Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Indian take on Sense and Sensibility


Before I review this Indian version of Sense and Sensibility- Kandukondain Kandukondain(Loosely translated into ' I have found it'), I think it's important that the predominantly non-Indian reader knows of the scenario of society in most parts of India. As my examiner from Trinity once remarked " What women went through with regards marriage in the times of Austen is what most Indian women go through today".

This is a society where arranged marriages are still very prominent. A society which is as conservative as it is vivid, as developing as it is traditional. Sexism is still very rampant. Marriages are made more out of convenience than out of love. So yes, this is probably the reason Austen means so much to me. Because I can absolutely understand her female characters and her brilliant depiction of society and its idiosyncrasies. In Austen, I find an understanding companion. I've met my share of Caroline Bingleys, Fanny Dashwoods and Lucy Steeles. The Mr. Darcys, Wentworths and Knightleys are scarce though, sadly.

With this scenario in mind, I hope the film and its relevance is much better comprehensible to the reader.

The film revolves around the lives of the descendants of a much respected family of royal lineage. Soumya( Eleanor), Meenakshi ( Marianne) and Kamala( Margaret) are the daughters of Padma( Mrs. Dashwood) who is the head of the family, and is considered one of the most prominent people of their village. She presides over major religious/social events in the village and unlike the Mrs. Dashwood in Austen's book, exhibits much more spunk in bringing up her three daughters by herself, having lost her husband quite a long time ago. She lives in her ancestral home while taking care of her bed-ridden father.


Soumya an exaggeration of Eleanor Dashwood, an exaggeration meant to fit the mold of a 'traditional Indian girl' that is, does not believe much in love marriages and even goes to the extent of proclaiming " Have I chosen my name? My femininity? My appearance? Then why should I choose my husband? "


Meenakshi, on the other hand, is passionate about the idea of love and looks forward to falling in love. If it is Cowper for the Marianne Dashwood in Austen's book and Shakespeare's sonnet no 116 for the Marianne in Ang Lee's film version of Sense and Sensibility, it is Bharathi's wondrous poetry that is the staple for Meenakshi.

Manohar ( Edward Ferrars ) is an aspiring film director, who has given up a luxurious life with his over-protective, almost obsessive parents and has decided to make his own fortune. He meets Soumya and the two fall in love. He promises to marry her after he is able to direct his first film successfully.


Major Bala ( Col. Brandon) lost his leg in a war; something which he claims didn't hurt him as much as the reception( or the lack of it) to his return from the war zone did. " Do you know what is worse than death? Being forgotten." he says to Meenakshi once. He is captivated by Meenakshi's singing and asks her to take up singing professionally. She agrees to learn music if he quits drinking obsessively. Deprived of love, care and affection for a long time, he falls in love with Meenakshi.


But enter Srikanth( John Willoughby), a world famous businessman in quintessential- hero- style rescuing Meenakshi in the pouring rain, sharing her love for poetry and Bharathi, Major Bala is reduced to being the 'friend'. As the sisters' love lives progress, a major blow is dealt when Padma's invalid father dies. His will, written in anger when Padma married someone against his wishes ( Love marriages were scandals in India, about 30 years ago), gives their family nothing, leaving their fate in the hands of Padma's brother Swaminathan ( John Dashwood).

Swaminathan aka Sam and his wife arrive at their ancestral home after 10 years to attend the funeral of his father. Sam's wife ( Fanny Dashwood) doesn't look forward to parting with anything, despite her husband's wishes to give his sister and her family enough money. The family decides to leave their village and search for a living in the city. This when Srikanth's company goes through a major setback angering investors and leading to severe protests.

Soumya finally finds a job in the city, while Meenakshi lands a singing contract even as she finds that Srikanth has married someone else in exchange for being offered money to wade his company out of trouble. She refuses to elope with him despite his repeated protests and finds that love isn't about sharing the same hobbies or sweet talk, but about caring and being there for a person when they need it the most.

Manohar finds it tough to direct his dream film without compromising on the script. Problems also loom as gossip columnists talk about his alleged love fling with the heroine of his first film. How Meenakshi and Soumya resolve problems and marry their true love forms the rest of the story.


Tabu is brilliantly mature and her emotions are aptly minimalistic as Soumya( Eleanor), while Ajit acquits himself well as Manohar( Edward). Tabu's acting is top notch, be it while suspecting that Manohar might be having an affair with an actress, or be it breaking into inconsolable tears when Manohar too feels that she is unlucky for his career. Oh yes, here comes the healthy dose of superstition: Unlike Austen's Eleanor, this film's Soumya is widely construed by many people, especially Sam's wife( Fanny Dashwood) as a symbol of ill-luck.


Aishwarya Rai in her role as Meenakshi is more exasperating than Marianne ever was! Abbas as Srikanth gets on my nerves with his poker face and cheesy delivery of even the most simple lines. He sure can't act even if his life depended on it. One major plot in Austen's Sense and Sensibility is that we're all supposed to like Willoughby at first, like Marianne, before discovering what he could actually become. But with Abbas' Srikanth, you are sure to hate him right from Scene 1, which sort of defeats the purpose of his character. The 'romantic' scenes between Meenakshi and Srikanth are as cringe-worthy as any I've ever seen.


Mammooty as Major Bala is easily the show stealer- emotional, sad, vulnerable, caring- all the characteristics we adored in the Col. Brandon in the book and Alan Rickman's version in the movie are intact here. In this film Meenakshi is self-admittedly very rude and harsh to Major Bala. She once exclaims" You are confusing the emotions of love and sympathy. What I show towards Srikanth is love, what I show towards you is sympathy"

All Indian films are 'musicals' and the characters burst into songs and colourful dances at the most opportune moments. The cinematography is pleasing and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, regardless of her acting skills or the lack of them, looks like a million dollars in the film. Incidentally, this role inspired by Marianne was Aishwarya's first outing playing a Jane Austen character. The second of course is Gurinder Chadha's widely popular take on Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice- Bride and Prejudice where Aishwarya played Lalita ( Lizzie).

Academy Award Winner A.R.Rahman's music is scintillating and definitely one of the major strengths of this film.

The film stays true to the spirit of Austen even in places where it delineates from the book. This film and its reach is yet another testament to Austen's universal appeal and relevance.

26 comments:

vvb32 reads said...

I like your review. It is interesting to see the parallels of Indian culture with the Austen world. I've seen Bride and Prejudice and loved it and the music.

Kals said...

Thank you very much for reading through =) Yes, there are a lot of similarities that make Austen so fascinating for me to read :) Bride and Prejudice is mindless fun, though I don't like it too much. The ' No Life Without Wife' part was great though :D

Shona said...

I watched Kandukondain Kandukondain when it was released, not knowing it was Sense and Sensibility inspired but loved it nonetheless. Bride and Prejudice can't say the same. Nice review

Kals said...

Thanks and I agree with you entirely =) Kandukondain Kandukondain struck an emotional chord with me, something that Bride and Prejudice failed to do.

celi.a said...

I've decided to watch this film for the extended challenge (Austenprose's x2), and it was great to see someone else recommend and review it. Good luck with the rest of your challenge picks!

Kals said...

Thanks a lot :)I'm taking part in the extended challenge as well- a wider range of choices is great. Happy reading/watching :) I'm looking forward to know what you think of this film !

Fiona said...

So very interesting to read this post. Thankyou for introducing me to a new way of looking at Austen.

Kals said...

You're welcome :)Austen is indeed timeless and universal.

Thanks for taking the time to read through the post and leaving a comment.

yesterdaystuna said...

Really great review. It's so neat how Austen can subjugate the divide between different cultures and come out very clear and true to the original story.



-Meg

Kals said...

You've summed it up so well! I couldn't put it better myself :) That really is the brilliance of Austen and its amazing that I now have a medium to share it with people from all cultures united by Austen :)

Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you liked the review =)

megan said...

This is such a great review! I'd never heard of this film until now, and it sounds great. I'm a new fan of Bollywood films, and this one sounds right up my alley.

Kals said...

Thanks :) Bollywood fans would love this film! The music is brilliant as well. Have fun watching =)

Lovesromances said...

This was a great review-I really want to watch it now. It always amazes me how many Jane Austen fans there are across the world.

Kals said...

Thanks :) It amazes me too, though I'm starting to get used to it now!

nishitak said...

This is one of my favorite Tamil movies- for the most part quiet, and restrained and where the women steal the show.

You are right - Tabu and Mammooty suited their roles to a T. Aishwarya hammed a bit, but oh, god! she looked so beautiful in that green saree she danced in (where Mamooty first sight her), I just forgave her for everything else :)

Birdy said...

Wow really loved this comparison to this Tamil movie! I haven't seen this movie completely, but will now try and watch it...

Kals said...

Nishita - The women steal the show indeed! It's such an emotional, lovely film :)

And you're absolutely right about Aishwarya. She was gorgeous in the movie and the green saree was unforgettably beautiful :)

Birdy - Thank you! I'm sure you'll enjoy the movie :)

Smyrna said...

Loved it :)
I agree with you about Abbas - he simply cannot provoke any other emotion in the audience apart from digust at his absolutely wonderful acting!

I think I just found another pastime for my summer hols ;)

Whitney said...

What a wonderful review! It really showcased the parallels of Indian culture and Austen's work. It truly is universal and timeless.

Kals said...

Smyrna - Thanks! Abbas was awful, but the film is still such a lovely watch :)

Whitney - Thank you so very much :) The more I see parallels, the more I'm in awe of Austen!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I must see this. I LOVE AR

Kals said...

His music is awesome in the film. If you love Rahman, you'll definitely adore this film :)

Jodi said...

Thank you so much for sharing this review! I didn't know about the Indian version for Sense & Sensibility, and I will have to find a copy and watch it! I own Bride & Prejudice and love it!

Kals said...

I hope you enjoy this version of Sense and Sensibility. It's one of my favourite Austen adaptations :)

Sunand said...

It was a beautiful movie I thought Aishwarya's acting was superb unlike Tabu's average act.May be your prejudice towards Aishwarya made you feel that her acting was cringe worthy.But I strongly feel as a reviewer you should check your personal likes and dislikes

Kals said...

I have no prejudice towards Aishwarya. I think she's a gorgeous woman (and have said as much in this review) and I like her in movies like Guru. I believe that she didn't act well in this movie and I stand by it. You're free to disagree, of course.

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