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Review Tamil

'96 review: A throwback to a simpler time, of gentler men and true love

Release Date: 04 Oct 2018 / Rated: U / 02hr 37min

Cinestaan Rating

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Manigandan KR

What director Premkumar does with '96 is that he shows men in a manner that most Tamil film directors have not.

They say the sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thoughts. And the sweetest films are those that tell of individuals who were madly in love and separated cruelly by fate. Director C Premkumar’s '96 is one such. In fact, it is one of the sweetest films you can hope to watch in Indian cinema.

Everything but everything about this film is charming. From its cinematography (which is nothing less than brilliant) to its music (which is apt and mellifluous) to its characters (which are deep and truthful) and, finally, to its story, which is so endearing that you can think of nothing other than the film and its characters long after it has ended.

In short, this is a masterpiece.

The film is so good and the work of all those who have worked on it so perfect that one doubts whether Premkumar himself will be able to repeat this feat even if he wants to.

K Ramachandran (Vijay Sethupathi) is an ace travel photographer in his early forties. Competent, well-settled and content with what he has been doing in life, Ramachandran is the kind of guy who can make those with regular jobs eat their hearts out in envy.

When he is not shooting pictures, the photographer teaches photography. Life could not have been better. Then, one day, Ramachandran decides to go back home to Tanjore. He has been away for a long time and so, as he enters his native town, which holds great historical significance, he is excited. He recalls to one of his students specific events related to each place in the town.

They enter a stretch that houses his old school. Ramachandran decides to stop and visit the institution. Once there, the memories come flooding back and the photographer is tempted to try and meet all his classmates, whom he last met in 1996.

He gets in touch with a close friend from the batch who adds Ramachandran to a WhatsApp group of the 1996 batch. Everyone is delighted to hear from Ramachandran and agree that they must have a reunion. The group decides that the reunion will happen a couple of months later. And it is there that Ramachandran gets to meet all his friends and classmates, including Janaki or Janu (Trisha), the girl he has been in love with since their schooldays.

Life has taken the two on different paths, but the affection they have for each other is unchanged  in 22 years. What happens when they meet is what the film is about.

Every single character in this film is outstanding. From Janagaraj, one of the great comedians of Tamil cinema who makes a comeback with this film as a school watchman, to Devadarshini who plays Subha, one of Ramachandran's closest friends, to Bagavathi Perumal and Aadukalam Murugadoss who play a crucial role in arranging the reunion, everybody is perfect.

Special mention needs to made of two young artistes, Gouri G Kishan, who plays the young Janaki, and Aadithya Baaskar, who plays the young Ramachandran. In fact, Gouri's performance is so good in the first half that one is left wondering if Trisha will be able to match her in charm in the second. The same can be said of Aadithya Baaskar. Luckily for the team of '96, both Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha are masters of their craft. They not only match the charm portrayed by the younger artistes, but also go on to outscore everybody else.

Trisha is a delight to watch. She gently teases her way into not just Ram’s heart but also the hearts of the audiences. Her mischief makes you grin while her sorrow makes you sob. Her performance is so realistic that in spite of yourself, you experience the disappointment she experiences. 

Vijay Sethupathi as Ramachandran is dignity personified. He is solid as a rock, displaying the traits and behaviour of what you would call a perfect gentleman. Despite his love for Janu exceeding all bounds, Ram is ever under control, making sure his feelings do not cause her any discomfort. Ever careful not to hurt Janu even in the slightest, he goes out of his way to make her comfortable. All she has to do is look at him and he knows what she wants.

Director Premkumar deserves a special round of applause for showcasing and defining love as it really was back then. Most people who were really ever in love never uttered the words. It was a feeling that was mutually felt and reciprocated with just glances. And it is this magic that Premkumar brings to the fore in his beautifully crafted on-screen poem, '96.

The film deserves to get awards for both its cinematography and music. It has been shot by two cinematographers — N Shanmugha Sundaram and Mahendran Jeyaraju. Every scene in the film is so good that you could genuinely turn every frame into a painting, a visual treat. The lighting, the colours, the symmetry, the angles, there is not one factor which is wrong or could have been better. Everything is just perfect.

The music by Govind Vasantha is equally impressive.

Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan

What director Premkumar does with '96 is that he shows men in a manner that most Tamil film directors have not. He pays attention to how his hero is portrayed. His hero Ramachandran is a dignified man, one who cares for his love with all his heart. He might be strong and masterful, but when it comes to speaking to the woman he loves, he trembles for fear of doing or saying something that might hurt her.

For too long has Tamil cinema portrayed men as creatures who do not possess any control over their carnal instincts. It has portrayed them as stalkers, maniacs, psychos who are desperate for sex and will not spare any woman they come across. Premkumar shows how most men really are. He sets the record straight on how the ordinary man romances in reality. Do not miss it for anything in the world.

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