Once all the vogue, out and out romantic movies are no longer to be found in western or Hindi cinema. Their disappearance from mainstream films has caused some heartbreak to cinephiles, who flocked to theatres with their partners to grab a bag of popcorn and laugh and cry to predictable but fun (and sometimes soppy) features.
But there have been a few hardcore romantic movies that have been made in the recent past, in desi cinema. One good example is cinematographer Prem Kumar’s acclaimed directorial debut 96 (2018), which starred Trisha Krishnan and Vijay Sethupathi in the lead. Now 96 was not your regular soppy drama. Sure, it had emotional heft with its primary theme of lost love, but it was never silly or sentimental. Although, on the face of it, meeting your sweetheart after decades at a school reunion might seem both silly and sentimental to some. But the manner in which the narrative was relayed on screen was believable, meaningful.
Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) and Jaanu (Trisha Krishnan) meet as school kids, and end up falling for each other, but due to a cruel twist of fate and a major gap in their communication, Trisha is married off to someone else in an arranged setting, even as Ram knows what’s happening. So why doesn’t he stop her? There are some filmy elements, some missed chances where we see both partners wait for the other in vain until they are finally separated thanks to Jaanu’s marital bond with a stranger. Cut to adult Ram and Jaanu; Ram is a photographer and Jaanu lives with her husband and daughter in Singapore. They meet at this class reunion and the past comes rushing back. All their supressed desires and questions burst forth in a flurry of anxiety, excitement and some hope. Hope of getting together maybe?
But that hope is dashed to smithereens by filmmaker Prem Kumar when he decides to keep the old lovers apart all the way to the end. In a heart wrenching conclusion, Ram escorts Jaanu to the airport, and all this while, even though they have mentioned the proverbial elephant in the room in passing, they have not really touched each other, or even held hands. The intimacy as they walk together for one last time at the airport is palpable and deeply sad. You know they cannot be together, but you also cannot help but root for them. The one last time in years when Jaanu really touches Ram is to cover his face as she cries openly at their kismet.
So, why did the director not opt for a happy ending? And is there a universe in which these two are together?
Speaking in an earlier interview with Film Companion, filmmaker Kumar had said, “Their separation at the end was inevitable and the viewer knows that. It’s like death, in one sense. We know it’s going to happen, but we’re always afraid of it even though we’re not going to feel anything then.”
Talking about whether there’s still any hope for Ram and Jaanu, Kumar stated, “I very badly want them to meet again. That’s what I’m hoping for them. But, I know that it won’t be a planned meeting. It has to be fate again.”
We’re keeping our fingers crossed for reunion 2.0. Still, yes.
96 is available to stream on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
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