In a recent interview with us, director Arunraja Kamaraj had mentioned that the starting point of Kanaa was an idea to make a film that can motivate the ones who are on the verge of giving up on life. Well, the 145-minute film achieves a lot more in addition to that.
Kanaa has something for everyone; it makes us grin, sob, laugh, and finally leaves us with tears of joy, despite religiously sticking to the tried and tested formula of an underdog sports film.
Kanaa is essentially Murugesan (Sathyaraj) and his daughter Kousalya's (Aishwarya Rajesh) quest for identity. While the former fights against poverty and drought to safeguard his identity as a farmer, the latter battles against sexism, and regional politics to be identified as a cricketer.
Though their battlegrounds are different, they have a unified dream — A dream to see India lift the World Cup once again in cricket. Both of them are hardworking, stubborn and extremely proud of their profession. And interestingly, their major struggle is not to prove themselves in their respective arena, but to get into one in the first place. While Murugesan longs to step into the marshy land with his plough, Kousalya desires with all her heart to set foot on the green grass of the stadium sporting an Indian jersey. Many such beautifully-written parallels make Kanaa rise above the usual and shine throughout.
Though the film primarily travels on the shoulders of these two characters, it doesn't restrict you from falling in love with the others in their world. Be it the loud-mouthed mother (the excellent Rama) who initially fumes on seeing Kousalya 'bat aadradhu' (well, that's how she addresses cricket) with boys, or the ever-optimistic best friend of Murugesan (Ilavarasu), every single character is so well-written that you can come up with spinoff stories for each one of them.
Arunraja also deserves a shout-out for penning Murali Krishna (Darshan) as a selfless, unconditional and cheerful lover, who exhibits nothing but the purest form of agape love. Yes, he falls for Kousi like any other Kollywood hero, but, unlike the rest, he loves her just for the person she is and doesn't get carried away by her looks. Even when he ends up being the 'Murali' instead of 'Krishnan', he smiles with the same innocence and cheer.
No matter what the sport is, or who the audience is, filmmakers have classically resorted to the idea of introducing a guide character to give instant pep talks and to show direction to the lead when they go through a tough phase in life and decide to call it quits. Despite taking the same beaten track, Kanaa manages to hold our attention because the role has been played by Sivakarthikeyan, who pulls it off surprisingly well.
I'm pretty sure that if someone had said a few years ago that Sivakarthikeyan would appear in a cameo as a 40-year-old without a pair, song, fight or even comedy, none of us would've bought it. But, he surprises us and shines as Nelson Dhilipkumar and not as the usual Sivakarthikeyan. He effortlessly looks and acts the part, and for the first time, the actor in him overshadows his 'entertainer' tag.
I would say the director won half the game when he roped in Aishwarya Rajesh and Sathyaraj for the film. It's quite astonishing to see that Aishwarya, who played a mother of two, not so long ago in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, has played a teenage cricketer in the film.
The rigorous cricket coaching she underwent for the character has paid off well and an average cricket viewer would be convinced with her turn as an off-spinner. She emotes like a breeze and the scene where she breaks down in front of the mirror saying, "Enaku theramai iruka illaiaya'ndradha vida naan yaaru ne therla pa ivangaluku," deserves a special mention.
Sathyaraj, on the other hand, eclipses everyone with his stellar performance as Murugesan and I'd easily rank Kanaa as one of the top ten performances in his career. Be it the childlike excitement he exhibits while watching cricket or his subtle reactions to the gut-wrenching scenes with the bank officer, Sathyaraj excels in all avenues and proves that he's still one of the most versatile actors in the industry.
Debutant director Arunraja Kamaraj makes us go 'ada' in almost all the scenes with his interesting and impeccable detailing. For instance, Murali, the travels owner, is shown filling a cricket tournament form for Kousi with the details from her ration card. One might wonder where he could've got it, but Arunraja gives us the visual cue that Murali also has a commercial photocopier in his office and leaves the rest to our imagination.
In another scene, where Kousalya's mother watches her first cricket match, she doesn't applaud instantly when a wicket falls or the ball crosses the boundary line, instead, she looks at her husband's face and mimics his reaction. All these shots aren't forced on the audience, but they poetically glide across them like a river.
Dhibu Ninan Thomas, the composer of Kanaa, is the other hero of the film and he scores both with his songs and background music. His work elevates a lot of ordinary moments into whistle-worthy ones and we can expect Savaal and Oonjala to be played in all the sports day functions at schools for the next five years.
For any sports flick, the final act, or to term it better, the final match ends up being the highlight of the entire film. And the bar set for Arunraja to impress the audience was very high considering we are a cricket-crazy nation, which has already seen a number of last-over finishes. But, Arunraja makes us clean-bowled with a well-ideated and logical array of twists that unveil one after the other in the last few minutes of the film.
There are two kinds of social-message films. The first are the ones which present you the statistics and encourage you to think, and the others are the ones which move you and urge you to act. Kanaa easily fits into the latter category. Even though the stadium cheers and the background music were fairly loud towards the end, I left the theatre with a dialogue that reverberated in my mind, "Samachavnangla kuda tak nu paratidrom, aana adha vedhachavangaluku onnu na yen gavanika matengrom?"
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Sathyaraj, Sivakarthikeyan
Director: Arunraja Kamaraj