Jun 07 2012
Romance in Tamil cinema used to be limited to the villages but we’ve recently had a few films that tackled romance in an urban setting. Leelai is another addition to the list. The single-note storyline causes the film to sag in the middle but the believable characters and natural conversations make it quite engaging on the whole.
After Karthik(Shiv) romances and dumps two of her friends, Karunai Malar(Manasi) has a rather poor opinion of him and a phone conversation further drives a wedge between them. 2 years later, they are working in different departments – and different floors – in the same software firm and when they inadvertently talk on the phone, they pick up right where they left off – with a fight. But when Karthik actually sees Malar, he falls for her and gets close to her by not revealing his identity.
Leelai gets its setting right. Its usually not a big thing but so many movies (Muppozhudhum Un Karpanaigal is a recent one that comes to mind) have been so utterly unrealistic when portraying the software industry and the people who are part of it that it comes as a relief that the characters and the backdrop in Leelai are rendered well. The characters behave and talk like those in the software industry with English being employed correctly and naturally – again, a rarity. The film doesn’t focus on the workplace much but the little it does show looks right also.
The romance between Shiv and Manasi is developed believably. There isn’t anything particularly sweet or interesting about it but the fact that there is a big lie in the background keeps us hooked. There are times when Shiv’s behavior makes us wonder if he is serious about the romance and that adds something interesting to the mix too.
But the more interesting relationship is the friendship between Shiv and Suhasini Raju, which is one of the more convincing platonic relationships I remember seeing in Tamil cinema. As a common friend to both Shiv and Manasi she struggles between trusting Shiv and his love for Manasi and making sure that Manasi is not hurt. Her conversations with Shiv about revealing his duplicity to Manasi are very nicely written.
Whenever the viewer is aware of something that one or more characters onscreen is unaware of, the suspense is always about when the issue will come out into the open and what repercussions it will have. That is the case in Leelai as Shiv hides from Manasi who he really is. This is fun the first few times as the romance between the two is developed. But once they fall in love, the question becomes when Manasi will know the truth and the movie drags this phase out for too long. The only advantage of this portion being long is evident later since the climax is short and sweet.
Shiv and Manasi do a great job, especially considering they are debutants. They are both very natural in front of the camera and fit their roles perfectly. Suhasini Raju seems a bit stiff initially but comes into her own as the movie progresses and is great in the scenes where she questions Shiv. Santhanam feels like he was forcefully thrust into the movie and that makes his few jokes less funny. The soundtrack is predominantly melodious and suits the youthful and romantic tone of the movie.
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