Like all school reunions, the new film 96 takes a 1996 batch of students down a nostalgic road.
Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) and Jaanu (Trisha), who were in love at school but lost track of each other, are meeting after 22 years.
Water has flown under the bridge since Ram and Jaanu last met in school as teenagers; he’s a professional photographer while she lives in Singapore with her husband and daughter.
After the reunion is over and the good-byes have been said, Ram and Jaanu find some time alone. It’s just a couple of hours together before Jaanu boards her flight to Singapore.
Cinematographer-turned-director Prem Kumar builds within those few hours a beautiful and emotional tale that speaks from the heart, untainted by this era of instant gratification. With 96, Kumar finds firm footing as a director of immense promise.
Teenage years and school crushes walk hand in hand in the film. 96 belongs to the era when WhatsApp was unknown — Ram and Jaanu spoke with their eyes and those three magical words were never uttered aloud. In fact, Ram is the shy guy. What makes this relationship unique is that it never dies.
Even after two decades when Ram and Jaanu meet at the school reunion, their love and respect for each other has not changed.
Unlike most romantic tales, 96 does not fall back on silly duets and contrived romantic encounters. Although it takes a while to warm up in the first half, there is a spontaneous flow in the narration. It’s love in all its purity, with lust never mentioned.
Kumar’s writing is free of malice towards life and is about acceptance, which the two protagonists show.
Sethupathi and Trisha, both consummate actors, share a beautiful onscreen chemistry.
If Sethupathi’s effortless performance as Rasool in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam had us hooting for him, his Ram — the man who loves tenderly and with no expectations — is every woman’s dream guy. Trisha makes her Jaanu endearing and her mature acting is laudable.
Actors Aaditya Bhaskar as a young Ram and Gouri G Kishan as a young Jaanu cannot be easily forgotten in their impressive debut. Devadarshini and Bhagavathy Perumal as close friends of Ram and Jaanu keep us chuckling.
After watching gory thrillers, hard to laugh at comedies and marble-like romantic stories, Kumar’s 96 is a classic love story that will be fondly remembered.