C Prem Kumar’s 96 is a fantastic movie that is equally heartwarming and heart-wrenching. It is such a gem of a script that offers frequent moments of emotional warmth. With a treatment that focuses a lot on subtle expressions and movements of the central characters, 96 is an immersive experience that peels off the layers of true romance in the most delightful way. With Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha delivering top-notch performances, 96 will surely be a classic in the long run.
Ram is a travel photographer. During his professional life, he happens to visit the town where he did his schooling. His nostalgia eventually culminates in a get together of the 96 batch students. The movie talks about what happens that night after the function when Ram meets his school day love Janaki (Janu) after a long gap of 22 years.
96 actually have two parallel narratives. One which lasts for the span of a night and the other, which traverses a phase in the flashback of our hero and heroine. Prem Kumar who has written the screenplay knows exactly how to build the feel. Trisha’s appearance in the movie happens a little late. But Prem shows us the childhood charm and impact of Janu among the friends so beautifully with the support of an amazing performance from Gouri G Kishan, we as an audience would be eagerly waiting to see the grown-up version of Janu. The nuances Prem Kumar has managed to bring into the presentation of the flashback were so real that when we see the grown-up characters, there is an increased likeability for those characters. The two heartbeat sequences were really hilarious and fabulously real. There is a sequence in the second half where Janu narrates the love story to Ram’s students. That was one scene where I predicted something gimmicky or cheesy to happen but ended up seeing something so emotional and pleasant, even though it had the weight of regret.
The amazing Vijay Sethupathi gets into the skin of the character brilliantly. He has this rough side which he just can’t expose in front of Janu and I loved how he maintains that innocence in every moment. This is a movie that has a lot of meaningful silences and the wonderful chemistry between the lead pair helps the movie a lot in conveying those emotions perfectly. Trisha gets a character with substance and she also switches between being the cool-headed one to the emotionally brittle one fabulously. The casting of Adithya Bhasker and Gouri G Kishan was spot on and the performances are so good that we won’t have any issue in believing that they are Ram and Janu. Devadarshini, Bagavathi Perumal, Aadukalam Murugadoss and the actors who portrayed the childhood versions of their characters were also memorable and real.
I was really amazed how Prem Kumar managed to mix scenes that are hilarious and extremely emotional back to back without making us uncomfortable at all. Loud acting is something we have seen in mainstream Tamil cinema and here everything was extremely minimal. Those eyebrow gestures, silences and the drastic shift in emotions in between those conversations, everything was so soothing making it an unforgettable romantic drama. And I also loved how it didn’t go the usual way of placing moral ambiguity as a conflict. The frames are fitting. Most of the shots have these static frames which sort of helps us in focusing the movie calmly. Even the slow-motion shots have an ease in approaching and is used very minimally to show the peaks of emotional moments. Govind Vasantha’s tracks are beautiful and it is perhaps the only album in the recent past that I have heard completely without picking any specific track and the movie has incorporated all the songs in a way that one can relive the magic of the movie by listening to the tracks. The cuts also have a significant role in building moments that makes 96 an extremely memorable movie.
96 is a poignant piece of cinema that in a way breaks the classic justification that romance is always cheesy. Please don’t think that it is a so-called parallel or offbeat cinema. It has every emotion in the most real and sensible proportion. I laughed a lot, my eyes were teary occasionally and I walked out with a smile of having seen a movie that could well become a classic in the long run.
I laughed a lot, my eyes were teary occasionally and I walked out with a smile of having seen a movie that could well become a classic in the long run.