96 Review - Superlative performance from the lead pair in a poetic romance!!!
'Maatrangal Vina. Maatrangale Vidai' (Change is the question. You adapting to it is the answer). This is the message that comes on screen before we get into the world of Ram and Janu. So you assume that this might be the story of a pair trying to move on with their respective lives. But what if one of them is more than content with living in the past. 96 explores this fascinating aspect in a romance that touches you in a way like no other film in recent memory. It is only Love that embraces the screen throughout the runtime of '96' and has you smiling, pondering over and quite literally chokes you with emotions.
We get introduced to Ram (Vijay Sethupathy) through that delightful opening song that is a visual treat. We understand that he is a travel photographer. But we also get to know so much else about him. Most important among them is that he seems to be a loner. There are frames in this song that has Ram at the centre of a desert whose radius seems to be infinity. The feelings are mixed. You wonder if the loneliness hurts but you also see that Ram looks happy. It does not seem like a life of compulsion but rather one that he has chosen. Two things already standout by now. The music and the cinematography.
The film is about the lead pair getting to meet each other in their school reunion. As the friends plan the reunion through a Whatsapp group you get to know the diversity of the group. Something as simple as referring the same place as Chennai and Madras by two different persons establishes this. But this is just setting things up for what we have in store .The unexpected reunion of Ram and Janu (Trisha) or were they really apart from each other if you excuse the distance in kilometres between them? The initial scenes that has them finding it difficult to be normal keep you suspecting. The acting is solid but you wonder if things are made up a little too cute to make the proceedings lively. But this doubt keeps blurring as we get to delve more into the psyche of these 2 extremely likable personalities.
Vijay Sethupathy comes up with a performance that has you falling for the man repeatedly throughout the film. There is always a certain way he plays his characters. A tinge of sarcasm would always be glued to his eyes. But here as Ram we actually see something else. You see a tinge of sadness. (This was seen in Soodhu Kavvum as well but there too humour was at the forefront). Ram is not a sad personality. He in fact is living life on his terms but his yearning for something that he wants the most but possibly something that he will never get stings you. And it stings you because Vijay Sethupathy plays it in a manner that you cannot describe but need to savour. Brimming with innocence throughout, this is a performance that is going to remain in memory for quite sometime. Trisha is not left behind. This for me is her career best performance and she hardly presents a false note. 96 keeps getting back to memories showcasing incidents between the lead pair in their school days. But tell you what. Even without this memory refreshing exercise the performance of Vijay Sethupathy and Trisha would have sufficed for us to understand the depth of their love. The school portions do help in triggering nostalgia and the uncanny similarity of the actors playing the younger versions of Vijay Sethupathy and Devadarshini ensures in establishing a sense of believability.
The entire second half is an emotional battle between two characters. We get to know so much about what they have been through all these years in the absence of each other. Ram is actually an updated version of the protagonist from Vikraman's Poove Unakaga. He just cannot see beyond Janu. You might or might not agree if there can be such a person but you certainly believe everything about Ram in 96. Again, I cannot but repeat and wonder how Vijay Sethupathy pulled this off. There is this unbelievably cute scene centering around the virginity status of Ram. Seeing a 37 year old guy cringe in embarrassment while also having a certain pride over the said status .... Well, no words can do justice to what we see. This is also a film where there are no external factors as in caste, class, etc playing spoilsport. It is just about how the actions or rather the inactions of the two in love keepthem mulling over the fact of 'What could have been?' and this keep haunting them. This is a film that makes no bones about the fact that Ram does not act happy to ensure that Janu is happy. Both the characters just let it out to each other as to how much they mean to each other despite the fact that they could never possibly fathom a future to their liking. Ram infact asks Janu if she is happy and she is not sure. So she replies that she is at peace. There is a world of difference between the two.
Premkumar makes a terrific debut. The film never tries to judge its characters. It has us falling in love with Ram. We love the fact that he is so much into love. We love his innocence. We love the fact that he feels he is inferior and not good enough for Janu. We love the fact at how he cringes in embarrassment at the proximity of the opposite gender. We love everything about him. But at no point we feel that the maker is trying to imply that this is what true love is or this is the only way that love should be. This is a film that celebrates Ram, Janu and their love. Nothing more and nothing less.
Only at a few places did I feel that the two characters were behaving a little too cute for their age but even this feel vanishes as the film progresses. You do get convinced that two people completely in love with each other and with no one around them to judge would probably be Ram and Janu. There is this scene where a character jokingly comments about an adult viewing at the photo of a kid in a possibly romantic manner. For a moment I wondered on how dangerous it is to pass this as a joke in the times of child abuse that we live in. But after a moment of pondering and looking at the harmless characters on screen, it left me wondering if the problem was with the comment or with the fact that we live in these times that an actually inoffensive joke has us worried.
A poetic romance that stirs in you a gamut of emotions.