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.