96 Review

Only a few tunes haunt you and play in your head time and again for no reason. Such was the resonance of 'Kaadhale Kaadhale' from '96 The Movie'. Even before the film was released, the tune had a slow-burning rage among the 80s kids like me. Directed by Premkumar, whose association with Vijay Sethupathi dates back to the actor's formative years, the movie heavily leans on nostalgia and fond school memories that could get hooked with anyone's memories.

The movie explores the unfulfilled romance between Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) and Janu (Trisha), who had profoundly fallen in love with each other in their school days. Eventually, life brings them together for their school batch meet, and their long lost memories get rekindled that are painful yet poignant.

In terms of story, the movie had nothing much to offer, but a piece of romance. The film is a mood piece that heavily leans on the burnt out romance between the lead pair and nostalgia and expects us to stay invested for a good 150 minutes on the same with some lively moments now and then.

The performances from the lead pair of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha along with some lovely supporting cast like Bhagavathi Perumal, Devadarshini and 'Aadukalam' Murugadoss were very natural and just sailed along with the flow. The junior versions of the lead pair, in the flashback portions, especially the one who played younger Trisha, Gouri G Kishan was so full of life and even trumped Trisha, the senior. Also, Adithya Bhaskar (MS Bhaskar's son) who played the young Vijay Sethupathi was a natural for the role.

The first half was breezy and had those cliched yet refreshing narrative bits of the tender school memories, the blossoming of romance and other such things. Also, it is juxtaposed with a reunion, wherein Bhagavathi Perumal and Devadarshini take the lead to keep us entertained with their timely and sensible dialogues. I especially adored the screen translation of a WhatsApp conversation that supposedly happens within a school group. These bits could easily be related to anyone who is in their late 30s or the famous 80s kids.

The second half, however, hinges heavily on subtle and delicate moments, a bit of melodrama, a few heartbreakers - everything wrapped around a wet handkerchief that begs for our tears now and then. The inherent slow pace in the script was a dampener and could be felt much towards the end.

The greatest asset for the movie was Govind Menon's music. The music and BGM poignantly fill every frame with poetry and makes the heart melt. The 'Anthaathi' version that was used in bits and pieces was so mellifluous and haunting. Shanmuga Sundaram's camera has travelled along with the characters and has infused life even into lifeless things - the bridge in the first half could be an example.

The movie nevertheless brings back nostalgic memories, and '96 was a great year of choice as it was the period that was still alien to the modern day gadgets and media. It was also well represented in title style that encompasses every yesteryear thing, right from Michael Jackson to Doordarshan to Gold Spot. Director Prem Kumar and the team have to be lauded for bringing back such beautiful memories on screen without making too many commercial compromises.

96 is a slow burning romantic drama on a burnt out romantic tale that has a fresh and poignant narrative coupled with natural performances from everyone on screen. Rating: 3 - Baranidharan Sivasankaran