Kamalakannan Unveils ‘Kurangu Pedal’: A Nostalgic Journey on Two Wheels

The creative impulses of director Kamalakannan diverge significantly from the grandiose narrative of superhero spectacles or the expansive universes of space operas. Instead, his muse resides in the modest yet captivating world of everyday machinery – the rhythmic hum of a ceiling fan, the soothing sizzle of a kerosene stove; these are the unheralded devices that, in his view, silently sculpt our existence. Chief among these is the bicycle; it captivated Kamalakannan with its symbolism of liberty, the allure of adventure, and the capacity to transport one past the boundaries of their well-trodden paths. This persistent intrigue is likely what drew him to the short story “Cycle” by filmmaker Rasi Azhagappan nearly 15 years ago.

The tale struck a chord with Kamalakannan immediately: the central themes of a bicycle, a youthful protagonist, the backdrop of summer, heartwarming father-son dynamics, and a setting in the 1970s appeared ripe for cinematic adaptation. At the time, he was unaware of Azhagappan’s identity, only to find out later that their paths had crossed within social circles. Kamalakannan reached out, and to his fortune, Azhagappan granted him the rights to adapt the story into a screenplay.

This project could have marked Kamalakannan’s debut in film directing as he even initiated a test shoot spanning three days. However, the reality of directing a story centered on children and their world daunted him, prompting the realization that such an undertaking was not suited for a novice director. It required a level of experience and patience he had yet to acquire, leading him to postpone the project. Instead, Kamalakannan directed other films, including “Madhu Banakadai” in 2012 and “Vattam” in 2022.

The story of “Cycle” accompanied him throughout the years, always managing to elicit positive reactions whenever he shared it. Eventually, with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt and newfound confidence, he transformed “Cycle” into “Kurangu Pedal.” The movie had its premiere in the Indian Panorama section at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2022 and is poised for a theatrical release on May 3, with production and presentation by actor Sivakarthikeyan.

To metamorphose “Cycle” into “Kurangu Pedal,” Kamalakannan undertook several changes. A straightforward replication of a short story into a film script is rarely effective; the true essence lies in encapsulating the core emotion. Such modifications involved a shift from the 1970s to the 1980s, a relocation from northern Tamil Nadu to the Kongu region, and the expansion of the narrative world with new supporting characters that added depth and complexity.

Capturing an era devoid of today’s ubiquitous technology like phones and YouTube posed a significant challenge. The team meticulously created a rich tapestry characterized by authentic language, culture, and attitudes authentic to the time. Writer Prabhakar Shanmugam’s dialogues, cinematographer SuMee Baskaran’s lens, composer Ghibran’s melodies, and sound designer Antony Ruban’s auditory landscapes were instrumental in this achievement.

One of the major hurdles was acclimatizing young actors to the time period they were to depict. Raised in a digital age, they found the pre-internet world almost inconceivable. Questions like “How did people navigate without Google Maps?” became commonplace. This generation of viewers, through “Kurangu Pedal,” will receive an insightful look into a bygone lifestyle dramatically different from their own.

More than a cinematic time capsule, for Kamalakannan, “Kurangu Pedal” was a chance to encapsulate childhood’s enchantment. The narrative depended heavily on its young protagonists’ purity and vitality, which made casting a critical task. The children needed to be lively, at ease in the outdoors, and capable of enduring long hours of outdoor filming.

The search for the ideal cast was extensive, reaching into dance academies, folk art institutions, and martial arts studios. The challenge wasn’t just select talented individuals but to find a group that embodied authentic camaraderie – children who could convincingly portray genuine friendships. After rigorous selecting and training sessions, the final choices for the lead roles were Santosh Velmurugan, VR Raghavan, M Gnanasekar, Ratish, and Sai Ganesh.

Kaali Venkat anchors the film alongside the children with praiseworthy performance – he masterfully essays the role of a stern but caring father, striking a careful balance crucial to maintaining the film’s gentle spirit.

Director Kamalakannan credits his time spent with his nieces and nephews as significantly influential in understanding the intricate world of children. He emphasizes the importance of treating their perspectives and conflicts with gravity and respect.

After 15 years of conceptual gestation, “Kurangu Pedal” emerges not only as a testimony to Kamalakannan’s patient artistry but also as an endeavor to preserve and share the unwritten stories embedded in the innocuous turn of a bicycle wheel.

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