Tuesday, 5 February 2013


                          Sailing the sea of eternal conflict

  “This movie analysis has spoilers”

        Kadal (2013), ace Indian director Maniratnam’s new venture, is gloriously expressionist in the tradition of great movies of golden age like Charles Laughton’s ‘Night of the hunter (1955)’ a  thriller movie with similar plot elements of good vs. evil with different perspective.


      Released after more than two years of production this movie is among the most visually imaginative of Indian cinema. The storyline penned by Jeyamohan follows journey of the protagonist, Thomas (Gautham Karthick), through characters which are hyperbolic, Fr. Sam Fernandez (Aravind Swamy) a Christ figure, Bergmans (Arjun) who declares himself as Satan, Beatrice (Thulasi Nair) an angelic form existing untouched by the harsh reality around her. She has only one way, way of love, to associate with her surroundings.

      Of all these characters, Thomas strikes us as the most realistic and the one, for that reason, we identify with. He has his moments of good and evil but always remains as someone realistically comprehensible. His moral transitions are visually communicated for observant viewers and these are the moments of movie’s brilliance.

      The movie takes place in southern Tamilnadu coastline which sets remorseless Darwinian backdrop for Thomas, and ever vibrant sea serving as a metaphor for his moral and spiritual dilemma effectively peeking at the climax.

      The movie kicks off with an prologue which is too short to be stimulating but nevertheless effective in setting the theme. This sequence has two major characters Sam and Bergmans meet in an early setting, a seminary. We see young Bergmans with his philosophy still premature and most vulnerable. His hatred towards Sam can only be explained as guilt-ridden resistance to goodness Sam embodies. The two eventually choose their paths of good and evil.

         The plot then starts following Thomas through his childhood. The sequence begins with a masterful shot. We are shown the sea in all its vastness and a small hut slowly drifts into the frame standing all alone, this is a Terrence Malick moment. The sequence that follows sets the tone of harsh reality which runs throughout the movie, the reality in which three hyperbolic biblical characters Sam, Bergmans and Beatrice are embedded.

            Observe this scene, Thomas’s mother; a village prostitute is taken by few villagers to the cemetery after she is found dead in her hut. These men care for the women that they want her a Christian burial but there is not a moment of melodrama suggesting that they are doing a good deed. They are shown carrying her passing humorous comments. One of them cruelly jokes on her bony polio affected legs. It is same way that scenes of public catharsis and another which passively comments on Sri Lankan border issue are dealt with. Life here in this sea shore is hard and humour is their survival tactic. For young Thomas, who represents the society in its extreme, it is violence. May be that’s the reason Fr. Sam chooses him, to prove the best out of the worst. Thomas initially reacts to Sam violently. That’s his defence mechanism. He threatens him with stones and tantrums just like a dog growling at a stranger.

       After he breaks down on the tape recorder he feels so insecure and unarmed that he comes back to insult Fr. Sam and delete the recording. He wants his violence back to survive. In a powerful scene Sam slaps him, which the boy isn’t unfamiliar with, and offers him water soon after, the boy gets something he is desperately in need, care. Fr. Sam takes care of him and Thomas becomes his faithful follower.


     Fr. Sam comes across Bergmans on the beach, fatally wounded. Sam helps him only to be plotted against by Bergmans with the help of his lover Jerina (Lakshmi Manchu). She lies publicly at the confession to have had relationship with Sam. Sam allows himself to be punished without much offence in a sequence which resembles crucifixion, notice the way he is taken to the police van, his arms wide spread, bleeding from his forehead as if from a thorny crown. Thomas screams enakka yesuve(oh my Jesus) running behind the police van. This is filmed as camera painfully moves leaving him behind. He sees all goodness in him being taken away to be crucified.

  Thomas then goes through phases termed by Christianity as temptation, sin, guilt and redemption. He finds his temptation as he sees Chetty Baranabas (Ponvannan) the man he always recognised as his father, staring frightened as Thomas was just about to stab him. In a shot which extends beyond convention Thomas pauses as he becomes self-observant to find the temptation for power as he pants beastly. He Joins Bergmans and commits sins. A.R. Rahman makes the music on the background morally ignorant and energetic which unabashedly explores the thrill. A scornful music would have made the movie preachy.


      The moment comes when Chetty is shot by Bergmans as he lays dead on Thomas’s hand with the same frightened stare. This time he tastes sin. Just like Jesus in him is crucified he sees Satan in him killing his own father. Guilty Thomas is led by Beatrice to resurrection, the sequence of great power where he witnesses a birth. He later mentions that he has touched the holy blood.

      Fr. Sam shows up after his term in jail, right after the scene of resurrection. Sam calls him back saying if he only hadn’t met a single person in his life who is purely good. Thomas goes back to Beatrice who redeems him of his sins by being benevolently forgiving. It is then revealed from their strange encounter that Beatrice is actually Bergmans’ own daughter. Enraged Bergmans vows to destroy the last relationship he has, to attain state of pure evil.

      It all finally leads to the climax as Thomas pursues Beatrice and meets Sam and Bergmans in the middle of the stormy sea. Superficially it is just Sam and Bergmans fighting over a revenge story but author Jeyamohan and director Manirathnan might have intended deeper connotations. May be it is god and devil inside Thomas in the clash. Notice the relative positions of Sam and Bergmans towards the end of the climax from Thomas’ point of view. Sam stands at his right side the positive half of the screen and Bergmans hangs on his left side the negative half the screen. Scene moves into deeper philosophical debate if seen from this perspective that the two appears to be playing each other. Sam wants to revenge Bergmans and therefore commit sin. Bergmans is willing to go down for the sin, which he later reveals that he hasn’t committed, to succeed in his belief. Thomas sees his good arguing for evil and evil for good. The background score is aptly operatic. Thomas finally orders Sam not to kill Bergmans letting pure, uncompromised, unjustified greater good that Christianity upholds to finally triumph.

     The scene that follows is artistically successful as it starts with oblique camera angles slowly settling down reflecting Beatrice’s inner turmoil. But it is relatively less important and is given more screen time than it deserves. It is also in a way reminiscent of director’s previous movie ‘Alaipayuthae’. One would have appreciated an early cut right after Beatrice bestows Thomas an angelic touch of recognition, which is actually what the scene is all about, but the scene continues to be a clichéd romance. The hospital setting is also ineffective as an outdoor location would have elevated the sequence.

     The final shots show us Sam leading an army of believers to the church that appears in heavenly composition with azure night sky behind, bookending the Christ story.        

     The three major biblical characters are performed with an exaggeration than might pass unnoticed for average Tamil audience as they are trained by cinema where over the top acting and melodramatic plots are everywhere. These characters are to be observed in contrast with other characters in the movie. The movie is expressionist because it uses not only characters and plots but also sets and make up to get its message through although it is not as audacious as early expressionist movies as there is always a logical and realistic explanation lurking behind.


          Consider Beatrice who is meant to be an angel of benevolence and love. She is always seen dressed in white. As she confronts Bergmans she screams hysterically and flees trying to jump off the balcony as if intending to fly away. This is a kind of scene one would find in a supernatural movie. She is completely pure from evil that it burns her at the sight of it.

        Bergmans is seen almost always in his boat alone like a lonely shark. When he tries to kill Beatrice he isn’t melodramatic but in a frenzy. It cannot just be the logical explanation that he couldn’t kill his own daughter (he has mercilessly killed his wife and lover) but it is that he cannot even get near something that is so purely good. In the climax he is drowned by Sam for a few seconds. As he is shown underwater his reaction is not realistic that he does not struggle for air but has a victorious almost godly smile in his face, supporting the previous interpretation.


      Sam suggestively plays Christ archetype in most of the scenes. He stays in church where heavenly light seeps from outside through the doors. He has strong conviction on his mission which he carries throughout the movie finally accomplishing it.

   The movie is also brilliant on the technical side and Rajeev Menon, one of the top cinematographers in India, has been instrumental. Many of the shots are inventive and highly creative. The one in which Thomas catch holds of a fish which flutters fiercely as his youth, the one showing Thomas querying Beatrice’s past in a boat moving backwards as she whimpers (we all know that the camera follows logic of metaphors as images and metaphors are both rooted to unconscious. This shot has the subjects move backwards as they probe the past) and the one which soars away from Bergmans as he is defeated leaving him pathetically as he babbles looking like a fished out shark, the one which shows Thomas’ palms stained with ‘Holy Blood’ with bright sky as the background (the background cannot just be minimalist chosen to negate visual distractions but there are obvious associations with heaven. In fact there are few more such shots like the one which has a bright lit cloud fall between the raised arms of Jesus statue Fr. Sam builds and the final shot). Of all these the one showing Thomas sailing stormy sea to face his inner demons is, in my opinion, the central image of the movie.


       Movie has some flaws like the dance number ‘Adiye’ which might make a good music video but misleads as it projects Beatrice as sensual.  More scenes could have been granted for Chetty, Jerina exploring their relationship with Thomas and Bergmans.

     Finally a word on negative reviews. This movie written by author Jeyamohan deals with a story with lot of moral and philosophical issues richly supplied Christian allegories and symbols. It is presented by Manirathnam in an expressionist style. It has a way of communicating through images and shouldn’t be seen through any cerebral preconception. Werner Herzog once said that “cinema is an art of illiterates”. Seems like we have too much of literates reviewing movies who would definitely want to unlearn certain wrong things. This movie is definitely Manirathnam’s career best and would be increasingly discussed and praised in years to come. 

 An Interview with Author Jeyamohan



  1. dear aji,
    thanks for thd good write up. brilliant observations. esp on the cinematography section and the symbolism. the most important aspect- the story is multi layered and even withot the knowledge of christian theology, triumph of love over all other things is beautifuly shown.
    after watchng, whenever i think about the movie- lot of connections emerge. thomas acknowledging sams state as guru, felt the presence of jeyamohan there, thought- this ir how he would have felt about- guru nithya.

    1. Thank you

      Glad that you've seen this article as 'observations' not as 'explanations' or 'intellectual analysis'.

      /whenever i think about the movie- lot of connections emerge/
      that is what i think is the success of this movie that you cannot easily forget it. I actually hated to mention this article as analysis. It is just trying to see the reason behind affecting images and sequences.

      I will reply to Mr. Arvind Karunagaran in detail as my next article.

  2. I, most respectfully transfer Aravind uncle's comment to next article.

  3. Adhukullae 'uncle' aakitiyae thambi. Idhuku 'mister'ae paravallae :-)

  4. amazing insight...thanks
    felt the same!