Nostalgic Romance Rekindled in the Kathal Athu Ragasiyamanathu

Revisits nostalgic romance of the student era, and how it is followed up to the retirement age.

TV and Stage veteran director, Vijeyasingham Kandasamy, whose experience spans five decades, finally took it upon himself to unleash a feature film – and a quiet one at that, centering on nostalgic romance.

A Malaysian prominent TV director, actor and doyen of early, stage performance platform in the country, Vijeyasingham, who has been in the film and television industry for the last fifty odd years, has now directed his first theatrical feature film, Kathal Athu Ragasiyamanathu and premiered it on 07 September 2022. The event was graced by the usual VIPs of the industry, as well as some of the veterans, whom this writer have not met for decades. Veteran actor Gunasegaran, for instance, who was one of the earliest regulars of RTM Tamil dramas popped in to show his respect as he had been constantly worked in his earlier TV outputs.

The event was quiet, much like the film itself (will get in to the review shortly) and there were few quick speeches, including an emotional one from director Vijeyasingham himself. It was momentous as he put up a brave struggle to get the romance flick released on big screen on time, within the limited budget, especially with a more grounded subject. A pretty courageous move, if I may say so myself, in the era of post-Covid dread where almost no one want to walk down narrow corridors into the dark hall of magic screen shows.

Which brings us to the film itself.

Riknaveen and Chandhine as the school students Ram and Pooja, the moments when romance was budding between them.

Romance Is Charming

To those who have recently watched Malaysian Indian flicks which are strongly based on genres such as thriller and action, they will find this film to be slow moving. It is leisurely paced and takes its own sweet time to let things sink in which is essential in any romance flick.

Indeed, if you find the other films to be conspicuously vacant in their attempts to ape genres that may not quite fit in this tropical, multi-racial country, then you will find this gentle little drama charming indeed.

In fact, there is almost an inverse, muted Mera Naam Joker (1970) vibe in the film for those who remember one of the most famed outputs from the late actor/director Raj Kapoor of the Hindi film world. That story, if you remember, is about a guy in his prime as a famous circus clown, who recalls all the love affairs of his life, going back to the school days. The younger role was donned by his own son (Rishi Kapoor), so you have two actors playing the same role pursuing nostalgic romance over the years.

Likewise, you have Riknaveen and later, MJ Nada playing the role of the adult Ram, criminal lawyer in later stage of life and never quite finding closure to the romance of his past, or would he?

Much of the charm in the film comes mainly from the flashback scenes, going back to the schooldays of the central characters which many of us can related to, the puppy love that include falling for a hot teacher, entailing in the rivalry with fellow student, as well as the grounded reality, filled with friction, at home with unsavoury characters around to boot.

Puspha Narayan is the teacher Alice – the sort many coming of age young bloke students would fall for, more because of infatuation than romance.

From School To Adult Romance

Then, we go on to the adulthood phase where the romance seeded at the school journeying into a rocky path, walking along the jagged edge of career and other pains of adulthood prodding right toward the climax of the affair that seems not reachable either. Both Riknaveen and Chandine Kaur playing the young couple has enough amount of deer-caught-in-flashlight innocence about them in the student period, blooming into uncertain adulthood later.

Up to this point, depending on the amount of nostalgia the audience got buried inside themselves, can be pretty daunting, or exciting. The director, a fellow hardcore Sivaji Ganesan fan, may also have subconsciously drawn his inspiration from a flopped but delightful film produced and directed by Savithiri Ganesan, Praptham (1971), which focuses on same couple (Savithiri and Sivaji) in various reincarnations of romance throughout those lives.

In this film, the couples experience some sort of rebirths, albeit in the same lifetime, and that is relatable to most of us. Especially, when you are in your older age and figuring out, where the heck is she and I wonder what she is doing now?

This part forms the third act of the film, where the older version of the couple, played by MJ Nada and Kavitha Chetty in their own track in life now; the former, a very successful lawyer who is widowed immediately as the character is reintroduced, while the latter works as an unmarried hostel administrator. Do they finally get together? Do you want them to?

The film gets bogged down in the mid-section – a very dangerous terrain in many storytelling platform. The second act is deadly for scriptwriters. Many films fall into this ditch, and the third act is, in the hands of capable writers and filmmakers, can be compensating if handled well. In this case, the entire last part of the flick relied heavily on the performance by Nada, and this is where many would find certain conflict.

You see, the earlier version of the character is shown as cooler, collective, and reflective (and romance-struck) as played by Riknaveen in a very understated but fun performance. Nada, in the meanwhile, is more ballistic; I can imagine the director taking cue from Sivaji Ganesan in both Uyarntha Manithan (1968) and Motor Sundrampillai (1966) as fathers tasked with forgoing the past lives and attempting to balance it with the realities of a family that just happened outside of his nostalgic framework. 

The audience may have a trifle difficulty in accepting the two versions of the same character, but then, have we not – in real life – known a nice youth once, and then meeting the same in form of, say, a raging alcoholic decades later?

MJ Nada as the older Ram.

Despite the run it will make in the cinema circuit, I believe the film will fare better and find more appreciative (and nostalgic) audience in the OTT platform (Martin Scorcese, for example, was wise to not have his epic The Irishmen on cinema and found better success and adulation on Netflix). The most original aspect of the film is, despite my comparisons above, is that it is still much grounded, very personal and does not try to attempt any big ideas. It chews what it can swallow. It’s a close-up of emotional entanglement, not a landscape shot of human traffic.

That makes Kathal Athu Ragasiyamanathu a very interesting entry in the list of the very few, but now growing, Malaysian Indian film outputs. Those who had seen the youthful trailer may wonder what a veteran director doing, making films about romance amidst teen especially in the first part. But upon reaching the third act, he shifts gear and looks at more matured characters dealing with their past and looking for redemptive moments. Here, perhaps, the director himself looking back at his past, the storied life he had led, making stage plays, TV dramas, Teleserial, and an aborted film project in India. These were the relationships he had with the medium; and this feature film is Vijeyasingham finally reconciling with his first love, a theatrical cinematic outing.

Note: Kathal Athu Ragasiyamanathu will start screening in theatres nation-wide from Sept. 15 onwards. Experience the nostalgia and romance. For more information please go here … – NMH

About the writer: Rakesh Kumar is a writer, scriptwriter, and a film aficionado, who is four years and nine months clean and sober. And counting.

The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the NMH.

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