir and Yazhini don’t come from the same social background : when the graduated Yazhini tells Kathir that she has already drunk, Kathir’s reaction shows that it’s not so normal for him : he says, ironically, “Arputham”. Equality is also shown visually in the symmetry of the frame, Kathir and Yazhini are sitting symmetrically around the table, before they gradually get closer physically. Indeed, in this equal and alcoholic conversation, Yazhini and Kathir’s masks fall, they tell each other what went through their heads.
After all, Kadhalikka Neramillai is maybe only a spectrum from the past tamil cinema, a spectrum of the past representation of love, that puts on light the fact that Nalan Kumarasamy cinema’s tries to capture the real love, more complex, more sinuous and uncertain. Welcome to postmodernity.