The romance of Unnale Unnale and Oh My Kadavule
The writer ruminates on Oh My Kadavule and Unnale Unnale to talk about love, breakups, second chances, and most importantly a woman's agency, and how the films dealt with it differently
Falling in and out of love never happens at the same time for the parties involved. One has been in it longer; one has probably felt it deeper. No wonder then that love is complicated, a complexity that our cinema has gravitated towards sometimes. The true redemption in a love story lies in the resolution of its conflicts. We all want to see a love story succeed, for it provides catharsis… a cinematic high. However, what when separation makes more sense?
Two films that got released thirteen years apart explored this conundrum deeply: Unnale Unnale (UU) and Oh My Kadavule (OMK). While the former is still thought to be a special film in this genre, it remains to be seen whether the latter can stand the test of time. Both films follow a similar trajectory: Friendship-love-
In both, a male protagonist is at the centre of everything. In both, the love triangle is made up of one angle that is based on friendship with the other based on ‘crush-love’. In both, the male protagonist attains his objective. However, is one better than the other?
The male protagonists
This ‘love at first sight in a magical moment’ idea was particularly common in the 2000s, and so, it happened to Karthik (Vinay) in UU. It may not be realistic, but I enjoyed how his character arc is etched out. After his breakup with Jhansi (Sadha), he isn’t in a hurry to fall for the first cute girl he meets. In another film, the cute intro of Deepika (Tanisha) might have been enough for him to fall in love again. In fact, the pre-Jhansi Karthik would have hit on Deepika soon as she sits next to him on the plane. In contrast, OMK’s Arjun (Ashok Selvan) is more practical: a lifelong friendship with Anu (Ritika Singh) results in a marriage. For now, Arjun wins the first impression game for me, but the tables really turn when their partners become too much for them!
The primary women
We learn about Jhansi early into UU, with the film portraying her as a rather parochial woman. She has trust issues, yes, but Karthik is hardly a saint. Meanwhile, what of Anu in OMK? She goes through the same struggles and joys as Arjun, as they both try to figure out what they want out of their marriage. However, she seems to be the only one bearing the weight of their relationship. No one pauses to ask what she wants. Arjun eventually asks her for a divorce and gets it. OMK’s objective is to be a treatise on marriage between friends. We learn a lot about Arjun as a friend, as a pressurised husband, as an unhappy employee in his father-in-law's office, as an aspiring actor… but what about Anu? When Arjun was being difficult in the marriage, what was she doing? What did she feel when Arjun rebuked her? What was going on in her head when Arjun was happy with another woman?
The secondary women
Much credit to the writers of both films for not painting the ‘other woman’ as a villain. In UU, it isn't Deepika's fault that Jhansi turns insecure and possessive. In OMK too, Meera (Vani Bhojan) is not at fault. Both Deepika and Meera are happy to be around the male protagonist; they don’t ‘need’ him. In Tamil cinema, traditionally, the other woman is either a saint or a devil. They usually don’t get treated as fallible humans.
Yes, Deepika and Meera show, sometimes, better chemistry with Karthik and Arjun respectively, and that’s because the men are comparatively more carefree with them, and this translates to more warmth. This also gets us wondering if Karthik and Arjun are better off, separated from their primary relationship. Nevertheless, it is impressive how both filmmakers ensured that Deepika and Meera don’t get treated as distractions. Their stories too get an end.
The big conflict
Anu-Arjun's love story is impacted by the fantasy angle that is brought into OMK, as Vijay Sethupathi and Ramesh Thilak help nudge the story to its ‘acceptable’ end. Arjun may get his ‘rightful’ end, but what about Anu? Does she not deserve an alter life too, to see whether she really wants a life with Arjun? Had Arjun just stayed in the church, Anu might have even got married to the other guy. Had Meera not been suffering from heartbreak herself, would Arjun have returned to Anu?
In UU, when Jhansi learns that Deepika has feelings for Karthik, she fights for what she is convinced she wants. It is only when she sees Karthik and Deepika being more in tune with each other that she decides to move away. This isn't really a sacrifice; it just shows that Jhansi has seen the bigger picture. She also doesn’t like the person she has become, on account of jealousy. Some relationships are just not meant to be, and Jhansi knows that her biggest allegiance is with herself. So, even when Karthik professes his love for her, she decides to leave. It is not that she doesn't love him, but because liking someone deeply isn't enough. And truth be told, none of the three parties get wronged, and all of them get a happy end.
What does the woman want?
A couple of years before UU, Jeeva made another romantic drama (Ullam Ketkume) in which the ‘sad boi’ gets another girl without trying too hard. Shyam (Shaam) nurses a broken heart after seeing Priya (Asin) get married to someone else, and then, at Emaan's (Arya) wedding, his ‘best friend’, Pooja (Laila), professes love. Shyam’s potential marriage to Pooja is pretty much the equivalent of Anu and Arjun getting married in OMK. I would even go as far as to call Ullam Ketkume the spiritual prequel to Oh My Kadavule.
Unnale Unnale felt more acceptable for me because the decision was as much Jhansi’s as it was Karthik’s. In Oh My Kadavule though, we have no idea what Anu went through. This isn’t to say that Arjun is a bad guy, and this isn’t to say that it’s a bad film either. These are different writing choices made in films that I have quite enjoyed—hence, this rumination.
Let me leave you with a parting what-if. What if God had been a woman in OMK?