On the occasion of the first anniversary of Ok Kanmani, our celebration of Mani’s Parandhu Sella Vaa

By Mani Prabhu

In a brilliant celluloid moment, that is drenched in candour, squeezed for hormonal truths and hung to dry with a naughty nonchalance, the lively Tara finds herself stranded in the suburban lanes of Ahmedabad with the commitment-phobic Adhitya, contemplating on the option of spending the night in a cranky lodge. When Adhi tells Tara that they would need to make do with the only available room, she smiles. This guy is in form and she seems to like it. It’s there, written all over her face.

When she questions Adhi if he could stay with her in the room over-night and remain well-behaved, he nods with a chuckle. Hanging on the exact smug smile, when she asks him whether he thinks she would remain well-behaved, we chuckle with a nod. That moment, if you had heard a random voice inside your head that goes “The floor is all yours, Mani!” you probably are not to be blamed. You have been dragged into the imminent wizardry by a master magician. And you have just been witness to the first part of his trick, ‘The Pledge’.

Mani shows you something ordinary, his object; in this case, two persons away from home, who don’t seem to let the social structure come in the way of their personal decisions. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it’s indeed real, unaltered, and normal.  It probably is or isn’t. But you are already sold.

As they enter the compact room in the lodge, Adhi playfully asks Tara for a final thumbs up. Are you watching? Do you see the magician setting us up for his second act, ‘The Turn’?  The night is young for the daring couple, who have probably taken a conscious decision to be together and have their idea of fun. When Adhi toys around with his iPad app creating musical loops, he asks Tara to try it out and croon something. The chemistry and the flirting are totally palpable. When Tara starts a verse with a hint of feverish verve, she gives the feel of flying in the air, and invites Adhi over to experience it. Calm before the storm? She is enjoying it, alright. Are you watching? They break into a delightful impromptu jig for the loopy song, which steadily escalates to complex territory. Just like that. An intimate moment with an acquaintance of the opposite sex. An atmosphere of sudden sensuality.

Parandhu Sella Vaa... the magician strikes yet again!

Adhi makes some cute advances as they get closer, but his body language is deceptively cool. Tara flashes that bewitching smile every other second, but deep inside, the lump in her throat is obvious. They both seem to be thoroughly enjoying the pain of restraint. Just like that. We are taken around the room lit with subtle hints of pink and green, and treated to fleeting glimpses of a new-age romance blooming in the claustrophobia. Or is it? Is it just some splurging hormones causing havoc? What are they feeling? Just a liking? New-found love? Carnal frenzy? Dare you bat an eyelid? The guy is allergic to commitment, and the girl is gamophobic. And, what are they doing, jiggling around in a room? “Rest your brains for a while, but don’t let your heart handle everything meanwhile”, she says. Just like that. What does she even mean?

Are you watching closely? With Tara starting the phrase “Nanaindhu Kollava”, after a solid three minutes of the deceptive second act, the minimalistic violin begins and kaboom, the mood and colour of the visuals get an elegant twist. “How about getting drenched with you, even if it meant no rains? How about getting to know you more, without getting too physical?” he asks. “How about floating like a cloud patch for now?” she replies. What started as a soaring flight probably just turned into a floating one! For the couple and the audience alike. What seemed like electrifying ardour suddenly seems like soothing comfort. The beautiful ‘getting-to-know-each-other’ phase takes centre-stage now.

“What if we transcend the confines of the defined emotions?” he continues. “What if we just forget all gnawing thoughts and enjoy the process?” she replies back, flashing that twinkle in her eyes again. Dare you take your eyes off the screen? The magician puts the ordinary something in a seemingly predictable conflict and misleads you initially. He takes you on a ‘trip’ all along, giving you exactly the same thing that you yearn for, but with a twist. And now you’re looking for the secret…but you won’t find it, because of course, you’re not really looking!

Parandhu Sella Vaa... the magician strikes yet again!

Think again. And admit it. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Not because you are still gaping. But, because making something magical isn’t just enough; you have to give it your own personal touch. That’s why the second act is not enough. As Tara changes back to her night-dress and goes to bed, her eyes beaming with joy of having gotten to know a wonderful person, she treasures every moment in her heart.  A part of her is still not ready to delve into the future, but some strange comfort puts her to sleep, smiling mysteriously.

Adhi proceeds to lie down on the swing by the side, a lot more subtle in his emotions, but still not letting go off his flirtatious grin. Just like that. Even as societal values and hormones seemed to fight it out on the outside, projecting it as a dual between the heart and the brain, deep inside, it was more of a truce. A truce between the instant deadly attraction they felt for each other and their pressing need (and in general, of the generation that they represent) to know and respect the other person first to enjoy any kind of physical closeness. And that’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’.

And in bringing the three-part act to celluloid screen, in all its perfection, glory and finesse, the prestige of the magician in Mani Ratnam rests.

A version of the above article was first published in the blog www.madaboutmoviez.com