Oru Kanniyum Moonu Kalavaanikalum is a rather silly (and one might add, needlessly provocative) title for a story that’s part sci-fi, part myth, and part one of those what-if movies where we’re invited to wonder how things might turn out had someone set out to do them a minute later. Hinting at the importance of time in the proceedings, the opening credits appear over the cogs and wheels of a giant clock. This glimpse of technology at work is a reminder of the ingeniousness of man – but then man is only capable of creating devices to chart the progress of hours and minutes. What about Time itself?
That, according to some, is the work of the gods – and so we’re ushered into the heavens, or at least a giant lotus where Brahma resides. Narada pays him a visit, and they decide to drop in on what looks to be a giant hibiscus, where Shiva is seated, His lips slathered with deep-pink lipstick and His legs peering from a scandalously low-cut tiger-skin mini. In order to demonstrate how time can influence events, He summons up a touch screen on which the faces of various humans appear, like icons for apps. One of these faces belongs to Thamizh (Arulnithi, continuing to pick interesting scripts), who is setting out to abduct his girlfriend (Ashrita Shetty) from the church where she is being forcibly married off to someone else. This Thiruvilaiyadal-like framing device – gods toying with the fates of men – gets the film off the blocks.
The director, Chimbu Deven, lists his influences at the end, films like Rashomon, Virumandi and Run Lola Run. I’m not sure about the first two, as they are about different retellings of the same events, seen through different eyes. They’re about the subjectivity of truth. Run Lola Run, though, is aptly acknowledged. There too, we had three scenarios that radiated from the same starting point. What if Thamizh – with his cohorts (Bindu Madhavi and the perpetually bug-eyed Bhagavathi Perumal) – embarked on his mission at 9:00 am? What if he did so a minute later? And a minute later?
Chimbu Deven has a good nose for the slightly offbeat subject, and also slightly offbeat comedy. (Nasser is in there somewhere, as a bling-clad gangster who calls himself Hippie Lahiri. ) Oru Kanniyum has some sharp lines, and an early scene, a procession of non sequiturs in an Irani tea stall, is a gem. Chimbu Deven pays tribute to Run Lola Run rather cleverly, by staging two song sequences as chases. But we never get a sense of the existential underpinnings that drove that film, or of the desperation that drives these characters. The first iteration of events is worked out well, but the subsequent two aren’t. The chain of triggers that resulted in this fork in the road or that one being taken isn’t very convincing, especially when Thamizh begins to do uncharacteristic things. People don’t exactly change how they behave just because of a minute’s delay. By the time the third version of events begins to play out, we’re left rather exhausted.
And the splashes of sentiment (a debt-ridden father, a hospitalised mother) are a major dampener. They come across as standard-issue melodrama in a film that’s set its sights far higher. Why these concessions to formula when young filmmakers are proving that it’s possible to get rid of all this baggage and still get people to watch? As much as we want to laud the ambition that results in something like Oru Kanniyum being attempted in Tamil, we also realise that these films are inherently compromised by Tamil-cinema considerations – the inevitability of the interval, the fear of things getting too serious, and the need to pad out the narrative to nearly two-and-a-half hours. That’s nearly twice as long as Run Lola Run, which lasted all of 80 minutes. Talk about toying with time.
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