’96: When Old Flames Meet
Movie Review by Anirudh Madhav (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
If poetry can be brought to life, director C Prem Kumar, the cinematographer of Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kanom fame, has very well succeeded at it with his heart-wrenching film ’96. With minimal dialogues and plenty of emotions and gentle music, the movie is a bold attempt, where the script of the movie relies on visual storytelling along with the performance of the established, as well as the younger actors.
The movie begins with Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) travelling and photographing scenic locales across the India. He is immersed in his profession and seems to enjoy his company, the little moments and tutoring his students. Ram stumbles upon his school in his hometown Thanjavur, bringing back a flood of memories from his school days and a chance meeting with his childhood love Jaanu (Trisha).
The movie then alternates between a younger Ram (Aditya Bhaskar) and Trisha (Gauri Kishan), who deliver a strong performance that is on par with the lead actors. The romance in their school days is subtle and silent, yet their longing for each other and their bond is delivered through their emotions. A jump back to the present, Vijay Sethupathi retains the same body language of his young character while Trisha is bold, confident and delivers one of her best performances till date.
The film does not delve into Jaanu’s character deeply, yet it succeeds in the perspective of her love during her school days. Music, especially Ilayaraja’s songs are put to good use during the 90s portions and music director Govinda Vasantha’s soulful music in between the silences are soul stirring. As the movie progresses, there are parts, which will make us wonder, if the director is going with the story in the right direction. Director C Prem Kumar goes on to give a Before Sunset-like treatment, where the two characters have a conversation through the night.
The hidden gems in the movie are Bagavathi Perumal and Devadarshini, who play important roles in the chemistry between the two lead characters during the school days and for their reunion in the present. Cinematographer Mahendiran Jeyaraju shows off his skills in the opening songs, featuring beautiful frames, by capturing the nostalgic moments during the innocent school days and making Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha the center of attention as they spend precious time wandering the city in the middle of the night. The screenplay is smooth, as they alternate between the past and present, and it will make us even wonder, if Jaanu is really married.
There is a scene, where Trisha reimagines a sequence, where everything would have been different. Vijay Sethupathi in his shy demeanor doesn’t smile nor does he ask her to come back to him. Instead he brushes off the topic by sending off his students. That is what ’96 is about, Ram and Jaanu and their love, in its purest form.