4 Years Movie Review: Ranjith Sankar impresses with a novel love story
One of the most admirable things about 4 Years is that it doesn't go in a predictable direction, even though, deep down, you wish for it
When Ranjith Sankar first announced his new film's title, I assumed it would be about the central couple's love story through their four-year campus life. So, it was a relief to see that 4 Years means something else, which, for obvious reasons, I can't divulge. This title makes sense only when the film inches close to its end credits.
Director: Ranjith Sankar
Cast: Priya Varrier, Sarjano Khalid
Ranjith Sankar had already proven himself good at skillfully writing and staging mature romance in films such as Su... Su... Sudhi Vathmeekam and Ramante Edanthottam. 4 Years sees him exploring romantic feelings -- and in doing so, attempting to get the attention -- of a much younger demographic, the early 20s. Showing the aftermath of a breakup and tracking a couple on the last two days together on campus is a novel touch with which I completely got on board.
When we first meet Gayathri (Priya) and Vishal (Sarjano) at the film's beginning, they are in an awkward place. The latter steers clear of the farewell party because he sees himself as a misfit, with the other evident reason being the former's presence. And when we spend more time with Vishal as the film progresses, we see why he is a misfit. His temperamental nature explains why things didn't go right between him and Gayathri, the latter being seemingly more level-headed than him.
I identified with some of Vishal's qualities, if not everything. For instance, I, too, underwent a long 'stuck' phase like him in my twenties until I found my true calling. And making Vishal a film buff adds to the relatability factor. Don't expect any conversations about cinema, though. Given this aspect, you might wonder if 4 Years is Ranjith's Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa -- it's not. In terms of its mood, it has more in common with In the Mood for Love, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, or, to some extent, Before Sunset (more than Before Sunrise, I might add). All these films explore the pain of separation and the yearning for second chances or alternate possibilities.
Ranjith gives us a sketch of these two characters in intermittent stretches instead of all at once. I often tend to gravitate more towards love stories where there is much room for introspection -- and I don't mean showing a character staring off into the distance just for stylistic purposes. When they are all by themselves, I need to feel precisely -- or almost -- what they're feeling at a given moment. And I like the contemplative version of Ranjith the most, which we got to see in Ramante Edanthottam (one of his finest films) and Sunny. 4 Years, too, has that quality.
Cinematographer Salu K Thomas (The Great Indian Kitchen) captures many moments of solitude, either with Gayathri or Vishal individually or together. The organic approach, sometimes aided by smooth, handheld shots, allows us to feel the mood of the details his camera absorbs -- be it through closeups, distant observations, or the characters' actions. Yes, there is that mandatory best friend for both of them, but the film's primary focus is on these two individuals who haven't yet figured out whether they want to be together or leave each other. There are opportunities for them to keep prolonging their interactions before we get a final (ambiguous) answer.
Sankar Sharma's soulful music should get the credit for doing the heavy lifting in places where one feels the emotions needed a lot more warmth. But, thankfully, Ranjith doesn't resort to melodrama to drive home the emotions, even on occasions where the conversations of Gayathri and Vishal get suitably intense.
Throughout 4 Years, Ranjith keeps the embers of hope alive. I liked how he didn't go in a predictable direction, even though, deep down, you wish for it, considering how strongly you feel invested in these two characters' emotions. But 4 Years is, after all, not about your life but that of Gayathri and Vishal, and it wouldn't be fair to say it should've ended the way you wanted it. What Ranjith has done looks more reasonable from where I sit. It's... right.