96 ~ A dip in pure Ganges of Nostalgia
Star Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Gauri G Kishan, Trisha Krishnan, Adithya Bhaskar, Varsha Bollamma, Devadarshini, and Niyathi Kadambi
Music Composed by Govind Menon
Cinematography by Mahediran Jayaraju
Edited by R. Govindaraj
Directed by C Prem Kumar
Whenever I think about listening to a good song, I remember Ilayaraja or AR Rahman songs. Not that others have scored bad but there is a quality of addiction in their music. Similarly, when I think about past, I always remember the days when I exchanged friendship bands, wrote slam books, thought life is always as simple as writing classroom notes and hoping that no teacher will give homework. Always dwell about how did I miss that one catch that would have made me school famous and that one subject in which I missed few marks to achieve a percentage that parents wished from me. But then when I also remember that one crush whom I adored and that one girl who might have to lead me to my discovery of manhood, I just practically lose myself in nostalgia and crack open a different world.
Well, this is 96 movie in a nutshell. It is about how all those missed opportunities that could have guided two souls to unite. They just seem to be living in the same moment but in different ways. One of them purely lusts living in those memories and looks to avoid them at the same time. The other seems to have moved on in a practical sense but emotionally she locked herself up in a beautiful case. Both of them, are not themselves. Life has hit them so hard that their small mistakes have cost them an entire life of satisfaction and happiness.
They are school friends, so they don’t have to shy from each other while talking. They are dissected souls, they don’t have to explain themselves to each other dramatically. A subtle gesture is enough. For example, when Janaki wants the gear of their life to be changed Ram insists after a hesitation to move in the direction that destiny as decided for her. She wants to rebel, she wants to make him listen hence she doesn’t take her hand away even after the ultimate distancing path-ending destination has arrived. She still wants to live in that bubble but Ram knows much better. He doesn’t want to juxtapose a family that needs her and her reputation in society. What if, this is how Rama really wanted to Ramayana to end? What if he wanted Janaki to rebel him and stay away so that world will not question her purity and lead to their ultimate separation again? Maybe Lava Kusa would have never been single parent kids even though they could have had both by their side if either of them is not too gullible and honest.
The ripples of nostalgia just hits us so much that we feel the well balanced lifeless puddle of our life has been shaken so hard. While there are times that make you wonder why the movie is so slow but there are many moments that just touch us so much that we can’t really say slowness is a crime. Sometimes, life needs to take a pause from fast action and slowly make us realise what we could have been and what we have become. Ram wants her to be in his house, at least for a cup of coffee. He wants to share everything with her that he cannot with anyone else. Janaki doesn’t rebel this thought, in fact, she is more courageous than him in that entire scenario. The moments we see there, like her finally singing the song he wants her to sing and the way she is not embarrassed to use his soap or slip into his clothes. For him, this is all new and for her, this is all common. Not because she became too forward, as he points out but she feels she owns him. That’s the reason she feels helpless when she remembers he needs someone is his lonely life but she can’t feel the void.
96 is filled with such moments dealt very realistically. The moment when she is hurt that he prefers to not answer to even her, a wave of guilt hits her. Her ego is hurt. Her Ram, the man she owns did not even answer her. But then when she decides to talk to him again, as she doesn’t want that moment to be the end of their story, he says, “I am there where you left me!” It is she who left him from his POV. It is she who did not meet him when he wanted to finally talk to her and meet her after three years of silent tracking and stalking. He took it as a refusal but he is still there waiting for her. Hence, she rectifies that mistake by telling his students that if she had known it was him, she would have run into his embrace without any doubts and questions.
Later, she opens up about how she waited for him but he is nowhere to be found. He does open up finally to say how he was present in each moment of her life, even at her marriage, without her knowing. When she again feels that she made a mistake of not trying to look for him, he accepts that it is him who assumed she did not like him and who did not pursue even harder for their love. Both are equally wrong and both are equally right. It is just life, there are no wrongs and rights, there are just situations and reactions.
Performances of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha are key to keep us arrested. But the young girl (Gauri G Kishan) needed to hit our heart so hard that we can’t escape falling for her magic. Even the young boy (Adithya Bhaskar) is a true revelation. Frames carefully constructed and executed by dop and director Prem Kumar are just pure gold in this eye feast experience. It is hard to describe his frames as each one contains its own story and meticulous art!
In conclusion, I would like to say that this is the kind of movie where to don’t mind mistakes and runtime. This is the kind of music where you love to be hit by that wave of nostalgic ocean drenching you in the magic of what-ifs and stored memories. It is criminal for a film to be this good, this heartfelt, this honest and this magical. In a day and age, when box-office is the only measure sometimes one wonders what if we can pause those numbers and number crunchers to just relieve and re-live in memories of an era that seems to never come back. Yes, even good films that just aim at your heart but not at your pocket are rare to come by. While Rama and Janaki found love to be tough when circumstances, influenced by outsiders play a major role this Ram and Janaki just couldn’t find the courage to own their love beyond the realm of silent gestures!!
One of the best review’s Survi Sir. I would say that’s the purest form of love, I have ever seen. Keep continuing your good work.
“It is criminal for a film to be this good, this heartfelt, this honest and this magical.” – Great compliment Pavan Survi! Happy Love Stories might wilt away with time. But these missed love, ‘what if’ contemplations keep the blossomed love fresh forever. Memories make them eternal. ‘Missing’ makes the Nostalgia precious. Maybe the two souls keep humming “Kaathalae Kaathalae” forever. I don’t know if this poem is relevant but felt like quoting…
“Stephen kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.
Stephen’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.”
― Sara Teasdale, The Collected Poems