96 (2018) Tamil Movie Review – Veeyen

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Prem Kumar weaves together an intimate love tale that probably requires a certain leap of faith, which preserves a pristine purity in its narrative.  Devastating and delightful by turns, it’s a tragic tale of a man and a woman hopelessly caught in a vortex of love, continually washed towards and away from each other, with not a leeway of redemption anywhere in sight.


There is a tranquility to the passage of time; an almost deceitful stealthiness that lets it silently slip away unnoticed, as days covertly give way to weeks, weeks to months and months to years. ‘96’ is a magical yarn of love that speaks of two souls that have remained transfixed in time; for whom life goes on, even as it had come to an abrupt halt twenty two years back, in a blissful world that now seems so far away and yet which has forever since, remained so near.

Prem Kumar’s delicate take on unuttered, unfulfilled love is one that quickly earns for itself a deluge of animated emotional responses from the viewers, as it almost instantly transports you back to a high school classroom where you find yourself twitching your nose for a moment before an unstoppable bout of sneezing sets in, as the blackboard duster hits your head, and a cloud of chalk dust creates a halo in the air. It is a scrapbook loaded with incandescent memories that the film maker hands out to you, and you eagerly flip through, promptly relating to each one of the fading, embarrassingly worded scribblings on it with a smile and realizing that we are all indeed, one of a tribe.

Ramachandran (Aditya Bhaskar) finds himself besotted with the girl on the first bench of his tenth grade classroom, who wears her hair in folded braids on either sides, decking it up with thick jasmine and crossandra circlets at times, and sometimes with an odd rose. Janaki (Gouri Krishnan), the girl with the magical voice and the recipient of his adoration, is mindfulof the tall, dark boy and his coy ways, and teasingly rejects his appeals to her to sing his favourite number, all the while waiting for the moment when he would finally gather the resolve to admit his uncontrollable adulation for her.


The year is 1996, and as the summer holidays arrive, a beaming Janaki leaves, but not before splashing streaks of blue ink from her fountain pen over Ramachandran’s shirt, and a blot of ink that leaves a stain on his teeth. A hundred words snuggle around in the boy’s mouth as he watches her cycle away, and the world looks all upbeat and luminous to the young hearts that had somewhere along the way, wordlessly begun to match their beats.

‘96’ is a testimony to the abruptness with which life decides to shuffle your pack of cards and lay out a new deal before you, and the irreversibility with which it all happens. It’s an ingenious portrait of heartbreak that refuses to tone down even as you move farther and farther away from the one you love, and all that you have left is a bunch of scented memories held tight in your clasp that refuse to fade and wither away.

Twenty two years later, a drooping Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) meanders across the country, clicking away at the quaint spectacles that he comes across. A photography instructor by profession, he has long shed away the boyish mien that had left Janu enamoured, but retains the sparkle in his eyes in tact. Finding himself back at the school environs where for the first and last time ever he had fallen in love, he excitedly rings up his classmates who eagerly suggest that it’s perhaps time for a reunion.


The party gets going, and it’s a merry-go-back for the ones who have chosen to drop by; a long walk back to a classroom, where they had all remained joyfully huddled up for what now seems the best days of their lives, before moving away and apart from each other. As the night sets in, Janu (Trisha Krishnan) arrives, and someone whispers that she had flown in all the way from Singapore.

There is no compromise on the poetic simplicity of the film, and Prem Kumar adopts a unique narrative that alternately brings in the smiles and tears. It’s a whimsical blend when the gravest of scenes are sandwiched between chortles and the film goes about with its tender, leisurely and deliberate process of revelation, simultaneously leaving moist eyes and wide grins all around.

It’s a balancing act in meticulousness that the film maker pulls off with ease, and as the night wears away, Janu and Ram settle down to brushing up an untold, unadmitted past; the sort that had filled up their lives to the brim with a sore yearning that they would carry with them forever. Janu is taken aback when she realizes that Ram is yet to get married, and teasingly cajoles him to reveal if he’s still a virgin.


The playfulness gently gives way to melancholy, when Janu acknowledges with a shudder that the man she so badly wanted to be with all her life, has been left stranded on the walks of life, standing precisely where she had left him a couple of decades back. Beneath a radiant countenance Janu holds back layers of hurt, while Ram ineffectively tries to conceal a lifetime ridden with disenchantment under an appearance of perplexed indifference.

Prem Kumar’s eye for detail puts on a pedestal even the commonest of scenes and sometimes elevates the most intricate ones to an even loftier plane, like the one where Ram discloses that he had made an attempt to connect with Janu while in college, a recognition that crumples Janu, breaking her down completely. He further reveals that he had relentlessly, silently followed her around, and when he starts talking of having occupied a seat somewhere amidst the crowd at her wedding, the tragedy  strikes you as immense and dreadfully complete.

What could have been a drab motion picture drenched in soppy nostalgia, emerges a victor when ‘96’ gets its emotional arc etched perfectly. The writing remains crisp throughout, and as Ram and Janu take to the street light soaked midnight roads of the city, we mutely walk along, not wanting to be impostors on the few hours that remain before Janu boards her flight back to Singapore and not wanting to be left out either. It’s a stroll that would change their lives and ours, and magically reaffirms how cinema could tremendously overwhelm.


This is a predestined tale that simply cannot have happy endings and the wait is for the final departure; when Ram would go back to his lonesome world, having added a new chapter in his cherished folder of memories, and Janu would retreat to what she calls her family back in another country, where she admits she is peaceful, if not absolutely content. Time would unremittingly flow on and there wouldn’t be a day that isn’t drenched in regretful lament of how things could have been better; there wouldn’t be a day when they wouldn’t think of each other, and of how, all they want is to be together and in each other’s arms.

‘96’ has astonishing performances from the leading pair, and the sagging, bashful Ram is carved to perfection by Vijay Sethupathi, who with his exceptionally insightful body language makes you want to reach out to him, hug him, and assure him that he will be all right despite the gaping hole that he sports in his heart. Trisha delivers her career best performance as Janu, and dabbles with joy, pain and tenderness with such dexterity that her feat leaves us aghast. The younger pair – Aditya Bhaskar and Gouri Krishnan –  is equally terrific and together they make so adorable and magnetic a pair that we readily root for them and their cause. ‘96’ also has an array of superb supporting performers as Devadarshini, Niyathi Kadambi, Janagaraj, Bagavathi Perumal, Aadukalam Murugadoss and Varsha Bollamma, just to mention a few.

Prem Kumar weaves together an intimate love tale that probably requires a certain leap of faith, which preserves a pristine purity in its narrative. Devastating and delightful by turns, it’s a tragic tale of a man and a woman hopelessly caught in a vortex of love, continually washed towards and away from each other, with not a leeway of redemption anywhere in sight.

Verdict: Good