Some Ramblings - OK Bangaram (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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The most infuriating part of most of Mani Ratnam movies is the dialogues and their delivery. For all the technical dazzle that could be marveled at in his movies, and the bravery of the choice of themes that he tackles, regardless of the end results, it is that strange rhythm in his dialogues that is totally off-putting. Remember the climax scene in Geetanjali with the much lampooned 'aem aem' volley. He almost seems to leave the dialogue midway and half expects the mood of the scene to fill in the blanks for the rest. And when the scene at play is a dead serious one or an really playful one, that staccato style does great disservice to the setup. After having exposed himself for so long on the silver screen, his beats and patterns, more so when it comes to the romantic portions, become all too obvious and familiar. That bit that he had first copied from 'Crocodile Dundee' with the lead paid separated by a crowd and the message from the hero to the heroine and vice versa gets passed from one end to the other by the intermediaries separating them, the over eager kids with their frustrating meddlesomeness, the hero who is aware of his sense of cuteness and unabashedly uses it to the hilt, the shy heroine who initially clams up and resists from falling to the charms of the cute hero, and God help, if there are old people in the mix, who Ratnam reserves his special treats for, with embarrassing lines, dance moves and furtive romantic gestures...Mr. Ratnam's moves and movies can be picked from a line up quite easily and even blindfolded... which is why 'Ok Bangaram' is probably his best romantic movie till date for he resists hard from falling back on his trademark mannerisms, tools and tricks and delivers a movie that is refreshing, well acted and above all, well written (dialogues).

Though touted to be the voice of a new generation, amid changing culture and values, 'OK Bangaram' is still an old fashioned romantic movie at its heart, with a little bit of the 'live in relationship' angle thrown in to stir up the things. Truth be told this 'live in' ruse has little say over the actual proceedings and the movie would had been just as delightful without it. What Ratnam (or what anyone) means by 'live in relationship' is actually the commitment clause with an option to opt out in the relationship at any stage, and the issue is whether such loyalty rider is the actual spoil sport in the relationship sucking out the fun of it in the long run. Well, the movie is by no means a sociological or a psychological study on the effects of such care free unions on the current civil society. The aim of the movie is still keeping the couple together by the end of the movie and commitment or not the movie does it in an engaging and an entertaining fashion. Like Gautman Menon's 'Ye Maya Chesave' before, this is essentially a two character play and the challenge remains to keep the conversations fresh and meaningful every time they get together, for, this is a movie that has no meaningful plot to peg the action on. This is where Ratnam deserves all the credit as he chucks his usual crutches away, refuses to take the aid of the mellifluous songs (which surprisingly do not last for more than a couple of minutes in each outing) and relies entirely on the interplay between the lead pair. And for once, the dialogues seem to have a natural flow to them ending at a point where there's nothing else to add to the matter and not at his usual midway mark forcing the audience to make up the rest. The pair smiles (a lot), they talk (a lot, sans any self consciousness), and the great part is, the camera lingers for a lit longer on the faces, after the end of the conversation capturing the aftermath, be it the adoring looks or the hurt that registers on the face and everything in between. This is the mark of a director who trusts his characters and his audience, allowing the conversations to have a natural ebb and flow and holding on for the post-dialogue effect, which is a rarity in Indian movies, where the punch dialogue is the effect itself.

And not enough words to describe Nitya Menon's entire spectrum of variations. Against his grain, Ratnam has created a fully fleshed out heroine, whose job description goes beyond being the springboard or the punching bag of hero's antics. Right or wrong, this woman has her own set of ideas and her behavior (acting) never transgresses her brief. The fine tuning and nuances that Nitya displays in her performance is certainly praise worthy and kudos to Ratnam for staying on her face for all the reaction shots, instead of doing the constant cross cutting between the two between the two. Rahman who usually reserves his best for Ratnam doesn't disappoint again. Aside from the soundtrack that played on the fusion between electronica and Carnatic, his background score too rises up to the task mixing melody and modernity. And Sirivennela brings the much needed respectability to Rahman's soundtrack, which almost always seems hard done by in translation. If there is one aspect that feels a bit letdown, it is P.C.Sriram's photography and that's more from the expectations than because of his results. The light and shadow show, that is photography, which Sriram is a master of (remember the dusty dawns and dusks of Delhi in Mouna Ragam, or the weathered greys of Nayakan, or the stylised lighting of Agni Natchatram or the angelic ambience of Geetanjali) didn't translate well on the digital medium, where lighting and corrections happen more on computers than through a camera, and all that a photographer is left to do is merely choosing the angles. If only there is a drive here like in Hollywood (from select film makers - Tarantino, Nolan, PT Anderson et al) to save celluloid for all its glorious potential and possibilities, lensmen like Sriram would have a lot to say about the action on the screen that would involve, indulge and immerse the audience even more.

It is often said that seasoned directors usually make the same movie over and over again (if not in content, at least in style), but by discarding his comfort zones, Ratnam turns over a new leaf with 'OK Bangaram' and ventures into a new territory both feet in and succeeds splendidly. Here's a tip of the hat!


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