Art & Culture

Kaatru Veliyidai may not be Mani Ratnam's best, but it beats Bollywood

Kaveree Bamzai
Kaveree BamzaiApr 08, 2017 | 10:33

Kaatru Veliyidai may not be Mani Ratnam's best, but it beats Bollywood


Actually a one word review is suffice for Kaatru Veliyidai. Shot like a dream between snow-capped peaks and desert plateaus, it follows the impetuous and egocentric fighter pilot Varun and the ethereal doctor Leela. She is light, he is darkness. He is handsome in his fighter pilot’s uniform; she’s gorgeous in her red dress. She is balance and firmness, he is fire and impulse. She is a pacifist; he believes the enemy should be sent to meet his maker as soon as possible. She believes in equal relationships, he cannot decide whether to treat her like a queen or a slave girl.

He adores her, or so he says, but cannot help himself from mistreating her - shouting at her in front of his mates, twisting her arm, even pushing her around. She loves him right back, but finds it difficult to handle his erratic behaviour. He’s clearly had a terrible role model in his father and cannot come quite to terms with women who have their own opinions. She has been raised in an egalitarian atmosphere, choosing to study medicine in Srinagar because that’s where she lost her brother to an ill-fated sortie.

Do they have a happy ending as Varun lies in a Pakistani jail, a prisoner of war during the Kargil war? That’s not as important as the way the relationship unfolds. Few directors understand women as well as Mani Ratnam.

He understands they are complicated, vulnerable, strong, powerful, independent and submissive at the same time. But it is in his writing of Varun that Mani Ratnam shows real spunk. It’s not easy to write a hero who is not very likeable. Varun doesn’t have the usual Bollywood disease of being a boy-man. He is very much a man but a man who is concerned only with himself. As his father says, “only Varun matters to Varun”.

Photo: Screengrab

Indeed. He can ask his girl to marry him and then stand her up at the registrar’s office. He can sleep with her but have second thoughts about marriage and fatherhood. He can abhor his father but proceed to behave much like him.

But thank god for the romantic in Mani Ratnam. He makes us believe all can be right in this world, if we love enough and forgive enough. That was what O Kadhal Kanmani taught us - the boy could be a middle class software developer and the girl a rich heiress training to be an architect, but if they loved each other enough, they would make it work even across continents.

Kaatru Veliyidai’s youngsters are more retro, since they are based in the pre-social media era. VC may like only VC, but he really, really wants to be the man Leela wants him to be. And if it takes a war and prison to make him see the light, to see others, so be it. Redemption is possible, all the more beautiful because it is shot by Ravi Varman and set to music by AR Rahman in full flow (I challenge anyone not to play each song on loop after watching the movie).

A woman can’t speak, have an opinion, or be a fighter pilot, asks the feisty Leela to Varun at one point? No, says Varun, quite brutishly. Not an easy man to love and Karthi tries his best to play a difficult role. Aditi Roy Hydari, stripped of the coy veneer which she adopts for Bollywood, is a delight here. She dances like a dream, infuses emotion into even the most difficult dialogue, and looks splendid. It’s the kind of adult relationship that Bollywood doesn’t like to spend time on—too much introspection by the hero about where he went wrong while waiting it out in prison, and too much raw emotion required from the heroine.

This may not be Mani Ratnam’s best, but I would any day take this over much of Bollywood’s best.

PS: If Azhagaiye Marry Me/Marry Me doesn’t become the national anthem for all young men who want to propose to their sweethearts, then I’ll be enormously surprised.

PPS: Someone please show this movie to Tarun Vijay to show how black people er south Indians live.

Last updated: April 08, 2017 | 10:33
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