OK Kanmani is about two adults who are in a consensual live-in relationship. It's surprising that the politically motivated moral brigade in Tamil Nadu hasn't stirred up a controversy over it. But though the film appears to be progressive in its ideas, even attempting to shock at times (a heroine who wants sex without marriage? Shiva, Shiva!), it's still pretty careful about where it treads.
While Aadhi (Dulquer Salmaan) is open about his love life and requires no justification for why he wants to be in a live-in, Thara (Nithya Menen) comes with plenty of emotional baggage. She doesn't want to get married because her parents went through a traumatic divorce. Would it have been unacceptable to have a heroine who wants to be in a live-in simply because she doesn't believe in marriage as an institution? Someone who wants sex without commitment, the same way Aadhi does? While we're informed about Aadhi's numerous girlfriends, we don't really know anything about Thara's love life other than the fact that she plays a prank on a man who tries to marry her for her wealth. Thara, despite her spunk and seemingly unconventional ideas, is quite vanilla at the end of the day. She's no karpukarasi but she is a far cry from strong female characters like Laila (Margarita with a Straw) or Piku (Piku) who are unapologetic about their sexuality and need no sob story for wanting some action. When, oh when, will Tamil cinema gives us a girl like that?
And while it's 'cute' and all that when Aadhi follows Thara all the way to Ahmedabad when she's going there on work, I wonder if women in real life will appreciate a loverboy at their heels when they are busy with their professional life. Or if Thara doing something similar will not be seen as being 'clingy' by the 'free' soul that Aadhi apparently is. It's exhausting to watch movie after movie in which we're repeatedly told that women like to be followed and stalked and that it's the way to their heart. That it's not necessary at all to check with them first if they want to have a boy hanging around them with his heart in dhak-dhak mode when they are busy trying to do something constructive. Bleh.
Aadhi and Thara's relationship is juxtaposed with the one between Ganapathi (Prakash Raj) and Bhavani (Leela Samson). There's some heavy-handed sermonizing on how one cannot expect commitment and accountability in a live-in relationship and as the narrative progresses, we see how much commitment there exists in a marriage, by contrast.
Firstly, it isn't true that partners in a live-in have zero commitment or accountability. People who get into a live-in relationship usually negotiate the terms on which they have entered the relationship and it isn't uncommon for partners to buy houses together or even have children together. Legally speaking, a live-in relationship does not have the same status as that of a marriage but that doesn't mean that if your partner disappears for days together, you cannot even ask him/her about it!
And secondly, there are very few marriages like the one between Ganapathi and Bhavani where the husband cooks, takes care of his wife, is proud of her celebrity status and what not. Marriage does not automatically make people accountable or caring unless you drag them to court and put yourself through a painful process.
Thara's parents, too, went through a bad divorce, we're told, so it's puzzling why Aadhi and Thara seem to think that the institution of marriage is necessary to keep their relationship intact in the future. Does getting married prevent anyone from cheating on their partner? Obviously not. Does it guarantee that your spouse will take care of you when you've lost your marbles? Nope. It all boils down to the individuals who are in the relationship to make it work or not. Marriage isn't a strict schoolmaster under whose watching eyes, people fall in line naturally.
The way the film ends, with Aadhi and Thara choosing marriage and babies (despite their allergy to both) after all is disappointing. At a time when Indian films are finally breaking away from the formulaic love story where the happy ending is a wedding and are looking at the institution of marriage critically (Queen, How Old Are You?, English Vinglish etc), this is lazy storytelling at best. If you took out AR Rahman's magical music and all the bits from the script when Aadhi and Thara are simply yelling woo-hoo, there's barely any depth to the characters or the story. Something that was present in Alaipayuthey. The film lacks the courage to move out of its safe zones and falls back, instead, on the chemistry between its good-looking lead pair to carry it to its cliched ending. Maybe Mani Ratnam thought the audience would reject his film otherwise. Maybe he thought the noble upholders of Indian Culture would be up in arms if Aadhi and Thara had done anything else. Maybe. But it's still a pity that OK Kanmani turned out to be just okay when it had so much going for it.