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A story told with conviction by actors who completely lose themselves in their characters; a narrative that connects with viewers through its beautiful romantic moments; poignant emotional scenes that leave a lump in your throat; a music album that has you humming and poetic visuals from hitherto unexplored nooks of India.

Where else can you get all this, but in a Mani Ratnam film?

Be it Mouna Raagam, (Ratnam’s first block buster in Tamil), or the evergreen Roja, the immortal Nayagan or Kannathil Muthamittal, (where a little girl yearns to meet her biological mother) to mention a few, a Ratnam film comes with great expectations.

O Kadhal Kanmani, Ratnam’s release this weekend, is as eagerly awaited. A. R. Rahman’s music album, with lyrics by National award winning Vairamuthu, is already a hit online. With P. C. Sreeram’s cinematography to look out for, do we need to say more?

At a press conference held in Chennai recently, the director was tight-lipped about the script, but lyricist Vairamuthu let the cat out of the bag when he said the film explores the institution of marriage and its relevance in today’s society.

Ratnam, when questioned if the story was about unmarried couples living together, (a growing trend in India), declined to confirm.

“Wait for another four days when the film releases,” he said with a smile.

O Kadhal Kanmani, set in modern Mumbai, is Ratnam’s 24th film, and part of a 23-year-long association that he shares with Rahman and Vairamuthu.

The lead pair in this love story are Malayalam actors Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menon, last seen in the recently released Malayalam film 100 Days of Love.

“The film is a contemporary take on this generation, their attitudes and their values,” revealed Ratnam, who entered the industry with Pallavi Anu Pallavi, an unconventional love story in Kannada. This 1983 film featured Lakshmi, Anil Kapoor and Kiran Vairale and brought home the Kannada state award for Best Screenplay.

“It’s amazing how this change takes place every five or six years, when a new generation comes in with different set of values,” said Ratnam.

“But if you go deeper you can find something common through all of them.”

O Kadhal Kanmani is an attempt to look at the current generation’s understanding of what they want of themselves and what they want from those close to them.”

As in Ratnam’s earlier films based on relationships, be it a romantic bond or that of a mother and an adopted child, “this film is not just a romantic film but a relationship film,” said the director.

“This story is about two different sets of characters with its discords, the understanding and the changing that comes through, making every story unique.”

Ratnam believes that right casting ensures half his job done in extracting a good performance. He prefers casting someone close to his characters and not actors who are typecast.

Adi of O Kadhal Kanmani is a young urban man. For this role he was looking for someone real and belonging to an upper class family but not a hero. “Someone we can relate too,” said Ratnam. He first met Salmaan at an audio release function and felt that he was right for Adi, although he had not seen any of his films at that time.

The director had, however, watched Menon’s films, in which she played small roles.

“I found something alive about her, something real and perfectly beautiful about her,” said the director, who brought out the actor in Revathy (Mouna Raagam and Anjali), Madhoobala (Roja), Saranya (Nayagan), Manisha Koirala (Bombay), Aishwarya (Iruvar and Guru) and P. S. Keerthana (Kannathil Muthamittal).

‘Nithya carries an individuality and is not just a glamorous girl. Like her character in the film, Tara, she has a mind of her own.”

The supporting cast includes Prakash Raj and Leela Samson as onscreen husband and wife. Look out for VJ Ramya Subramanian.

About Rahman’s music, he said: “We tried to do an original soundtrack that is contemporary and trendy. Rahman takes inputs from my story and tries to give it a musical form.”

“Since Leela Samson plays an old Carnatic singer, there is a flavour of Carnatic music through the film bringing about a blending of the present and the old.”

Looking back on his films such as Mouna Raagam, he said they were not about what is going to happen, “but are a reflection on what is happening, on the times we have been through or going through. It makes me think, feel and emote.”

O Kadhal Kanmani is a lighthearted film about today’s youth, but somewhere underneath it also deals with human relationships, of two young characters, their journey and what changes in their life, added Ratnam.

Son of S.G. Rathnam, a film distributor, Ratnam was an avid filmgoer during his hostel days at Besant Theosophical School, Kalakshetra, Chennai, although films were a taboo at home.

Discovering K. Balachander’s films in his teenage years whetted his appetite for good cinema. An MBA graduate from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute, Mumbai, he was working in a corporate set-up when he assisted his friend Ravi Shankar in writing the script for his debut Kannada film. While the film did not did not see the light of the day, one thing was clear to Ratnam after the first schedule of its shooting: film was his calling.

Quitting his corporate job, Ratnam, took the plunge into a completely new arena for which he had no formal training, starting with Pallavi Anupallavi in Kannada, a language he did not speak or write in. His second film, Unaru, starring Mohan Lal, was in Malayalam, again not his mother tongue; the next two films, Pagal Nilavu and Idhayakovil, were in Tamil. With his fifth film, Mouna Raagam (Tamil), Ratnam made a mark on the National awards jury, walking off with the Best Regional Film award in 1986. The iconic Nayagan was next. His repertoire of films includes a good range of themes that dwell on the then existing issues with the master filmmaker keeping himself in tune with the changing times.