Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) in 96 says photography is the only form of art that is capable of freezing time. In a figurative perception, if we look at his life, he actually lives it like a snapped image. Yes, his time stopped running the moment he and his Janu (Trisha) parted. But, the love Ram has for Janu has not diminished a bit even after 22 years since they last met.
It is the same for Janu as well, whose feeling towards Ram is unchanged. Nevertheless, her clock has not frozen like Ram’s. There is a dialogue when she asks him, “Romba thooram poitiya, Ram?” — have you gone very far, for which he replies that he is still at the same point where he dropped her. That is where I could feel the kind of love the pair had for each other.
Filmmaker Premkumar’s 96 passes like this, reminding one of our good old days and the points in our life where time got frozen.
After completing my schooling in 2011, it’s been seven years during which I have crossed four years of college life and three years of being a journalist. However, till now, when I hear the phrase, ‘latecomer’ it would be my school time ally, Akshay, who strikes my mind. Not just for me, but for almost every single person who studied classes 11 and 12 with me.
Apparently, when this WhatsApp group conversation scene starts in 96, Ram gets added to it and one of the inmates of the group welcomes him, ‘Vaadaa Late Comer’. That moment, I saw our class’ ‘branded’ (muthirai kuthapatta) ‘latecomer’, Akshay. I also realised that for this term ‘latecomer’, time was frozen seven years back for me in 2011.
But, for unfortunate Akshay there was no situation like what happens in Ram’s life – for coming early to school. After two days of uninformed leave taken by Janu, Ram starts to miss her. The emotion gets intense as the next two days fall on the weekend. He kills those two days like a couple of years and shows up as the first person in class the next Monday. Here, I saw myself, who was an early bird at school, for Janu(s).
Actually, she was not from my school. She had to start at least half-an-hour before me as her school had different working hours. So, I would join her and be in my school a bit early. Since both of used bicycles, we had ample time to measure the length and breadth of Ayyappa Nagar, our neighbourhood in Tiruchi city. That was the same way Ram and Janu spent their last meeting, minutes before they separated
Usually, when a love story is filmed, the general promotional term would be, ‘An all-new love story in world cinema’. I don’t see 96 to be that kind of film. All I see is the life and experiences I had. It is my story and everyone else’s, too.
Talking about schooldays’ love, there is also a significant role for a friend with whom we share our love stories. In our times, one of the most important duties of a friend was to listen to the same old story thousands of times, like an A R Rahman’s song in a loop. For me, it was Barani, who knows almost every single moment about what was going on between me and my ex-Janu. Like how Ram’s teacher takes a dig at him for being only ‘physically present’, I, too, would be mentally absent with my memories about her running in my mind. Barani had no other go than to be physically present and listen to ‘our together moments’.
Likewise, when Ram talks about his love to his friend, he says, ‘If I marry Janu, you know what her name would be? – Janaki Ramachandran’. I had a similar instance when I was very happy about my ex-Janu’s initial being ‘S’. ‘After we get married, there is no need for her to change your initial,’ I told Barani, since I was not aware that it was a form of male chauvinism, a less progressive mentality.
However, I was not that primitive in ideologies. There was this ritual called, ‘FLAMES’ (Friend, Lover, Affection, Marriage, Enemy and Sister) which was used to predict the future of a relationship. I was a little progressive, and I did not believe in that ritual. Not because I am rational, but my relationship’s prediction ended up as ‘Enemy’. In 96, Ram, too, gets an unexpected result – a similarity to enjoy along with Ram.
Love is a little different from any other relationship a man or woman enjoys. While all others are bound by mind and heart, love establishes itself beyond mind, through imagination and fantasies. It asks you to stop abruptly as you walk. It will make you turn around and look whether she is following you. It creates hypothetical conversations. It ultimately lets you think of possibilities to resume the relationship from that moment when your time went dormant. That is love.
During the run-time of 96, I could not see it as the story of Ram or Janu, but that of mine. I could see me in Ram. Adding to the list so far of Barani, Akshay and Janu, I can extend it to fit every frame of 96 with my life. The purpose of the movie, too, was this – to trigger our memories. When watching any random romance movie, what we do is fit ourselves in the place of the hero or the heroine. But, in 96, we fit Ram and Janu in our lives. That was why I was sad and depressed when they parted, as it was my relationship breaking up.
So, I stop my list of comparison and nostalgia literally here and leave the rest to you. It is your turn to watch 96 and find the Ram in you and you in Ram – also the moment your time froze.