Keladi Kanmani (Listen, my dear) was the debut film of director Vasanth after working under K. Balachander assisting such films as Sindhu Bhairavi and Punnagai Mannan. It’s a film based firmly on relationships and the way they intersect and obstruct one another. The final film is not as well-realized as one might hope for, perhaps owing to inexperience, and Vasanth would go on to fine-tune similar themes in future films (Rhythm being one particular variation on it). At the same time, there is a lot to like about Keladi Kanmani that is unique to the film. The story revolves around a quiet widower (Rangaraj, played by singer S.P. Balasubramaniam) and his daughter Anu, who starts off the film falling in love with a classmate, Sasi, a relationship which Rangaraj approves of. However, when she finds that she has developed a terminal illness, she asks Sasi to help her accomplish one wish: to reunite her father with a woman he had known many years ago (Sharada, played by Radhika) and had been fond of, but whom Anu had driven away because of her worry that she would “replace” her deceased mother.
To be blunt, the initial parts of the film are not very good. While there are some genuinely charming bits of humour in there, it also tends to get fairly melodramatic in a puppy-love sort of way that is a bit tiring to sit through. The real attraction of the film is when S.P. B. and Radhika enter and the second part of the film begins (a flashback to their story of meeting and parting), that we get to see a love story that is more mature and gentler. S.P.B. plays his role in a quiet manner that is very likable and makes it easy to understand why Radhika would be fond of him as well. The relationship between Rangaraj and Anu is also very endearing.
Once the conflict between Anu and Sharada arises, the films once again feels a little too blatant in its dramatic portrayal. For example, there are several scenes where Sharada accidentally takes something that was of significance to Anu’s mother, or where Rangaraj unassumingly gives her one of his old wife’s clothes when she needs them. This makes Anu upset, naturally, but it is portrayed in a somewhat over-the-top manner (think of a slow-motion scene with dramatic music playing as anger erupts on the character’s face). Yet elsewhere in the film there are far more down-to-earth sequences, like Rangaraj gently humming his late wife’s song to Anu by her hospital bed. You can see, then, how there is something of a jarring feeling when the film switches from subtlety to melodrama.
Still, even with all of its problems, it is still a film with a very lovely core story, and more than a fair share of nice moments and good natured, mature performances by S.P. Balasubramaniam and Radhika. Gentle love stories between middle-aged characters are not told commonly, so Keladi Kanmani is also rather refreshing. A similar sort of theme is expressed in Vasanth’s later film Rhythm, which follows two widowed characters, this time with the female having a child. Both films have their strengths and weaknesses in how they express this idea, and while Keladi Kanmani feels a little rougher around the edges, it is worth watching.