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A few months ago my friends & I nostalgically recalled old Tamil song videos on YouTube over some pizza. During our ‘favorite Ajith songs’ round “Mugavaree” tunes were inevitably requested. While reminiscing on the film & this period of Thala’s career the topic of how the movie’s ending was changed a few days after it theatrically released, given fans’ upset over the gloomy finale, came up. Although I was aware of this post-release editing practice happening for other films I didn’t know it had happened to “Mugavaree” back in the day. The prospect of such a prominent, and critically lauded, film having its ending changed from the director’s initial vision as fan service got me thinking…
When a film is so much more than the sum of its parts – more than just the climax – why is it that we audiences often judge whether we loved or hated a film purely on the last few minutes?
In fact, several big films of the past few years have contained climaxes that most audiences found either misplaced, rushed or generally frustrating – purely because they had hoped for a different turn of events for the characters they got to know in the last ~120 minute span. But do our personal reactions to endings mean we can only look back on these otherwise fine films with disappointment or a bittersweet feeling?
For example, I sort of enjoyed Mani Ratnam’s “Kaatru Veliyidai” – until the end. I was greatly disappointed with the rather conventional climax that, in my opinion (and many others’ it seems) romanticizes abusive relationships. To be frank I wasn’t in love with the narrative in general, but I was thoroughly enjoying the stunning camerawork, music and Aditi’s strong performance, only to be solidly underwhelmed with the conformist union. But that doesn’t mean I will reflect on this movie for years to come with only vexation regarding what was certainly not my idea of a ‘happily ever after’ for Dr. Leela. Or atleast, I don’t plan to.
Similarly, I look back on “OK Kanmani” with mostly warm, fuzzy feelings, even though it too had an ending that was narratively disappointing to me. After falling in love with this fantastically shot, edited and portrayed Tamil film that ‘dared’ to focus on live-in relationships, I was a tiny bit irked to see the fiercely bold characters decide to go the traditional route so soon. In my perfect world Tara and Adi would have gone their separate ways for a while in pursuit of their long-planned career goals and taken the chance to see if their relationship could survive the tests of time and distance (without a marriage license to legally keep it together), and married later if it were truly meant to be. But again, despite my feelings about the climax, OKK still ranks as one of my favorite films of the past few years.
Many might agree with me that, for the most part, “Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada” was also a great cinematic experience, brought to us by Gautham Vasudev Menon, after much delay and struggle. Until those unmistakeably rushed last 20 minutes or so, many of us were probably enveloped in the gripping action and romantic on-the-road love story (thanks especially to the tunes of AR Rahman). But when asked to simply accept that a man named Rajinikanth was actually hiding this moniker and not using it to help him pick up women all his life? Well that’s where I draw the line of credibility (well for that and the whole becoming a cop immediately without seemingly any barriers bit…).
When thinking of cinematic endings, conversations with my friend, director Nelson Venkatesan, on how he reacted to the upset of many fans over the surprising twist of fates for his lead characters in “Oru Naal Koothu” come to mind. “Some people could not forgive me for what I did to RJ Susheela’s character…”, he said. I too was shocked and heartbroken on behalf of all 3 lead females in ONK, for one reason or another. But in that moment, as the credits rolled, I did openly recognize that, in this case, my personal reaction was not a measure of the superb quality of the film and its complex, yet realistic, storylines. In this case, whether or not I felt the film personally connected to me was simply an additional factor.
I’m glad to say that it seems as though we have surpassed the age where directors and producers feel ‘pressured’ by fans to change the endings of their films after releasing them. It gives me solace to think that we as a film-going audience may finally be realizing that coming to terms with a film’s ending is completely separate from agreeing with one. I just hope that, similarly, we can learn to reflect on films with more than just their ends in mind.
Written by - Dilani Rabindran