While this is only director Manu Ashokan’s second movie, the filmmaker deftly weaves the story pregnant with emotions and extracts the best out of his actors. He aces the challenge of presenting the complex and layered emotional graphs of each character for the audience to empathise with them
Story: Almost a year after his daughter’s death, a father visits her husband Allen and son. His visit, however, further derails the life of an already conflicted Allen, who lives with his wife and expectant mother Sneha. As the father, who is unable to let go of his daughter, persistently seeks answers for her death, he ends up unravelling more than what meets the eye, as he, Allen and Sneha wrestle with a plethora of human emotions in this engaging drama-thriller, helmed by Manu Ashokan and scripted by Bobby and Sanjay.
Review: “Human behaviour is messy and unpredictable and unconcerned with convenient symmetries,” wrote author Khaled Hosseini in And the Mountains Echoed. This holds true for Kaanekkaane’s protagonists – played by Tovino Thomas, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Aishwarya Lekshmi – as Uyare director Manu Ashokan, in his sophomore movie, explores the consequences of decisions based on fleeting moments, while soaking its characters and wringing them dry of the entire array of emotions.
The film begins with Suraj’s character cautiously cleaning the dust from his daughter Sherin’s (Shruti Ramachandran) gravestone, a year after her passing due to a road accident. It alludes to how he is still keeping his daughter’s memories fresh, an aspect that worries him terribly when he visits her husband Allen to realise that their son has almost forgotten Sherin, and replaced her with Sneha (Aishwarya), whom Allen is now married to. As the father digs deeper into the memories, he slowly unravels several truths that have been haunting a conflicted Allen and his family, forcing all of them to confront their emotions and the consequences of their actions.
While this is only Manu’s second movie, the filmmaker deftly weaves the story pregnant with emotions and extracts the best out of his actors. He aces the challenge of presenting the complex and layered emotional graphs of each character for the audience to empathise with them. The first half almost progresses as an investigative thriller through the character arc of the father, with intercuts of crisp flashback sequences that never feel intrusive but help further discern the lead trio.
Suraj anchors the movie and the actor once again brings his A-game by portraying a character who is dismayed by the changing relationship dynamics, while he is still holding on to someone who is dead and gone. He plays ‘Pappa’ with restraint, in every scene as the character is shaken by the truths he unravels and, in a sequence, where he is interrogated by a cop, he is almost stoic as a stone in spite of being shattered by what he has found.
Aishwarya Lekshmi brilliantly portrays Sneha – as a vulnerable woman who seeks “something resembling love” after a break -up to avoid loneliness and as an expectant mother, who struggles with the stress of her marriage. Through her sequence with Allen at his office and how she breaks down to her father, well-played by Prem Prakash, she masterfully conveys Sneha’s state of mind and without leaving any room for assumptions or judgment of the audience.
But there’s none more emotionally fractured in the film than Tovino’s Allen. The actor puts on his most versatile act yet as the conflicted and broken Allen, when he interacts with Pappa. His character requires him to portray a wave of emotions but never overdo it. With Sneha, Allen has to be tender but yet when she confronts him about his lack of communication, he doesn’t open up. With Pappa, when he does admit to the guilt that has been consuming him, a torn Allen is hoping for an emotional crutch and instead he is further pushed into the furnace. With this year’s Kala, Tovino already showed that he can pull-off a character that has two extremes and in Kaanekkaane, he further flaunts that skill in the flashback scenes, where his character is full of vigour and positivity – a complete antithesis of the indecisive and forlorn figure he later becomes. Apart the 'raw' character of Shaji in Kala, Allen is probably the most ‘real’ character of Tovino, who has exhibited his range as an actor through the movie.
The film also has cameos by Dhanya Mary Varghese, Rony David Raj and Binu Pappu. Shruti Ramachandran plays her role well, despite the limited screentime. Ranjin Raj’s music complements the mood of the emotional drama thriller. The song Palnilavin, which is beautifully rendered by Sithara Krishnakumar, also serves as the perspective of Suraj's character Paul. It's cleverly placed as you barely see his character's track oscillate like Allen's and Sneha's past through the flashback scenes. Abhilash Balachandran's crisp editing adds to these sequences fitting in well and sometimes even taking the audience seamlessly in the characters' minds as they too look back.
Kaanekkaane’s strength undoubtedly is its script. Writers Bobby and Sanjay take the characters through a whirlwind of human emotions – from grief, guilt, loneliness and anger to innocence, hope, forgiveness and empathy. Even as they present the different sides of the characters who can so easily be termed ‘selfish’ by conventional wisdom, the writers humanise them, with shades of grey. How they use Master Alok’s character to show how quickly a child’s emotions change and the moving scene between Prem Prakash and Suraj highlight the essential goodness in people, a recurring facet in their scripts. Another standout in Kaanekkane is how the engaging emotional thriller keeps the audience guessing through its unpredictable turn of events. Though the second half does slow down, the riveting performances of the lead cast keeps the audience hooked to see how their fates unravel.
Verdict: Manu Ashokan’s Kaanekkaane, which is currently streaming on Sony LIV, is an engaging emotional drama thriller that is powered by brilliant performances by Tovino Thomas, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Aishwarya Lekshmi. Scriptwriting duo Bobby and Sanjay once again dig deep and keep the audience guessing with this film about changing relationship dynamics.