While usual filmmakers’ works are similar to a novel that can be understood with the turn of a page, Mani Ratnam’s works are usually a cryptex or an onion. Once you unravel the mysteries and get to the nucleus, you either get flabbergasted by the reveal or delve into a space of emptiness and feel like Kungfu Panda‘s Po who opens the magic scroll to find nothing.
Reviewing a Mani product isn’t easy, especially for an amateur a.k.a armchair critic like me. And to view it as just another film that I want to review is out of question thanks to the Mani Ratnam – esque that’s embedded in every single frame. So in an attempt to keep that thought away, I’m penning this down similar to how I tried to watch this film fooling myself that it’s yet another wannabe new-age romance preacher.
VC (Karthi) ends up as a P.O.W in our most-favourite-enemy-according-to-media land and that’s justified with the Kargil War tag. Confined in a cell, he has all the time in the world to think about his past and recollect memories which are predominantly full of him with a teeny-weeny space filled with Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari).
Cut to the flashback, VC is a carefree womaniser in an Air-force officer outfit, who tries and somewhat succeeds in ‘correcting’ a brigadier’s daughter. When a stunt goes wrong he lands in a hospital where he gets treated by Leela. This is just the first time we see him being rattled and Leela going above and beyond her call of duty to heal him. Being what he is, it doesn’t take long for him to set his eyes on Leela. While he thinks he swept her off her feet with his charm, Leela reveals why and how she knew him for a while and this blossoms into a relationship. But as in every relationship, it isn’t a walk in the park but a bed of roses and thorns and Mani beautifully projects Aditi and Karthi as the rose and thorn that can’t stay together yet can’t be separated. While the rest of the story is if they come together for a they-lived-happily-ever-after ending might sound cliche, it’s the way the story is scripted which made me fall in love and awe with the film. After all it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.
VC is an egoistic, self-centered, male chauvinistic guy who thinks he can get away with anything while he doesn’t know that their relationship bond is held together by Leela who succumbs to his antics but still comes out as someone who would pull the plug any moment. The dialogues “Naa yen unkitte thirumba thirumba varen, Eppo varuve, eppo ongi adipenu purinjika mudile” by Aditi and “Engalukulle enna sandai vanthalum prechanai vanthalum she’s my girl” by Karthi gives an idea on how much this matters for her and how it’s just another matter of fact thing for him. But what matters is that they love each other truly, madly and deeply. Karthi nails it with another dialogue worth remembering, “Nee enne virumburathey vide, naa unne athigam ah virumbuven. Nee enne veruthalum virumbuven. Nee enne virumbale naalum virumbuven”.
In a messed up age where we still have movies that show heroes as saviours who might save the puppy of the villain despite the fact that the latter would’ve tried to kill his entire family, we have an actor who thinks he’s a hero but is nothing more than a narcissistic sexist who goes through turmoil to find respect for others and himself. A friend of mine had asked on Facebook how can Karthi quote a Bharathiyar line and still not accept a women who’s just asking for an equal relationship. IMO I think that’s where Mani masters in coming up with such a characterisation for Karthi who is so wrong that he thinks he’s always right.
Karthi looks fresh in a full shaven avatar and looks the part as an officer. Where he fails is with the close-up shots and expressions which don’t convey what they’re meant to do and might even evoke a chuckle from a certain section of the audience. But he does score as a prisoner of war who makes a Shawshank Redemption style jail-break and the fear mixed with excitement when he goes on with the mission would make one love him. Aditi can be called as someone who wasn’t used well by Bollywood and is a lovely find for Tamil cinema. She looks gorgeous to say the least and I was extremely impressed with her lip-sync and expressions.
Apart from Mani there are two other pillars on which this film rests grandly. The visible one was A R Rahman’s music that got us hooked right from day 1. Be it the soul-stirring ‘ Vaan Varuvan’, the foot-tapping ‘Azhagiye’, the lively ‘Saarattu Vandiyile’ or the refreshing ‘Jugni’ in his own voice, ARR has delivered the best he has always given for his mentor. The background scores are wonderful as well.
The other unseen pillar whose magic unravels in the big screen is Ravi Varman’s Cinematography. The picturesque locations of Leh and Ladakh look even more beautiful through his lens. Throw in Mani’s signature aerial views and you’ve got some stunning shots.
As the trailer had shown, the film isn’t flawless. Despite an impressive line up of cast members, not even a single character gets scope to perform apart from the lead pair. Veterans Delhi Ganesh and K P A C Latha could’ve been used better. Shraddha Srinath’s role is reduced to a mere cameo. She deserved a better entry to Kollywood. Last seen in Dhanush’s Hindi flick Shamitabh, Rukmini has a decent screen space. Don’t even get me started on RJ Balaji. In the name of ‘evolving into a supporting actor’ his role has been reduced to an unwanted character that doesn’t add anything to the film. I personally expected some fun moments from his performance. Probably it’s Mani’s reply to his infamous Kadal review I suppose 😛 . Back to Karthi, his close up shots and some expressions were very undesirable. The CGI shots of air-crafts’ aerial display could’ve been better. This negative point could be because of my keen eye on machines that move but they’ve used RE Himalyan bikes for chase sequences despite being set in the 90s. What made me irate about this was the fact that they’ve used air-crafts from the right time period and even the bikes used as props in a parking lot scene were old models. Hence it felt like lazy work when I spotted the 2016 models in a period flick.
IMO a filmmaker wins when he can say a story for which the audience know the ending, in the best way possible that the audience still feel entertained. In that context, we have a winner here in the form of Kaatru Veliyidai. I wouldn’t tag this as a film for Mani fans but I do feel that this film isn’t for everyone. The depth in the layers he spreads and weaves aren’t something that a naked eye can fathom. That said, Kaatru Veliyidai is no where close to his love classics such as Mouna Ragam, Roja, Dil Se or Alaipayuthey. But it’s definitely his best from what little he has given in the last decade.
Overall, Kaatru Veliyidai is a gentle breeze that lights up a tinder that might burn or soothe you based on how you see it.
My rating: 3.25/5