This article is not about in-depth analysis, but pretty much on the surface which allows you to decipher the analysis by yourself – a triumph for both, readers as well as viewers.
Mani Ratnam’s Kadal (Sea) plays in a biblical universe, it revolves around forces of good and evil on an explicitly clean deliverance. His previous Raavanan (2010), a mythology adaptation has a cliffhanging climax dealing with psychology of Demon-God in an intriguing, while Kadal plays out a stormy climax while oscillating the Satan.
It is to be noted, how Mani Ratnam soaks the negative characters in these two films – Raavan is blurred while Satan is an explicit demon but both their deeds undertaken for survival and revenge. It’s always easy to write negative and bash a cinematic offering, a film like Kadal was a same catch – over the years it grew on me and Mani Ratnam’s offering isn’t out-of-box or something beyond understanding, it’s neatly packed in terms of its storytelling. It achieves what it sets out for, it definitely deserves a second chance for it’s better understanding…
Kadal begins in a Christian seminary where Sam (Arvind Swamy) meets Bergman (Arjun), both set towards becoming a Father on a peaceful note but the paths chosen are gravely different. Sam wants to be the God’s child for peace while Bergman choses it for survival, both have distinct families – Sam’s dysfunctional rich family while Bergman’s joint family. Bergman is obsessed or rather fascinated with Satan, even in the class he preaches about the Satan while pointing out at the decent Sam as God’s child. Bergman believes to be free without any bond for living in the chosen path, so when he sings “Floating on the waves together…” he is ridiculed to be silent. He believes Sam as one of the shepherds, flocking towards becoming a Father (in the light of probably respect and status?).
Mani Ratnam causally introduces these two principles characters on a ground, where Bergman and Sam encounter each other amidst a football match. It symbolises the match of survival of humanity, faith and religion, while Bergman holds the ball in the opening sequence – soon the ball (metaphorically) comes in Sam’s court accidentally. Sam catches Bergman womanising, to which he can’t hold back since it’s a sin in the lord’s seminary. Since Bergman has to leave the Church seminary, he avenges for Sam for subconsciously killing his path of survival. And there Mani Ratnam draws the baseline for Kadal, which even later would be termed as the sea of sins.
Bergman’s womanising sequence is cut to a seashore where Thomas (5-years old) sleeping next to his Mother is awakened by Chetty. While Thomas waits outside the hut in the rains, we soon realise his Mother is a prostitute and she is now dead. The Church refuses her burial, the village people curse her of being prostitute – Sagaya Mary is her name, who is buried on the wasteland near the coast. Thomas is left nowhere to be after being rejected by Chetty, his life begins with a survival. These are the film’s poignant developments where we’re bewildered into the psyche of 10-year old harassed. His character grows to insecurity and rage, all the childhood trauma gushed into – until Sam enters the village as the Father of the Church.
Church lays in the ruins, which stands for the faith – hardly any of the villagers are believing or attending the Church until Sam. In literal sense, he comes like a saviour for faith and humanity. He plays a crucial role in reforming Thomas, whose innocence has been bathed into the sea as he grows up. Villagers term him as satan’s spawn, but soon in a peculiar symbolic sequence Father Sam extracts his inner voice (rage, trauma) through a radio.
And Sam becomes like his Father-figure – while Thomas, a God’s Child. Goddess of Sea as the people worship, Thomas’ first tinge of happiness is witness inside the sea. It’s like he is baptise in those waves…with help of Father Sam.
The sequences occur at a subconscious level which transforms the characters and realisation in the latter sequences. Even when Bergman resurfaces lying shot on the coast, Father Sam helps him inside a vessel – probably a Noah’s Ark. Father Sam plays the God, who saves Bergman from the metaphorically floods of sins. Bergman’s love-interest Celina plays out like an angel, but remember there’s a satanic psyche traced upon him throughout. He uses Celina to settle his old score with Father Sam. While Father Sam is entangled in the lie, Celina agrees to have committed a sinful physical relationship with Sam while Bergman disappears. Celina’s confession ponders with an angelic resurrection of the divine light as Father Sam is lynched by the mob.
Thomas (Gautam Karthik) meets Beatrice (Thulasi Nair) before Father Sam’s lynching and trap. Although metaphorically, Thomas has been baptised but he requests Father Sam for a real ceremony as he chanced upon Beatrice, who lives in an orphan convent school. Beatrice is an angel in the biblical universe, who has a child-like behaviour while Thomas’ childhood was marred by survival.
Bergman and Thomas have somewhat similar nature, both grown on survival note while longing for an angelic intervention for their contradictory psychological benefits. Bergman’s Celina used against Father Sam (negative) while Beatrice benefits Thomas in terms of absolution and realisation of sins while being able to kind of re-live his childhood (positive). Soon post-lynching Thomas turns towards Bergman, who gets impressed by Thomas being a satan’s spawn. He doesn’t want to understand the reasons behind it rather catches his own reflection. And then sins are committed by Thomas through Magudi Magudi (Play it..)…Bergman now plays a Father-figure. Satan turns humans away from God in the Biblical universe, the same is symbolised through Arjun (Satan) corrupting Thomas (Adam/ Mankind) who is the favourite of Aravind Swamy (God).
Soon the tone of the film changes, from exquisite frames to hand-held frames. From ruins to rebuild, the stark colour contrast plays well – it dips to rustic during a symbolic sequence between Bergman and Sam in the prison, they’re wearing black and white. Bergman’s house is more palatial just like the church which now resides godless. And there are three distinct Father-figures, Chetty, Father Sam and Bergman. Mani Ratnam keeps the biblical universe explicit throughout the film, while juxtaposing characters near Jesus, Cross and even Mary. For example, the reburial sequence of Thomas’ Mother ends with a shot of Mary & Son, which points towards Father Sam’s re-arrival.
Beatrice is a nurse, she nurses Thomas in terms of his character arc. While a peculiar scene reminded me of Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (2000) and Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) which features similar setup (with different context) while female protagonists’ are related to the field of medical in someway. But, here, while nursing Thomas – he gets to know the reasons of her child-like behaviour, a childhood trauma. Beatrice is suffering from Subconscious Defence Mechanism, while Thomas’ childhood trauma is cleared with the help of Father Sam and Beatrice.
Thomas, whose hands are always red with deaths experiences the blood on his hands with birth when Beatrice takes him to a local village. The baby’s head is stuck, Thomas pulls it out – it’s like the angel pulling him out from the world of sins. Cinematographer Rajiv Menon exotically shoots Kadal which is prominently set in the nature’s lap or godly intervention. The world of Thomas-Beatrice is enchantingly shot besides exquisite seashore and water, the frames cannot be more rich and beautiful than they are – it’s heaven. That’s rebirth of Thomas when his witnesses a child birth – the song Chithira Nela (Oh Full Moon) plays here, as it did when his Mother died. There’s an emotional grandeur amidst the biblical morality which touches the transforming in the events of subconscious mechanisms.
Towards the end, the film progresses into a stormy climax – amidst the sea, the revenge drama plays out physically within the nature’s alms. It’s God vs. Satan, in a physical force oscillating themselves in the sea. “Floating on the waves together…”, the song Bergman sings in the seminary flourishes to its notch here in a metaphorical context. Both are bathed into the sea, as the sins committed and on the verge of committing can be washed away. Hence, it is a sea of sins. And the best part of Kadal comes towards the end featuring Beatrice and Thomas (I won’t spoil it for you) – that’s the way Ratnam handles the delicate nuanced Beatrice’s character.
Mani Ratnam’s Kadal begins in a Church seminary and ends with the hymns of a religious ceremony. For an atheist like Mani Ratnam, Kadal comes as an explicit religious form of cinematic offering aiming towards a storytelling on a subconscious level. And for all the interesting manner, the biblical nature has been transformed into an old-wine-new-bottle, it’s his craft of storytelling which compels for a better viewing and understanding. Kadal opened to negative reviews, but it deserves a second chance – yes, it does churn out flaws in terms of its length, exasperating dialogues and intermediating song sequences (even with A R Rahman’s enduring soundtrack), because it instrumentalized good and evil in an appealing cinematic universe.
Director: Mani Ratnam
Music: A R Rahman
Cinematographer: Rajiv Menon
Editor: A. Sreekar Prasad
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