While the film follows the familiar trajectory of sports dramas, Aishwarya Rajesh’s terrific performance keeps you invested all through.

Kanaa review Aishwarya Rajesh leaves us clean-bowled
Flix Kollywood Friday, December 21, 2018 - 16:30

Writing sports drama films is a tough ask. Your audience already knows the plot. Nine times out of 10, it’s the story of an underdog who finishes in sweet victory, with the help of a hard taskmaster coach. How do you still make the audience stay invested? Patriotism is one way, and now with the success of films like Chak De India, Mary Kom, Dangal, and the homegrown Irudhi Suttru, gender is another. Arunraja Kamaraj’s Kanaa is yet another story that goes down this familiar path. But what makes it worth watching is its lead star’s performance – Aishwarya Rajesh. The actor simply hits it out of the park with her riveting performance, living the role in every frame.

Little Kousalya wants to play cricket to make her father Murugesan (Sathyraj), a farmer, smile. She saw the man weep when India lost a crucial match and she is determined to make India win for his sake. Murugesan is the sort of man who checks the score at his father’s funeral (his bull, by the way, is called Kapil Dev) and he’s a doting father too, so he doesn’t mind very much when Kousi starts playing cricket. But her mother, the hot-headed and sharp-tongued Savitri, will have none of it. The best scenes in the film are to do with these three characters as they try to balance their dreams with their immediate priorities and most of all – what will people say? What will people say when they see a girl dressed in pants and playing with a bunch of boys?

Aishwarya Rajesh gets a hero’s introduction at a police station. As in star vehicles, where a side character gives a major “build-up” for the hero before he makes his appearance, we hear of who Kousi is and see her back before we see her screaming ‘HOWWZZAAAT’ before the displaced stumps. Aishwarya Rajesh’s body language as a sportsperson is spot on, from her unflinching stride to how she holds her shoulders and the fire in her eyes. Every scene that she is in, you can see that she has given it her all for the film. This is the same actor who shot to fame playing mother to two kids in Kaaka Muttai and here too she is deglamourised, with barely any make-up on her face. But here, we see her grow from a teenager into a sportswoman and she is just as convincing as she was in the other film.

Sathyaraj plays the supportive father who has troubles of his own but will not stand in the way of his child’s dreams. The director deliberately draws a parallel between Kousi’s struggles and her father’s own – as she plays badly, the agrarian crisis intensifies. When her fortunes change for the better, his luck appears to turn too. While this does add another layer to the father-daughter relationship, the dialogues on farmers feeding the nation become repetitive and look forced. Especially since every other Tamil film has been generously adding a dose of farmer sentiment to the plot to give a “good message”, the effort in Kanaa, however well-intentioned, merely looks convenient.

I would have liked to see more of the fractious relationship between the mother and daughter. There’s one interesting moment when Murugesan nearly slaps Kousi for hurting her mother, surprising both the women. But the conflict doesn’t escalate beyond that. However, the director must be commended for his handling of male characters – it would have been easy to stereotype all the boys as nasty people who try to shove Kousi off the ground, but it is they who encourage her to keep playing. I was trying to remember a Tamil film where men and women have talked to each other, and been supportive of each other, outside of a romantic interest or brother-sister sentiment, and failed. Then there’s Murali (Darshan), a “one-side” lover. He does everything he can to support Kousi and yet he stays irrelevant in her mindscape. I was half-expecting a song on how she’d clean-bowled him and he’d caught her like a ball going to the boundary, but it never came. Kudos, Arunraja.

The little details – the Periyar portrait in the yard when Kousi steps out of the confines of home, Kousi wearing the same clothes every time she has to go out, the mother giving her a sanitary napkin to stuff into her bag – all work well. But the second half of the film falls into predictability, with caricature characters who are unpleasant for no big reason other than the fact that the director has run out of ideas. I did chuckle at the way the players use Tamil to their advantage though. When Bollywood makes sports films, they make it about the “desh”, when Kollywood does it, they cannot resist adding some “Tamizhan da” to the mix. Sivakarthikeyan makes a cameo as Nelson Dileepkumar, the coach, but he’s quite restrained (perhaps even too restrained) and doesn’t try to upstage Aishwarya.

Kousi’s progress from the village cricket ground to the international arena does seem too easy, but the final match still manages to retain your interest. The reason being Aishwarya Rajesh once again. She is a joy to watch and has truly immersed herself in the role. There’s not one moment in the film when she looks like anything but a cricketer and that’s quite a feat for someone who’s never played the sport before.

Dhibu’s background score is unnecessarily loud in parts, especially for the comedy scenes when the music tends to override what the characters are saying. The editing, too, could have been better, with some scenes looking pretty rushed. Despite its flaws, however, I found Kanaa to be an uplifting film. As I was watching Aishwarya Rajesh dive and catch a ball like a professional player, I suddenly remembered her dancing in Saamy Square and sent a wish to the universe that she becomes more selective about the films she does – why play the second heroine when you can play the hero?

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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