Thursday, August 4, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'I Have Found It (Kandukondain Kandukondain)'

Early this year, I announced my intention to take part in the Austenprose Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. Published in 1811, Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Austen, but it's also one that polarizes fans due to the resolution of the romantic subplots. I happen to love the ending, and I was so pleased that Laurel Ann decided to put together a challenge that would allow me to explore sequels, modernizations, and adaptations of my favorite Austen. This is my first completed item (yay!).

To start with, I picked the film I Have Found It (aka Kandukondain Kandukondain), which was available through my local library. I'd been meaning to see it for years, but never had a real impetus until now. My research (and the back of the DVD case) tells me that this isn't, as I was led to believe, a Bollywood film, but rather a "Kollywood" film, as it's in the Tamil language rather than Hindi. I don't know much about the distinctions, but I'm given to understand that both the language and the style of music are different. Whatever the case, I greatly enjoyed this bright, colorful musical modernization of Sense and Sensibility.

Sowmya (Tabu) and Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai) are two wealthy sisters, living in luxury and only wanting for men they can marry. Sowmya's previous suitor committed suicide on a trip to the United States, which has led to potential suitors believing she's jinxed. Meenakshi, meanwhile, doesn't understand how Sowmya can stand for a marriage their mother would arrange; she longs for a man who will come for her like a storm, passionate and poetic. Their grandfather's health is failing and they don't have much time to lose--fortunately, three men soon enter their lives as potential suitors.

For Sowmya, there is Manohar (Ajith), a young filmmaker recently returned from studying in the United States. He is attracted to Sowmya after a memorable misunderstanding, and eventually swears that he will return and marry her after he has completed his first film. Meenakshi, meanwhile, attracts two men: Commando Major Bala (Mammootty), an embittered, drunken ex-soldier who lost part of one leg in a war, and Srikanth (Abbas), a young businessman who can quote the poetry Meenakshi loves so much. Even as both girls try to navigate these romances, a reversal of fortune leaves them nearly bankrupt, leaving them with no choice but to seek employment--and perhaps to leave any chance of romance behind.

To start with, let me say that I'd never seen a Bollywood or Kollywood film before. I've seen Slumdog Millionaire, but that was a fairly Americanized film and the only dancing and singing that I can remember came at the end, as a sort of homage. I was expecting singing and dancing here, but not so much of it as there was, and nothing so elaborate--at first, I was much like Patrick Dempsey's character in Enchanted ("He's singing? He knows the song, too? But I've never heard this song before!"). When I got over that, I ended up really enjoying the musical numbers. The two best, I felt, were the title song (a duet between Meenakshi and Srikanth) and, surprisingly, a song sung by Manohar to express his feelings to Sowmya. I was really pleased with the slight changes to the modern "Edward" character--Manohar isn't shy and reserved, just young and inexperienced when it comes to his filmmaking, and perhaps not quite sure how he can romance Sowmya.

I actually really enjoyed the characters and the setting/time period update in general. I was surprised at how well certain elements of the story still worked, and how easy it was to translate the setting to India. It was nice to see, in a modern adaptation of the story, the girls getting gainful employment (Sowmya is a skilled computer programmer; Meenakshi is, like Marianne before her, a singer). Instead of a threat of disinheritance from his aunt, the struggle that takes Srikanth away is the threat of his company's financial collapse. Even the scene where the older brother and his wife (John Dashwood and Fanny, in the original) argue over what they should pay the girls is there. I was truly surprised at how well the story still worked; it was such fun to see all the recognizable scenes, just with little tweaks.

Perhaps my favorite of the characters was Bala. It might be because I'm a Brandon fan to begin with, but he made the movie for me. His and Meenakshi's relationship grows into something tender and caring, but even before then, it's a pleasure to watch how much he cares for her. He comes up with a clever ploy to find out Srikanth's address just so she can see him; he even holds the equivalent of the Delaford picnic on his orchid farm. The scenes where he interacted with his uncle were alternately funny and touching. Mammootty's performance was funny and sweet, and I'd rank him with Alan Rickman as a charming, lovable "Brandon." (Watch for the scene near the end in the record store and tell me that does not make you go "awww!")

The other performances were spot-on, I felt. Aishwarya Rai gets the bulk of the movie, and I believed her "Marianne"-ness right off--that opening scene in the pool when she talks about the type of man she wants, that's it, right there. Tabu gave a great performance as the reserved Sowmya; a lot of her emotion was conveyed in her eyes or her face, not an easy task. I already mentioned how much I liked the Manohar character; Ajith made him the right mix of inexperience and assurance, especially during the scenes where he struggles to get his movie made. Lastly, Abbas' performance as the "Willoughby" of the story was well-played, and he was more sympathetic here than in the original story. I actually felt for him somewhat during the equivalent of the "Good God, Willoughby!" scene.

Though I started the film with reservations, I ended up really loving it: the opportunity to see the cultural differences between India and the United States, to see how well the story would work in another setting, and most of all, to see how the characters would translate from the 1800s to 2000. I'm pleased to say that the film was well-done, funny, and even touching at times, and I wouldn't hesitate to watch it again. At two and a half-hours, with many of the musical numbers lasting at least four or five minutes, I'd say, it does feel slightly overlong, but I understand that this is the norm for Indian films. With this film in mind, I'm eager to check out its successor, Bride and Prejudice, which I've heard about for so long. For anyone who's a Sense and Sensibility fan or even just curious about Kollywood films, check this one out! It was such an interesting experience and I loved it.

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