Apr 10 2017
In Raavanan and then even more in Kadal, we saw a clear change in Manirathnam’s films. Straightforward stories were replaced more with universal themes, characters became more complex, having been painted in darker shades of gray and the romances became heavier. But those films didn’t bring him much BO success and with OK Kanmani, he went back to basics and gave us a simple, cute love story with almost no drama. In Kaatru Veliyidai, he tries to do both. The film is essentially a love story but the characters are more complex and the romance is set against the backdrop of war. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked very well.
The romance is between Varun(Karthi), an Indian Air Force pilot and Leela(Aditi Rao Hydari), a doctor (the setting is Srinagar, allowing for some gorgeously breathtaking visuals throughout the movie). That the romance isn’t going to be traditional is evident right from the start. When Leela first sees Varun, he is in a jeep with his girlfriend. The next time she sees him is when he is wheeled into the hospital badly injured and she attends to him. And its only later that he sees her (this is more interestingly shown. As she shines a light into his eye, we see her reflection inside his eye).
The film begin with Varun in a Pakistani jail. But the sequences in Pakistan add nothing to the story. The segments serves little purpose other than allowing Varun to reminisce about Leela and convince us about the depth of his love. The first scene shows a bloodied Varun talk about solitary confinement and torture but that’s it. After that he spends time in the yard talking to his fellow prisoners and even enjoying the rain. The subsequent escape scenes are amateurish and feel rushed with no sense of suspense or tension.
Right from Karthik in Mouna Raagam, Manirathnam’s romantic heroes have been charming and cute. Its not just the heroine who likes him but the audience too. But Varun here breaks the trend. Sure, he has his sweet moments(one is the the catchy Azhagiye… number). But he is also aggressive and chauvinistic and this side of him shows up several times when he is with Leela. There are instances where he talks about beating her if she doesn’t listen to him, rudely shuts her up when she tries to smooth things between him and his father, physically hurts her by twisting her arm, proudly brags to his friends about making her toe his line(even they seem uncomfortable hearing this) and backs out of the relationship with vague excuses at a key point. We get a few hints about why he has turned out this way but that doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t traditional romantic leading man material. Leela isn’t as radically different as Varun but it isn’t that easy to understand her either. She isn’t a complete doormat as she stands up to Varun and tells him what she doesn’t like about him. At the same time, she finds herself drawn to him and isn’t able to walk away from him.
Varun and Leela are a mismatched couple. We know this and they know this. So the film’s job is to make us believe that they should be together. It doesn’t do this too well. There is a scene where Nidhi(Rukmini), another doctor, tells Ilyaz(RJBalaji, looking very uncomfortable in a semi-serious role) that it is ‘love’. But we need more convincing than that which the film doesn’t do.
This is because the character-driven romance isn’t allowed to breathe. Seen separately, the scenes with Varun and Leela work well because the way they behave is so different from what we are used to, both in romances in general and Manirathnam’s movies in particular(situations that would normally be cute and playful in earlier Manirathnam films, like the scene where he barges into her house and talks to her while her parents are there, become serious drama here). So there are a lot of emotions and drama every time they meet. But seen as a whole, the relationship never grows. It doesn’t take a lot of time for them to fall in love and after this, we simply get a series of scenes where Varun behaves loutishly, Leela puts her foot down and Varun apologizes. We learn tidbits about both of them to fill in some blanks in their past but in the present, their relationship is stagnant and so their interactions gets repetitive very soon.
But the biggest factor that drags the movie down is Karthi’s performance. Maybe its all the movies where he has played the mischievous hero with his trademark sly look and smile but he is unable to express the passion this romance needs. His expressions look strained whenever he tries to show intensity and so the scenes where he professes his love or apologizes just don’t work(the numerous close-ups don’t help either). His performance further suffers in comparison to Aditi’s. She is fantastic, exhibiting the perfect mix of strength, vulnerability and confusion that her character needs.
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