Kanaa Review: An endearing sports drama that leaves you with tears of joy
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
In a recent interview with us, director Arunraja Kamaraj mentioned that the starting point of Kanaa was the desire to make a film that would motivate those on the verge of giving up on life. His 145-minute film achieves that, and a lot more. Kanaa has something for everyone — it makes us grin, sob, laugh, and finally leaves us with tears of joy, all while religiously sticking to the tried-and-tested formula of an underdog sports film.
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Sathyaraj, Sivakarthikeyan
Director: Arunraja Kamaraj
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. They are both 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.
Murugesan and Kousalya also have a common dream - to see India lift the World Cup once again in cricket. Though the film primarily rests on the shoulders of these two characters, it still makes you fall in love with the other people in their world. Be it the loud-mouthed mother (the excellent Rama) who initially fumes on seeing Kousalya 'bat aadradhu' with boys, or the ever-optimistic best friend of Murugesan (Ilavarasu), every single character is so well-written that you almost wish for spinoff stories for each of them. Arunraja also deserves a shout-out for writing Murali Krishna (Darshan) as a selfless, unconditional and cheerful lover, who exhibits nothing but the purest form of agape love. He loves Kousi for the person she is and doesn't get carried away by her looks. Even when he ends up being the Murali of Tamil cinema instead of the Krishna of lore, he smiles with the same innocence and cheer.
It's mandatory for a sports film to have a mentor who guides the lead when they are battling a tough phase and are tempted to call it quits. Kanaa sticks to this template, but still, manages to hold our attention because this role is played by Sivakarthikeyan, who pulls it off surprisingly well. If someone had said a few years ago that the actor would appear in a cameo as a 40-year-old without the usual trappings of commercial cinema, none of us would have bought it. But he surprises us and shines as Nelson Dhilipkumar, not as the Sivakarthikeyan we know. He effortlessly looks and acts the part, and for the first time, the 'actor' in him can be said to have overshadowed the 'entertainer'.
The director won half the game when he roped in Aishwarya Rajesh and Sathyaraj for the film. It's quite astonishing to see Aishwarya, who played a mother of two, not so long ago in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, convincingly play a teenage cricketer here. The rigorous cricket coaching she underwent has paid off and the average viewer will surely buy her as the off-spinner in this film. She emotes effectively and the scene where she breaks down in front of the mirror saying, "Enaku theramai irukkaa illaiaya-ndradha vida, naan yaaru ne therla pa ivangaluku" deserves a special mention.
Sathyaraj, on the other hand, eclipses everyone with his stellar performance and I'd easily rank Kanaa among the top ten performances in his illustrious career. Be it the childlike excitement he exhibits while watching cricket or his subtle reactions to the gut-wrenching shaming of the bank officer, Sathyaraj excels and proves he's still one of the most versatile actors in the industry.
Debutant director Arunraja Kamaraj impresses with his interesting and impeccable detailing. For instance, Murali, the travels owner, is shown filling a cricket tournament form for Kousi with details from her ration card. You may wonder where he 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. Such shots aren't forced on you; they simply are.
Composer Dhibu Ninan Thomas is another hero of the film and scores both with his songs and background music. His work elevates a lot of ordinary moments into whistle-worthy ones. Savaal and Oonjala are sure to be played in sports day functions across schools for the next five years.
For any sports film, it's crucial for the final match to make an impact. And Arunraja must have had his work cut out for him, given that we are a cricket-crazy nation, which has already seen a number of nail-biting last-over finishes in real life. But he bowls us over with a well-ideated and logical array of twists that are unveiled 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 with statistics and encourage you to think, and then, there are those that move you and urge you to act. Kanaa, as you must have guessed by now, fits into the latter category. Even though the stadium cheers and the background music are loud at the end, as I left the theatre, it was a single line of dialogue that echoed in my head: "Samachavangala kuda tak nu paaraatidarom, aana adha vedhachavangaluku onnu na, yen gavanikka maatengarom?"