Even before the birth of cinema, artists and storytellers have always seen humankind's endless fascination with time as a great narrative tool. The human condition exists due to the rigid linearity of time, and time-travel titles from recent years like Dark, Indru Netru Naalai, Russian Doll and Tenet continue to prove that it's a sub-genre that can offer a plethora of possibilities to a storyteller. Debutant director Shree Karthick's Kanam (Oke Oka Jeevitham in Telugu) is one such attempt that refrains from using time travel as a mere gimmick. The play with time is intended to drive forward a bigger point here: the inevitability of fate.
Three friends, Aadhi (Sharwanand), Pandi (Ramesh Tilak), and Kadhir (Sathish) get a second chance at life after a chance encounter with a reclusive scientist Paul (Nasser), who offers to send them back 20 years in time in return for a favour. It's a no-brainer decision for Aadhi, a man who struggles to move on from the death of his mother (Amala Akkineni). Aadhi wants to go back in time and save his mother from her untimely death. Though the film treats the causes of Pandi and Kadhir in a light-hearted manner, it never patronises their struggles; Pandi wants his younger self to focus more on education so as to not end up as a real estate broker, while Kadhir wishes to go back and woo his classmate. To them, these quests are as life-changing as Aadhi's.
Throughout the film, you might think of some unconvincing reasonings and logical fallacies. Why didn't Paul attempt this mission in 20 long years? Why didn't he tell them about the repercussions of time travel? Or, how did a certain character escape from a certain place? The screenplay too, a straightforward one with little or no subversion, has its share of cliched sequences. However, Kanam is a film which makes you all the more forgiving of these flaws. There's also an attempt right from the beginning — a conscious one, I assume — to tell us that this isn't a film to look out for all those things. Kanam lends you a warm comforter, lets you revel in some of its well-written heartwarming moments, and proceeds to tell a tear-jerker of a story about a mother and a son. The film banks on its emotional beats, and it works beautifully.
An emotionally-driven story as such isn't entirely new to us and like many others, the melodrama might come across as a tad too much in some circumstances. However, for the major parts of the film, the background music and acting elevate the writing and, once again, you are so enchanted by it all that you end up forgiving the minor flaws. Also, nobody knows how someone will react when they see their late mother after 20 years, or the emotional heft of going back to one's school days and meeting their old selves. Moments like when Aadhi once again gets to relish the taste of his mother's cooking are... magical to say the least.
After playing a cheerful role in Aadavallu Meeku Johaarlu, we see Sharwanand play a sombre man with deep-seated grief. Interestingly, when we first meet Aadhi, we don't see a hero with a grand introduction sequence; he is a dispirited man with no drive in life, nursing a hangover and dark circles after a night of heavy drinking. Even during moments of elation, his expressions are measured.
In any other film, watching an actor bear the same sullen expression for most parts may not do it much good, and Aadhi might even come across even as unrealistic or exaggerated to some. But grief acts on its own time and does unimaginable things to the mind — especially at a tender age — and the film conveys this convincingly. Kanam needs a protagonist like Aadhi and an actor like Sharwanand to play him.
Similarly, Amala is terrific in what is her comeback film, one that can be likened in some ways to her previous Telugu appearance, Manam. The soul of Kanam is the bond between a mother and a son, and the scenes featuring both Amala and Sharwanand are lovely or heart-wrenching.
Take, for instance, the scene in which the mother speaks of the first time she heard her son sing. There are no gimmicky, dramatic shots, in a conscious decision to retain all the focus only on the emotions that the frames, dialogues, and performances evoke. Though Ritu Varma, who plays Aadhi's girlfriend Vaishnavi, doesn't get much screen time, her character proves vital in retrospect. Kudos to the Ninnila Ninnila actor for choosing to be a part of such endearing dramas.
Kanam is a delightful debut for Shree Karthick. Not only has he created a compelling film, but he also managed to provide enough fan service to his favourite star Rajinikanth (it’s charming how these moments too become a part of the narrative). Above all else, it is the loveliest of tributes to his late mother.
Kanam/ Oke Oka Jeevitham is currently running in theatres