***** SPOILER WARNING *****
While this article won’t reveal the story of the film, it would be fathomed in a better fashion if you had watched the film.
Kaatru Veliyidai was a breezy entertainer but the mixed reception it had raked in over the weekend has taken the Tamil cinema industry by storm (Forced wind metaphors). Be it a flop or a classic, a Mani Ratnam product always ends up becoming the talk of the town and while some films have forced a finger on the lip to the critics, some have raised eyebrows and some have even raised voices (not to mention the raised hate slogans too 😛 ).
I personally liked Kaatru Veliyidai (check out its review here) and if you’re one of those people who watched the film and felt the film could swallow a Kadal, then this post would probably gain a ‘meh’ from you. That said, I didn’t like his last work, OK Kanmani and I wouldn’t mind watching Ravanan twice to endure that romantic flick. The problem of being a legend is that they have to deliver an amazing product consistently irrespective of what all goes behind it including the time, plot, genre or even the stars. On the brighter side, the convenience of being a legend is that they aren’t confined to deliver a product with the same criteria I’ve mentioned above.
A common criticism put forth by many was that the film’s plot is too frail. While I completely agree that to be a major drawback apart from the much obvious Karthi-in-close-up-emotional-shots fiasco, I observed a couple of shots which subtly screams what a genius the man is and that’s what this post is about.
Varun Chakrapani a.k.a VC
While many reviews stamped VC (Karthi) as a male chauvinist, self centred, egoistic man and much more, not one mentioned him to be a classy womaniser. Mani establishes it in the very first shot where he ‘dangerously’ flirts with Shraddha Srinath despite knowing that she’s a brigadier’s daughter. He feels that the risk is worth it and even casually drops a line saying he’ll marry her after becoming the dad of her kid. He also beautifully dumps her with a Bharathiyar verse just because the image of a stunning doctor which kept replaying in his mind over and over during the days in the hospital is something worth letting go of one ledge and jumping to another.
He doesn’t fall in love with Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) after seeing her blow soap bubbles or run down a flower shower in slo-mo. In the first place he tries to sweep her off the feet with his charm and the intentions behind it doesn’t look ‘pure’. But it does turn so when he realises that she is the sister of his colleague cum best friend who was killed in action. He would’ve thought till that point that she’s coming behind him like a puppy because she’s mad about him. This is one of many subtle instances where Mani drives a nail smoothly into his protagonist’s male ego. A character sketch I loved was when he realises who she is and at one point fails in walking away from her when he drops her at her house. “Inimel meet panna koodathunu nenaikiren. Ithu dangerous’nu thonuthu. Manasu marurathu munnadi goodnight sollidren” he says, thinking that’ll save a sinking ship. By then both had already gone to a point of no return. The ship has sailed….
The moment love blossoms between them, Leela becomes VC’s and this is where the issue arises. Being a rigid man at service, VC likes to ‘control’ what he owns and he loves Leela so much that he thinks he owns her. “She’s my girl” he flaunts in front of his fellow comrades after he pacifies her post a spat. He commands respect and he wants his word to be final. Mani justifies this character of VC by giving us a glimpse of his family which is dysfunctional to say the least. His father who has been a control freak over the years is someone VC always despised without realising that it’s a trait that has seeped in into his genes too. In short, VC considers Leela as his entity and something he takes for granted, thinking she’s going to go nowhere despite what happens.
Leela, on the other hand is a soft-spoken well bred woman of class. Keeping with Mani’s tradition, she’s yet another female lead who is independent and can rise for the moment when necessary. Raised in a family that has dedicated itself for the armed forces, she’s a brave person who knows what she’s doing. She stands by what she thinks is right and doesn’t mince her words to get a point across.
Then why does she put up with all the tantrums VC throws which is nothing but clear abuse? Because she loves him, truly, madly and deeply – sounds like the most diplomatic answer? Because he’s also a member of the armed forces, just like the men in her life she adores, her brother and grandfather? If that’s the case, she’s got way too many options there, why would she pick VC? Is it because of the good certificate her brother gave during his stint with VC? Is it because he was her first patient in her current posting and its withdrawal symptoms? She’s too strong for that IMO. She feels more like someone who had known him for a long time and had fallen in love with a character which grew many folds after seeing him in the flesh. The answer will never be known.
It reminds me of Senthil’s dialogue in the 1990 fantasy flick Sathan Sollai Thattathe. A crying genie played by Senthil, after trying to figure out who the heroine loves out of the three heroes says, “Vaanathule enna irrukuthunu kandupudichen, boomile enna irrukuthunu kandupudichen, eerezhu logathuleyum enna irrukuthunu kandupudichen, aana oru pombale manasule enna irrukuthunu kandupudika mudiyaleye. Naa mattum ille, enne padaicha antha aandavan aala kooda kandupudika mudiyathu”.
What’s known is that despite the fact that she loves him like there’s no tomorrow, her self-respect matters more than a relationship and this is where Mani once again shines for his characterisation. He points out that women are done with getting walked over by some men. And the best part? The film isn’t even set in the current generation. Leela doesn’t ask for an upper hand, but an equal relationship. She doesn’t want to take over the reigns but maintain a relationship where she can expect some respect back.
I loved the way how Leela never regretted her decision to fall in love even after the abuses beat her down to pulp. She knows that the man isn’t the problem but the man has a problem. Even when she wants to break up, she doesn’t run away from him but gives her very best till the last moment to make it work somehow. As a man even I felt she gave too many lives for a relationship that looked like it wanted to commit suicide.
Why and why not the love track works?
I would like to leave that to the readers to decide based on the points below. Relationships have always been Mani’s strongest suite. Not just that of a man and a woman but relationships in general in a family.
As far as troubled relationships, the way he creates the knot and how he ends up loosening it up in the climax is a treat to watch. Mohan – Revathi in Mouna Ragam, Kamal and his daughter in Nayakan, Prabhu and Karthik in Agni Natchathiram, Baby Shamili and her siblings in Anjali, Rajini and literally every single character in Thalapathy, Prashanth & Anand and Heera in Thiruda Thiruda, The leads’ fathers Nasser and Kitty in Bombay, Mohanlal and Prakashraj in Iruvar, Shah Rukh and Manisha in Dil Se, Madhavan and Shalini in Alaipayuthey, Madhavan and Meera Jasmine in Aayutha Ezhuthu, Jr. Bachchan and once again everyone in Guru, Prithviraj and Aishwarya / Vikram and Aishwarya in Raavanan, Arvind Swamy and Gautham Karthik / Arvind Swamy and Arjun in Kadal and finally, Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menon in OK Kanmani, are a few (read a phew!) examples of how Mani constructs-destructs-reconstructs relationships with ease.
The chemistry both the lead actors share is magical and looks surreal onscreen. Mani doesn’t need those romantic numbers and PDA to establish that. For goodness sake, he did it without the lead even touching each other by mistake till the end in Mouna Ragam. It’s the way he weaves in a love track that makes them fall in love with each other and us with them! From the above mentioned movies, the closest ones I can think of with similarities would be Prithviraj and Aishwarya / Vikram and Aishwarya in Raavanan and Madhavan and Meera Jasmine in Aayutha Ezhuthu. In the latter flick, Inba and Sasi share an ‘adichiko-pudichiko’ relationship and that’s justified by the raw and crude physical allure that oozes with sexual gratification from both. In Raavanan, an adaptation of Ramayan, Sita doesn’t get even a percentage of love she pours over her husband Ram which makes her develop Stockholm syndrome against Veera who kidnaps her. The hatred towards the action of her husband she loved and the affinity she had towards a local goon who has held her captive but still treats her better than her husband would’ve been beautifully showcased to be the reason for a fondness (I don’t want to use the word love) to develop against Veera.
And in that coveted list joins VC and Leela. They’re perfect as an individual but when they’re together, they aren’t what they want to be but still they love being together. The natural love-hate relationship which almost all couples have is beautifully portrayed which made me fall in love with the film.
The Director’s touch!
And here comes the exciting part. Some shots had the director’s name written all over it, while some scenes registered in me as his trademark shots hours after I got back home from seeing the film. Some scenes tested the intelligence of the audience while also showing the makers’ trust on the understanding capabilities of the viewers. I’ve listed a few I spotted. Obviously I would’ve missed some and of course, I might’ve taken the creative liberty to connect things which aren’t even meant to be so. You be the better judge 🙂
Going in the chronological order of the film….
- When VC gets dragged in the first scene to be tortured in the enemy camp, a fellow P.O.W sings a Hindi song. This song is the classic My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves from Amitabh Bachchan’s blockbuster flick Amar Akbar Anthony. Why does he sing this song? To establish to the audience and the lead character VC, that he too is an Indian, without saying it out loud. Subtlety mixed with brilliance.
- Leela’s intro shot – a textbook aerial shot of Mani.
- Vaan Varuvaan gently caressing our ear lobes in the background, Leela peeps out of the train as snow flakes dance across the screen. This signifies her as the snow – white, pure, clean, can change shapes, expressive and most importantly, melt and completely transform in the presence of heat.
- VC’s intro shot – Establishes neatly the character of VC, and despite many reviews call him as misogynistic and self-centered, the intro shot showcases him as a Casanova, IMO.
- The ‘living life on the edge’ reference when he stops the jeep inches before certain death and coolly calls it “perfect landing”.
- VC’s sunglasses – It’s obvious to all that the guy loves his shades, especially the dark coloured ones. What does it mean? I infer that VC doesn’t see the world the way it is. Every time he is seen wearing glasses, a major scene happens to unfold. The moment he gets rid of him, that’s the real him.
No wonder that in the climax, despite the fact that he wanders in a desert, he isn’t wearing any glasses. It’s a symbolic representation
that he has changed.
- Trademark hospital scene (Climax in Mouna Ragam, Shalini sequences in Alaipayuthey, the granny that self-immolates and gets a visit from Kamal in Nayakan and Jr. Bachchan admitted in the film Guru to name a few).
- Using a Bharathiyar quote to break-up – quite an irony as VC’s character seems to like his lines but uses it to his convenience.
- I personally loved the transformation of VC after knowing Leela is his colleague cum friend’s sister. The moment a fling becomes love for the hero who had though the girl was behind him because he had swept her off her feet with his antics.
- The scene where VC drops Leela back at her place and tells romantically that meeting frequently isn’t good for either of them. Despite being in the chill outdoors, she doesn’t feel cold as he’s near her, talking to him. The moment he gets on the jeep and the headlight beam falls on her as he reverses, Leela reacts to the cold. Is he the heat that gives her the warmth and ends up melting her?
- Person caught somewhere and missing their loved one shots (the current timeline scenes). Seen extremely similar scenes in Roja when Arvind Swami gets confined. Somewhat similar comparisons can be found in Thalapathi when Rajini knows who his mother is and can’t reach out to her and in Raavanan when Aish longs for her husband to rescue her soon from the clutches of Vikram.
- The gifted heroine – Leela joins the list of Mani’s heroines who can sing/dance for a living (Leela’s vocal treat at her house and when she goes to Leh Military base to meet VC). Examples: Nithya in OK Kanmani, Aish in Raavanan, Shobana in Thalapathi, Amala in Agni Natchathiram to name a few.
- The scene in which VC’s family is shown. It’s just another family with its own issues, problems, happiness, sadness and madness. Almost all Mani’s films have their leads come from similar families.
- Trademark ceremonial/celebration song – Saarattu Vandiyila. (Yaaro Yaarodi – Alaipayuthey, Keda Kari – Raavanan, Nenjinile Nenjinile – Uyire (Dil Se), Rukkumani Rukkumani – Roja, Andhi Mazhai Megam – Nayakan).
- Using Holi as a reason to bring in colours to the songs – Saarattu Vandiyila once again. (Andhi Mazhai Megam – Nayakan, Kodu Poatta – Raavanan)
- Marriage scene (Too many to even make a note of).
- VC’s actual characterisation shot – The desert sand that shows the real person he is to him and us. While Leela was the cold and white show, VC is the hot and brown desert sand. He’s ferocious, hot tempered, loosely connected but that’s what ‘melts’ the snow.
- The customary rain shot (Almost all of Mani’s movies have sequences in rain).
- The mirror shot – Yet another must have in Mani’s films.
- The top angle shot with the pair being in opposite directions. This is usually the shot where the difference of opinion happens between the couple and hence the two of them are in opposite directions. Similar scenes were seen in Guru and Iruvar.
- The death of a supporting character – Death is an unavoidable event in life as well as Mani’s films. Leela’s grandpa passes away in this film (Heard this shot was removed in the theatrical cut after the first day shows to cut short on time). Examples of such death scenes – Kadal – Gautham’s mother, Raavanan – Priyamani, Guru – Vidya Balan, Uyire – Manisha Koirala and Shah Rukh Khan, Iruvar – Mohanlal, Bombay – Nasser and Kitty and Thalapathi – Mammootty.
So here is all that I could make out from watching the movie and I hope I’ve done justice to the work of Mani 🙂 That said, this is just my interpretation from what I’ve noticed in the film. Your opinions are more than welcome to differ. Watch the film in theatres and if you agree to my points or disagree with them, do lemme know!