Watching ‘Kandukondaen Kandukondaen’ after 20 years

Source: The Hindu

I’m one of those snobbish people who can’t appreciate books being made into movies. If I ever get wind of the fact that an upcoming movie is adapted from a book, I will by all means read the book before watching the movie. That’s how purist I am about this. Books are serious business.

So imagine my surprise when I admitted to myself last week, that I loved Kandukondaen Kandukondaen! The movie turned 20 this May, and predictably, Tamil film buffs wouldn’t stop gushing about it. So I decided to bite and watched the movie. On a side note, we should all rewatch movies we watched as children. You notice so many nuances, metaphors, draw multiple meanings, hell, you even fall in love with the songs all over again, in a different way. Last I watched Kandukondaen Kandukodaen (I’ll refer to it as KK from now on, for convenience) was when I was around 10 years old, and back then I hadn’t discovered Jane Austen, and so didn’t know this movie is an adaption of her book, Sense & Sensibility. For those of you who’ve watched KK, the storyline is pretty much the same. So I won’t be catching you up on the book’s plot.

What amazed me is how Rajiv Menon adapted the characters to a Tamil milieu. He took the essence of Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret, and their mother Mrs. Dashwood from Sense & Sensibility (S&S, again for convenience) and used it to weave such beautifully layered characters as Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai), Sowmya (Tabu), Kamala (Shamili), and Padma (Srividya) for KK.

Just like Elinor in S&S, Sowmya from KK is reticient, perhaps a little too much for her own good. She is pragmatic, sometimes leaning towards pessimism. She is also the voice of sanity for the family, reassuring them, grounding them through the trials life puts them through. She is the “sense” in the book’s title.

Meenakshi, fashioned After Marianne Dashwood, is the “sensibility” part. She is romantic, idealistic, day dreams a lot, is spontaneous, and at times impulsive. She is emotional and expresses her feelings passionately. In a simplistic way, the opposite of Sowmya.

Kamala, like her literary counterpart Margaret, is pretty much relegated to the background for the most part, but I did enjoy KK’s version of the character better.

The introductory scene of the movie encapsulates these three people. While the difference in their world view and thought process is made obvious by their dialogues, there are visual indicators too. For one, look at the colors they wear: Aishwarya is in blue, a colour associated with fantasy, creativity, romance. Tabu wears an earthy red – femininity, love, and the earthy tone of red probably indicates her remaining grounded.

Tabu climbs out of the water almost immediately as the camera focuses on them swimming, and Aishwarya stays in the water. She talks about how she imagines the love of her life would be, how he’d enter her life, and what a great romance it’d be – she’s afloat in the water, splashes around while she talks- she’s in her own world of fantasy. Tabu by now is sitting on the steps, and talks about how she will just take life as it comes, including the life partner. She walks away, climbing up the stairs – an indication of her moving further into reality as she gets ready to meet a prospective groom. Aishwarya dips into the water, reemerging in a dreamy meadow, penning poetry, and launching into Konjum Mynakkale, also picturized to have a dream-like quality – she prefers her world of fantasy.

Here’s the scene I’m talking about:

This video starts at the right point, but it continues into the rest of the movie.

Interestingly, the colors the three wear also form a triadic color scheme (red, yellow, blue):

Source: StudioBinder

Does it mean anything? I’ll update here if I figure it out.

The stark difference between the two central characters is also seen in Kannamoochi Yaenada: when Manohar (Ajith Kumar) attends the golu festival in the village and Sowmya gets flustered by his presence, Meenakshi notices it, and spontaneously breaks into a song.

Notice how the lyrics are filled with passion and yearning. Both of which Sowmya is probably feeling, but Meenakshi voices it with 10X intensity!

For the most part, scenes involving Sowmya, even if it is about her internal world, will have people around her. The only scenes she is seen solo in are the ones where she is experiencing and processing rejection, or separation from Manohar. This indicates her being the responsible one, the one putting others before her, the one who also possibly cares about what her loved ones feel about her decisions.

As for Meenakshi, almost every scene involving her, even if it doesn’t relate to her inner world, has close up, tight shots of her: she puts herself first, doesn’t pause to think of other people when she says wounding things. Towards the end, scenes she appears in expand, with more and more people filling in the spaces around her: this is significant – it shows how she is learning to be less absorbed by her internal workings, and is learning to expand her cares to include her loved ones.

All in all, the film is a treat for the eye and the brain too!

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