Mani Ratnams problematic take on adoption

BY Lalita Sridhar| IN Media Practice | 03/05/2002
Mani Ratnams problematic take on adoption

Mani Ratnams problematic take on adoption


The noted filmmaker has taken up the subject of adoption only to orphan it at the altar of commercial concerns.


By Lalitha Sridhar


Mani Ratnam`s newest film "Kannathil Muthamittal" (loosely translated, a kiss on the cheek) is anything but. The noted filmmaker has taken up the subject of adoption only to orphan it at the altar of commercial concerns. Mainstream Indian cinema has been rightly accused of trivializing and/or avoiding real issues more often than not. The only rays of silver lining all that celluloid are to be found in the visions of the men and, rarely, women who occupy the director`s chair. Some of them earn a certain reputation for being more true and appreciably sensitive. Mani Ratnam is one such star whose sparkle shines through all the tinsel. Or does it? When the director chooses to approach subjects which demand a greater courage, he seems to fall short. And how.

In "Anjali" he was lauded for looking into the world of a mentally ill child. But it was a very short look - the story had her die in the end, as one activist friend put it "very conveniently" - doing away with the need to address the questions which hound parents of differently abled children, including long-term care and its attendant issues. In "Dil Se" ("Uyire" in Tamil) his heroine was a suicide bomber. A gorgeous one, the very sight of whom compelled the hero to chase her to the ends of the earth (or India, in any case). In "Kannathil Muthamittal" too, Mani Ratnam chooses to enter the issue of terrorism but refuses to take a side on it. Why, he even goes to the extent of giving big eyes and normal dreams to those who propound it - look, he seems tell us, how human these human bombs are. Films like Gulzar`s "Maachis" also turned terrorists into key players who sing songs in their spare time. But these directors insist they are not glamorizing misguided youth simply because they have written their deaths into the end of their scripts - as if the futility of an endeavour is enough to convey its wrongness.

His latest offering, Mani Ratnam would like us to believe, is a child`s view of the world. But since the script is loyal to her voice only patchily, that vision becomes blurred early on. In the meanwhile, simply because his story considers it necessary, the issue of adoption is treated with excessive emotion and little credibility. This is what happens : Thiru, a popular and idealistic writer, early in his career, chooses to adopt a baby abandoned in a Sri Lankan refugee camp in Rameswaram. He is single and the romance angle is woven into the story by making it look like only married couples can adopt a child (the director justifies this as the policy of that particular orphanage but the misleading impression remains). Nine years later, Amudha (for that is the name of the dearly loved girl) is told on her birthday that she is an adopted child. This pivotal scene is handled with amazing callousness - the child is taken alone to a secluded part of a beach, the mother refuses to participate saying she cannot face her and the father announces in one irritating moment of distracted child`s play - "nee yenga ponnu illai" (you are not our daughter). Would any adoptive parent choose those (untrue, unless we want to rethink adoption altogether) words to make such an announcement? Besides, all the drama surrounding the revelation seemed to imply (as a foregone conclusion) that the news was terrible (why should the parents be so defensive?). The scenes of Amudha`s extreme reaction, which follow, confirm exactly that. Such cinematic flourish is more than self-indulgence or creative largesse - it extracts a terrible price from the issue of adoption which is then used as a vehicle to address the director`s warped take on terrorism.

The child, who is unnecessarily made out to be extra special and extra loved right from the beginning (the couple also have two boys), holds the family to ransom by behaving more like a rebellious adolescent than an innocent pre-ten. She runs away from home on two occasions and literally forces her parents to fly to a beautiful and war-torn Sri Lanka searching for the woman who abandoned her (all captured brilliantly by Ravi Chandran`s camera). Here they go searching,

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