Trisha and Vijay Sethupathi in 96.
Director: Prem Kumar
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Trisha, Adhithya Bhaskar, Gauri Kishan, Devadarshini
With 96, Prem Kumar, the cinematographer-turned-debut filmmaker has not made a film, but woven pure and impeccable poetry on celluloid. 96 is a matured love story and, in a way, a difficult plot to handle — one that is akin to walking a tight rope: just a little bit of misdirection will make it banal. But a self-assured Prem builds it in a realistic way that it works absolutely perfect.
Ramachandran (Vijay Sethupathi) is a travel photographer who loves to tour and capture passionate moments on his camera. A chance visit to his hometown Tanjore rekindles his fond memories. He recalls his childhood days — the hospital where he was born, the first big shopping centre in the town and finally stops at the school where he studied in 1996, where he met the love of his life Janaki Devi aka Jhanu (Gauri Kishan) while in 10th grade. While Ram (Adithya Bhaskar) is an introvert, Jhanu is quite fearless and likes him too. Circumstances drift them apart.
Cut to present, Ram wants to have a reunion of class ’96. There he meets Subha (Devadarshini), Murali (Bhagavathi Perumal), Satish (Aadukalam Murugadoss) and then arrives Jhanu (Trisha), now married and settled in Singapore. Both Ram and Jhanu are flustered and excited by how they get to meet once again after a gap of 22 years. In each other's eyes there is delight and shock. The rest is all about how they live the present moment, given that Jhanu has a flight to catch early next morning with intercuts of the past narrated in a heartening and captivating manner.
The lead pair of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha has achieved a remarkable feat by penetrating the lives of their characters. You can feel the chemistry, the sparks flying, but no overtures, only simple and pure love. The duo emotes as they talk while on a walk, and their sincere outpourings begin to make you wonder as to why can't they just be in unison!
A natural performer that he is, VSP shines every bit in the film. Don’t miss his embarrassing yet proud feeling when Trisha asks him, ‘Are you still a virgin? Has no girl told you that she has fallen for you? Nee Aambala Naattu Kattada.’
You can easily call it Trisha’s best-ever performance till date. With her nuanced expressions combined with class and elegance, Trisha looks like a dream and acts like one.
The two youngsters, Adhitya, as younger Vijay Sethupathi, and Gauri, as younger Trisha, are aptly cast and they have performed exceptionally well. Every other character including Bhagavathy Perumal, Devadarshini and Murugadoss, who play classmates, Janagaraj and Kavithalaya Krishnan, in cameos, have given a laudable account. Though one feels the movie drags a bit in the second half, you need that kind of space for a script like this. The closing shots, where the duo parts ways, leave you in tears; still the director has ended the film on an optimistic note.
Govind Vasantha’s enthralling music and the emotionally-charged songs, combined with its visual splendour, hugely elevate the proceedings, especially the ‘Kadhale Kadhale’ song. And the director has beautifully utilised Ilayaraja’s evergreen songs in nostalgic moments and the soulful number ‘Yamunai Aattrile’ in a fitting situation. Shanmugasundaram and Mahendran’s alluring frames warrant mention. Prem’s honest attempt of portraying the true essence of love without taking any cinematic liberties makes 96 the kind of genre-defining film that creates a benchmark for many years to come. A must-watch movie!