Kanaa makes you want to root for Aishwarya Rajesh’s Koushi, even if her team lets her down a bit after the interval.

Like Chak De and Dangal, Kanaa follows the usual template of an underdog beating all odds to emerge triumphant. It’s off to a promising start with an engaging first half. Koushi is drawn to cricket from a very young age thanks to her father’s (Sathyaraj) obsession with the game. The scenes portraying her initiation into the local cricket team, bonding with the players (Anand, Sathya and Peter annas), and her mastery of off-spin through sheer hard work and determination are some of the highlights of the movie. The father-daughter bond is another major component that works in the movie’s favor. The first half ends on a strong note, culminating in a rousing rendition by Sathyaraj attacking the stereotype, prevalent even to this day, that women belong only in the kitchen.

While Koushi is pursuing her dreams of representing India, there is a parallel narrative on the issues faced by farmers, which starts taking up equal screen time as the movie progresses. The second half is rife with melodrama and meanders away from its core message. It also feels needlessly stretched, with some of the scenes belying logic. I’d been hoping that the introduction of Siva Karthikeyan (Dhileep) early in the second half would have been the spark the movie desperately needed. While he does impress in fits and starts and uses his newfound star power to good effect, it still leaves you wanting for more. When you are coaching a fictional underdog women’s team, it’s hard not to draw parallels with Kabir Khan (Chak De), and Dhileep falls woefully short. The bonding of the national team players doesn’t even hold up to the rapport shared by Koushi and her local team. Despite these problems, debutant director Arunraja Kamaraj nails the all-important semifinal match against Australia. It’s not easy to script a match, particularly in a sports movie where the underdog has to win, but the director manages to make it both thrilling and authentic.

While Sathyaraj impresses as a doting father and helpless farmer, there is no question on who deserves the man of the match. Aishwarya Rajesh has thrown heart and soul into the portrayal of a village girl with big aspirations (movie title). There were actually a few places, where it was abundantly clear that the movie couldn’t keep up with her brilliant performance. Whenever I found myself questioning the movie (and it was often in the second half), I looked at Aishwarya Ramesh acting her heart out and I started believing again.

Watching Kanaa felt like re-watching an old cricket match that is memorable only because of Sachin’s sparkling century. You have a fair idea of how the match pans out, you know that there will be some low points which you must grudgingly endure, but you still want to watch it for Sachin. In Kanaa, you want to root for Aishwarya Rajesh’s Koushi, even if her team lets her down a bit after the interval. The movie is well worth a watch if only to see her truly stellar performance.

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