‘Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee’ review: Kishen Das does well in this rambling tale of high-school romance

After a nostalgia-evoking breezy first half, the film meanders and fizzles out in the second

There is a section of the Indian online community on Twitter and elsewhere that cherishes the ‘90s more than any other era. These people, who identify themselves as ‘90s kids’, feel life was slower and simpler then. They look back at the objects, people, places, and pop culture of that era with a heavy sense of longing.

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The first hour or so of Darbuka Siva’s debut directorial, Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, is for this crowd. For it effectively captures the zeitgeist of the ‘90s – the ‘90s of middle-class Madras, to be precise – through a bunch of high-school kids. You find boys in loose full-sleeved shirts (buttoned up and well-tucked in) and trousers, girls in churidars with the sleeves coming up to the middle of their arms, a buzzing Spencers Plaza, an annual diary converted into a ‘slam book’, a guy trying to find the fate of his potential romance through ‘FLAMES’, phone booths, Yamaha RX 100 motorcycles, cassettes, VHS tapes, walkmans, and so on…

The scenes play out as mini-episodes capturing the life of the students. There is a funny one where a sex-education seminar, presented by a pastor, ends with a slide that says, "Please obey your elders for a prosperous life.” Another scene involves a boy searing the letter ‘C’ on his arms with acid to propose to a girl named Catherine. When she refuses, he asks his friend if he can change the ‘C’ into an ‘S’ so he can propose to Soniya. Upon being warned by another friend that he has to be a lifelong vegetarian if he marries Soniya, he decides to modify the ‘C’ into a ‘G’ (for Gayatri)! The innocence of first love, between Vinoth (Kishen Das) and Rekha (Meetha Raghunath), is captured well, too. These scenes are cute without being cloying.

Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee

  • Director: Darbuka Siva
  • Cast: Kishen Das, Meetha Raghunath, Harish K, Darbuka Siva and more
  • Storyline: A nostalgic journey into the lives of a bunch of high-school kids in Madras of the late ‘90s
  • Runtime: 150 minutes

Despite lacking a solid plot, the film’s first half is as pleasant as a rare cool breeze during a Chennai summer noon. The sepia-toned visuals, Siva’s light background score, and the adolescent banter and pranks make the film easily palatable. But only until the first half, after which the film begins to meander.

Due to a supernatural intervention, Vinoth gets to see a future, during which he meets his classmates at a reunion. Suddenly, the scenes lose the semblance of warmth it had hitherto. The characters appear contrived. We hear cliched lines like, “Ivlo varsham epdi pochune therla la? Ellaam nethu nadandha maari irukku…” (“Don’t know how so many years have passed so soon. It feels like everything happened yesterday.”)

On one hand, the film’s title and the additional screen time actors Kishen and Meetha get, indicate that they are the leads. But on the other, it also establishes that this is not just Vinoth and Rekha’s (the characters they play) love story. Early in the film, for instance, Vinoth’s friend tells him, “You are not the hero and we are not your sidekicks.”

But Kishen Das does stand out with a good debut performance. He tries to get us interested in what happens to Vinoth, and is convincing as a fresh-faced schoolboy, be it expressing awkward elation upon receiving his first kiss, or as a bearded melancholic musician who has not moved on from the separation of his first love.

In the second half, instead of focusing on Vinoth and Rekha, Siva decides to show us their classmates’ stories as well. Most of their lives are not what they used to be. However, it is difficult to empathise with these characters because we do not stay with anyone for long. The film suffers from this lack of focus, and the all-too-easy resolution of these conflicts does not help either.

Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee is currently streaming on Zee5

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