It is an alluring, rejuvenating, rejoicing and romantic film which at the same time gives you the feeling of longing and separation…(Spoilers ahead)
There is a scene in the movie where K. Ramachandran a.k.a Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) opens a suitcase in which he has kept everything that is dear to him especially that makes him reminisce about Janaki Devi a.k.a Jaanu (Trisha). Director C. Prem Kumar’s directorial debut with his romantic drama 96 is like a prized possession which can be safely kept in a suitcase and cherished for a long time to come.
A couple of things impressed me in the very beginning even before the movie got the wheels turning. Before the title of the movie came on the screen, one of the acknowledgements read ‘Thanks Iyarkai’ (Thanks Nature) which is so relaxing and suggestive of what was about to come. And when the names of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan came on the screen at the same time followed by the title, it became apparent how important they both are for each other in the film.
96 is like a prized possession which can be safely kept in a suitcase and cherished for a long time to come.
So we get to experience and relish different aspects of nature as the movie opens with Ram as the travel photographer. Unaccompanied, he is travelling to different places clicking pictures. But the amazing experience that he is having along the way gladdens our heart and makes us want to be in that moment. He is seen inside the sea among the fishes, he is literally feeding bread from his mouth to a deer, he is clicking photos of a rare plant in the desert, and he is even revelling in the rain opening his mouth to feel the drops of water from the sky. Nature is as much a significant character in the film as are the actors. There is no limit to how much nature can enthral us as Ram teaches his students the nuances of photography inside a picturesque temple.
This was all the photography that is shown in the film and as one of the students drives Ram home, the movie shifts its focus on this beauteous yet heartrending journey of Ram. En route to home, Ram sees a bridge and we get to sense the nostalgia inside him. He, then, meets an old watchman (Janagaraj) outside the school where he studied as a child and the past life of Ram starts taking shape.
This is just the beginning of a lot more nostalgic memories that the movie explores through the life of Ram thereby letting us relate with our own lives. We traverse through the 1990s and the present world of Ram and Jaanu parallelly.
We laugh, we feel the pain, we feel the longing and we yearn for them to be together.
A reunion of ‘96 school batch is planned (watch out for the hilarious online group chat between the nineties batch). Best part of this magical journey comes through the memories that flash in the eyes of Ram. We get transported into the 1990s and the young Ram (Adithya Bhaskar) and young Jaanu (Gouri Kishan) come to the fore. It is a magical phase where we get to feel his memories as we start remembering instances from our own life. As Ram, Jaanu and their friends meet up in school, jocosely converse and eat lunch together, we see Ram and Jaanu developing feelings for each other.
In the midst of the blossoming romance between the lead pair, the sequences that cover the whole school life involving Ram, Jaanu and their friends are so wondrous to watch. We laugh, we feel the pain, we feel the longing and we yearn for them to be together. Ram, who is strong and dominating when he is in the circle of his friends, becomes speechless in the presence of Jaanu.
After completing the school exams, meeting of Ram and Jaanu over the bridge happens to be last time they see each other. Such was the performances of Adithya and Gouri that we hanker for them to be together always. Anyone who has had the experience of the so-called first love (or even if they don’t) will definitely be touched by this heartening love story.
We swap back to the present world where Ram and Jaanu wind up meeting each other after 22 long years. It successfully establishes the sort of feeling it wants the audience to have. We realise nothing has altered since they last saw each other. There is a palpable feeling of strangeness, of course, meeting after all these years. As an audience, we can sense that peculiarity due to the marvellous performances of Vijay Sethupathi, Trisha Krishnan, and the supporting casts who did a perfect job as their grown-up friends.
It is shocking to us that they never got together and that is the success of this movie as well.
Gradually the strangeness in the air vanishes as Ram and Jaanu start from where they left off. Jaanu talks about the envisions that she had about him coming to see her while pursuing the graduation. She even had a childish hope of him appearing all of a sudden in her wedding ceremony and finally reunite with her which usually happens only in the movies. Well, thankfully that did not happen in this movie. Wait till you witness the element of surprise in this romantic tale as we get to know that Ram did come to see her in college and wedding. It is shocking to us that they never got together and that is the success of this movie as well.
So they walk, they talk, they cry and they laugh and so do we along with them on this magical journey. While Jaanu is peaceful with her current married life, Ram is happy to be living the bachelor’s life cherishing the memories he has with her. Amidst all these, the background score by Govind Menon (also credited as Govind Vasantha) is the backbone of giving more fuel to this charming and lovely narration. The album as a whole is not my personal favourite. But Kaadhale Kaadhale and Anthaathi songs were mesmerising and captivating as they gloriously blended with the whole drama.
While Vijay Sethupathi has given a different perspective to romanticism and has acted with flamboyance without trying to overdo anything, Trisha has stolen our hearts yet again which may remind one of Jessie character she did in Gautham Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. C. Prem Kumar’s 96 portrays an emotional and deep sense of love which shows what love is, what can it do to you and the feeling that accompanies with it. It is an alluring, rejuvenating, rejoicing and romantic film which at the same time gives you the feeling of longing and separation. 96 is like the best photo that you have captured which has to be framed and kept in that suitcase safely to cherish it for years.