‘Kurangu Pedal’: A Nostalgic Ride Through Childhood Dreams and Disappointments

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them,” a sentiment expressed by a character from the beloved comedy series The Office, resonates profoundly with our universal journey through the vaults of memory where the bittersweet tales of growing up lie in wait. It’s the undeniable tug of these recollections that can summon a smile to a face or a longing in a heart. Capitalizing on this powerful sense of nostalgia, and supported by the patronage of actor-producer Sivakarthikeyan, Kurangu Pedal delivers an experience that delights despite its narrative imperfections.

Amidst the pastoral charm of Katheri village in Salem of the 1980s, a simple story unfolds, centering on young Mariappan, portrayed by Santhosh Velmurugan, who harbors the summer goal of mastering the bicycle. Yet, the path is strewn with obstacles: the economic hardship of securing rental fees, the fickle loyalties of friends who are lured away by the appeal of new companionship, and a father, aptly played by Kaali Venkat, whose own history with bicycles is marked by undisclosed aversion.

Director Kamalakannan, aware of the slender thread upon which the plot hangs ensures that the central aim of the movie is accomplished swiftly, setting the stage for the latter half to explore the ripple effects of Mariappan’s seemingly trivial errors. Here, narrative threads are dexterously interwoven— juxtaposing Mariappan’s dilemmas with his father Kandhasaami’s proclivity for gambling and another storyline involving Jenson Dhivakar playing a lovable inebriate with Prasanna Balachandran’s Military, an ex-serviceman and cycle shop proprietor whose character possibly nods to Sivaji Ganesan’s role in Dhavani Kanavugal.

It’s when Kurangu Pedal immerses itself in its era-driven sentiments that it shines brightest. Whether it’s capturing the chaotic joy of school’s closing day rituals, the ordinary pleasure of kicking stones, or the summer pastimes that colored the childhoods of those from the 80s and 90s, the film succeeds in conjuring a time where joy was found in simplicity, be it through swimming in any body of water available or feasting on the tartness of Madras Thorn.

Adapted from Rasi Alagappan’s short story ‘Cycle’, the movie excels in putting forth vignettes that are poignant, like the one where an injured Mariappan seeks financial aid from his elder sister, only to linger at her doorstep, detoured by the scent of her kesari. In another such poignant moment, his father’s childhood friend reveals Kandhasaami’s deep-rooted dread of cycling through a traditional Bommalattam performance. These gems, however, are somewhat diminished by the film’s propensity to jump from one scene to another, denying viewers the chance to fully immerse in the more affecting moments and instead fostering a sense of distraction.

Further diluted by occasionally unpolished performances, the film at times struggles to transform its crafted moments into a seamless, organic experience. This is most evident in the underdeveloped relational dynamics between Mariappan and his close circle, which dilute the potential impact of the emotional highs and lows. Unlike films such as Koozhangal that invite viewers to fully empathize with the childhood struggles portrayed, Kurangu Pedal often relegates the audience to the position of mere onlookers to the unfolding narrative.

Despite these critiques, the film redeems itself with its humor, particularly through the fanciful theories spun by the naïve children— from an unfounded belief that Military’s tool chest harbors a loaded gun to the mythic tale of his Everest descent. These touches of innocence add a sparkle to the film, much like its profound musings on cycling paralleled with life lessons.

Kamalakannan’s direction is most effective when leaning into the film’s strong suits but is occasionally marred by digressions that hamper cohesion. Nonetheless, Kurangu Pedal carries its heart proudly, offering a touchingly warm viewing experience that will morph into a carousel of personal recollections, riding on the timeless spokes of nostalgia.

Kurangu Pedal, now screening in cinemas, is more than just a flashback to an age of innocence—it’s a reminder that sometimes the simplest of stories are those that stay with us, speaking to the child within, pedaling furiously against the winds of time. Tamil cinema’s ode to the reverie of yesteryear invites laughter, reflection, and maybe, for a moment, a return to those “good old days” before they slip away again.

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