Dada, starring Kavin and Aparna Das, is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Dada garnered high praise from a section of the audience post its release in theatres in February this year. Leading Tamil stars, including Dhanush and Karthi , were among some of the high-profile fans of this movie. And when it started streaming on Amazon Prime Video earlier this month, the expectations were a bit high. I was looking forward to getting my mind blown by this drama. With so much pain and negativity all around us, who would say no to a massive dose of feel-good shot that's delivered in 24 frames per second for two straight hours?
I was predetermined to love this movie. I thought I should post a rave review soon after I finish watching this movie. No forces of the universe could have stopped me from loving this movie, only if it was half worthy of all the praise that it received. This movie comes with a big asterisk: as long as you don't apply your mind, and cut a lot of slack for the storyteller, you might just enjoy this assembly of feel-good moments. When you watch the film, you would realise that it's a very big asterisk.
Filmmaker Ganesh K. Babu, who made his directorial debut with Dada, would appreciate the audience just to feel, instead of overthinking the plot points, cause and effect, narrative structure and the probabilities of such events happening in real life. One would love to be fooled by filmmakers, who are in my mind, modern-day magicians. I could completely suspend all kinds of critical thinking and logical examination of a movie as long as I don't see the hands of the puppeteer. The moment I spot them, the magic is gone and I'm no longer in its sway.
Dada starts very well. And it sets the right mood and tempo for a feel-good relationship drama. The movie seems to be clicking on all fronts. It begins with a lengthy conversation between Manikandan (Kavin) and Sindhu (Aparna Das). The two lovers are cuddling in the bed and are engaged in an intimate talk. At the end of the conversation, Manikandan reveals that he hasn't cried in his life so far. And we know that's the cue that filmmaker Ganesh is giving to the audiences that this narrative will build to a point where Manikandan would experience his first bout of tears.
Manikandan promises Sindhu that he would never let her cry from that point on. Cut to the next scene, Sindhu is crying her eyes out. Manikandan looks at her in a state of confusion without a drop of tears in his eyes. We also meet another young man who's in love with Sindhu. He assumes that it was the right moment for him to swoop in and make Sindhu realize that Manikandan is no good for her. That young man takes the shot, only to be shocked out of his senses. Manikandan tells his rival that Sindhu is crying because she is pregnant. At that point, a one-sided love story comes to an end. The scene is written so well that it's light on its feet but packs a strong comedic punch while shedding a light on the main conflict in the narration.
I was more sure now that I'm going to be blown away by this film. But, I was wrong. That scene was the highest point that the movie was capable of. And it went downhill from that point on. When the much-awaited moment comes and we see the first teardrops of Manikandan, the impact is not as powerful as we had hoped for. But, it's not lousy either compared to the second half of the movie.
While Ganesh had a pretty solid vision and material for an entertaining first half, he skids off the track and never returns to deliver the movie he promised in the opening moments.
When Sindhu tells him she is pregnant, Manikandan advises her to get an abortion. Sindhu refuses it and keeps the baby. But, when the baby is born, she dumps both the baby and Manikandan and disappears. And it falls on the untrained shoulders of Manikandan to raise a newborn baby all alone with a lot of help from his close friend Amith, played by Harish K.
And you end up having a lot of questions: How can see dump a newborn baby and disappear like that? When did she become so cold and heartless? What kind of a mother she is? It was the effect that Ganesh intended. He wants the audiences to shift their sympathies from calm, composed, caring and strong-willed Sindhu to whining Manikandan.
Even though Manikandan has several problems, we don't hate him. We can understand that he is still a college kid, who is not ready to take the responsibility of being a father to another human being. He's under a lot of stress and he's cracking. But, the film doesn't extend the same kindness to Sindhu. It expects us to just hate her, so it helps us to be more sympathetic towards Manikandan's suffering. Sindhu disappears for a good length of the narrative allowing Manikandan to take over our screen and attention.
The plot contrivances are so outrageous. Manikandan seems self-centred and insensitive to the feelings of others in the beginning. After the birth of his son, he becomes a sensitive soul, while people around him, even the most empathic characters, become outright irrational and cruel. Such transformations are hard to explain and not grounded in reality.
For example, how come a private hospital, allowed Sindhu and her family to walk away from the hospital leaving the baby behind? And how come she and her family disappears without a trace in a span of a few hours? Why Manikandan's father, played by K. Bhagyaraj, is so unreasonable? Why is a movie that's supposed to teach us the power of love filled with such loveless people?
I can list a slew of scenes in the second half that seem to have been shot without any sense of how real-world functions. Especially, the scene when Manikandan gets fired soon after he's hired is illogical. And a bunch of office gags and efforts by some office clowns to rekindle the chemistry between Manikandan and Sindhu all demand us to give this film massive portions of leeway.
Dada lacks the intent, aptitude and sensitivity that are required to make an honest feel-good movie. What we get from this movie is a lot of dishonesty committed in desperation to exploit the good nature of unsuspecting audiences.