If we manage to get hold of a time machine, we need to urgently go back and create more epics. Because Mani Ratnam is running out of grand stories to retool.
He is done with Mahabharath, Sathyavan-Savithri and Ramayan. Faced with story paucity, he may have to settle for Avvaiyar. And he may as well, considering the fact that his favourite heroine Aishwarya Rai already looks the part to play the role of the withering and wizened spinster.
Come to think of it, Mani Ratnam can remake the saga of Kovalan-Kannagi, as the story intrinsically allows for what Mani Ratnam’s artistic output and creativity over the years have come to represent: Songs and dances involving the second heroine.
For the uninitiated, the Kovalan-Kannagi story is much celebrated in Tamil ethos, especially since Kannagi is believed to have burnt Madurai, as a punishment against the fact that one day the dusty town will provide the backdrop for an assembly-line of cheesy, gore-ridden insufferable movies.
In this film version, Mani Ratnam can characterize Kovalan as a software professional who has to leave Kannagi and go abroad on onsite project work where he runs into Madhavi (Cue for dance and songs). Kovalan is arrested when he is about to exchange (for a new one) his Apple iphone, as because an VVIP also loses his phone around that time (we will get to this point in detail later).
What follow are snatches from the script and dialogues
(Cast in Tamil: Prithviraj as Kovalan, Aishwarya Rai as Kannagi, Deepika Padukone as Madhavi)
(Cast in Hindi: Abhishek Bachchan as the overacting Kovalan, Deepika Padukone as the spaghetti tops-wearing Kannagi, Aishwarya Rai as Madhavi)
Music: A R Rahman (Three years, six songs out of which 1.24 will be used in the actual film including one while the credits roll at the end of the movie)
Dialogues: (The audible ones) Suhasini
Cinematography: Santosh Sivan
(Kovalan and Kannagi, urban and yuppy, lead a happy life and reside in a tastefully and stylishly constructed house in a pleasant forest with the backdrop of a ceaseless waterfall situated in Chennai)
Kovalan: The whole setting.
Kannagi: Doesn’t it seem odd to you that there is a huge waterfall and a dark green jungle in the urban nightmare of Chennai where we are supposed to be living?
Kovalan: Shut up. You’re not supposed. To speak. In long sentences. In this movie.
(Kovalan goes abroad and accidentally runs into a happily giggling, dancing and singing Madhavi)
Kovalan: Isn’t destiny amazing?
Kovalan: I am in this unknown city. I don’t know. The local language. Yet. I had to come. To this strange marriage. I don’t understand. Under which custom is this wedding being solemnised. All I can see is the chief custom seems to be all the oldies jiving with all the ‘dancing extras’ in the town. And here I meet you.
Madhavi: (Laughs in uncontrollable giggles)
Madhavi: Are you stupid? What destiny? Don’t you know all the films of this director have to involve a wedding, where every one including the chief pandit has to dance and sing in an unknown (and undecipherable) language?
(Kovalan and Madhavi hit it off very well, and paint the town red with their passionate romance. They go to an old, historic railway station where Kovalan lights his cigarette from the fire of the steam engine)
Madhavi: Why don’t you light the cigarette like everybody else?
Kovalan: Ah! It figures. Thou haven’t been following this director’s movies since time cometh. Arvindswamy lit it up straighteth from a stoveth. Prithvi Raj fired it from a candleth. I doeth from a steam engineth.
Madhavi: Okay, but why the hell are you speaking in a lingo that sounds stupid and wrong? Why the use of this archaic language?
Kovalan: I know the dialect keeps changing on and off. But what to do. Can’t ask questions. The director’s wife is the dialogue writer. Wait till they run the songs. It will be even more unintelligible. We had tribals crooning a rap number in the last film.
(Elsewhere, overcome with sadness and forlornness, Kannagi, does what any normal homemaker in such a situation would: Sing a vibrant melody and dance with several ‘extras’. It’s then the news that Kovalan is caught at for stealing a phone reaches her. She rushes there)
Kannagi: What happened?
Kannagi: For what?
Kannagi: Did you?
Kannagi: (Walking upto the policemen): My hubby. Not a criminal.
Senior cop (played by a now out of work former top star): A VVIP lost his mobile at the airport. Your husband at that very moment was caught when he was trying to exchange the mobile for a new one at the duty free shop.
Kannagi: What was the VVIP’s mobile model?
Senior cop: Apple iphone
Kannagi: Just because it was Apple iphone it can’t be the same. The VVIP’s must have been 4G. My hubby has only Apple iphone 3G, which itself is useless in India.
Senior cop: (Looking sheepish) There might have been a mistake…
Kannagi: (Seething) Can you undo the damage done? Anyway, I can’t burn a town down in anger. But I will curse that it will rain for ever here.
Senior Cop: But why?
Kannagi: Go ask the director. In his movies, it rains indoors, too.
(Kannagi and Kovalan re-unite in a deviation from the original epic)
Kannagi: Was the VVIP losing his mobile a reference to the incident of Rahul Gandhi missing his cell phone at an airport recently?
Kovalan: Don’t talk of allusions so openly. What are the critics for? Let them imagine and come up with meanings that we had never even dreamt of. They said there was a Maoist subtext to Ravanan, when in reality the story had as much connection with Maoists as does octopus Paul with quantum physics.
Kannagi: Who are these critics and reviewers anyway?
Kovalan: Anybody with an access to a set of the alphabets and a computer. All viewers turn reviewers on the internet. With twitter around, a film is capable of being fully reviewed even when just the trailers are out.
Kannagi: Why is this movie being made in Hindi, too?
Kovalan: To provide some work to Abhishek, who is playing me.
Kannagi: Is there any change between the two versions?
Kovalan: Of course, the director has made changes to suit the sensibilities of the Northern audience. The chief one being the removal of the last two letters from all the names. I’m Koval in Hindi,
Kannagi: You seem to be mouthing dialogues that aren’t in the script.
Kovalan: Don’t worry. I’ll stick to the script at the time of dubbing. At any rate, the director doesn’t believe in using microphones.
(The film is also released in Telugu, whose audience understand all the languages in the world as long as it is in their mother tongue. Ravanan was released as Villain. Kovalan, in sync with that thinking, is released as Joker).