Srinagar. Beautifully, the delicate snowflakes fluttered like ballerinas down to earth. Floating gently down they landed on hilltops as if they were a white blanket, keeping the hills covered. Unique flakes of snow fell. The aerial shot captured the winding roads and the yellow bus in which the heroine, Leela (Aditi Rao), was travelling. She looked out of the window, “Vaan varuvaan” background score floated like rose petals in the air. The snow flakes accessorized her hair. The chilled snowy breeze blew on her face and brushed her hair. Bushes were delicately frosted and trees wrapped in snow hats and scarves. Falling snow looked like mini angels which filled the skies.
I was not just mesmerised. I was hypnotized. Is this Raja Ravi Varma’s painting or Ravi Varman’s cinematography? This man is definitely not a mere cinematographer. He is Indian Cinema’s dream capturer. Till this point, what Kaatru Veliyidai was ready to offer- was an enchantingly stunning and soul-stirring visual treat.
Every frame painted a silent poetry.
That particular close up shot when VC( karthi)’s right eye opened to notice Leela for the very first time in the hospital. That was a ‘kavithai kavithai’ moment. Breath-taking visuals either be the snow, desert, houses, prison- Mani Sir, please recruit me in your location-hunt crew next time. One cannot resist but fall in love with the art director’s magical work. Especially Delhi Ganesh’s (leela’s grandpa) house that had an outdoor space which had a dining area and kitchen enclosed by beautiful glass.
There was another scene when VC dropped Leela at her home after their first date. Leela felt confused with VC’s love proposal. VC went off in his jeep. The Jeep’s head light shone on her bright as he started the engine and the light slowly faded away as he drove off. Using the light to reflect her thoughts- another ‘Kavithai Kavithai’ moment.
Every frame told me a story. I hope the film had, too.
The biggest drawback of the film was how emotionally disconnected I was from the beginning. Characters didn’t speak my lingo. Their reality was not what I live in. It wasn’t mine. Who are these confusing and confused intellectuals running in freezing cold weather? The story structure didn’t invest in exposing the tender underbellies of the protagonists in an ordinarily human way for me to care about what happened to them during the subsequent and oh-so-long remainder of the film.
When a friend of mine asked me what Kaatru Veliyidai was, my reply after watching the film- We heave a sigh of mixed emotions. Our heart used to label Mani's gems as "ithu thaan da Padam!" to his films these days "ithu thaan padamaa?" Antha manasu padra paadu is Athu thaan... athu thaan...Kaatru veliyidai”
It was absolutely believable when Maddy, a passionate Tamil Language writer, in Kannathil Muthamittal recited poems when he was taken away by a group of assailants. Here in Kaatru Veliyidai, why is VC doing the same? Not that an airforce personnel had no rights to recite one, we had not seen much of his vulnerabilities, capacities, strengths and weakness in the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately, when VC started singing and reciting poems, we only irked with a loud “hospital-le yevanachum kavithai solvanaa?”
The crucial point for me to fall in love with the VC and leela was when they met each other on Air force day. Miserably, that was my first emotional disjuncture with the film- “Wa liow eh, since when air force guys can dance tango so well? Is that part of their training? This dancing and flirting…. this one is that ayudha yezhuthu trisha-siddarth scene right?”
The other drawback was that it was filled with 50% aerial shots and 50% inspired-scenes from this previous films. Instead of getting closer to the story and characters, my mind was more occupied with matching the scenes that were so similar to scenes from Alaipaayuthey, Ayudha yezhathu, Roja, OK Kanmani and many others. Kaatru Veliyidai, at one point, appeared more like a typical youtube channel video that probably would have been titled it as ‘What if VC and Leela acted in Maniratnam’s earlier movies?’
In all Maniratnam’s interviews, he kept emphasising on how his films are meant to reflect the society and its people. But sir, where was the reality in Kaatru Veliyidai? How many percentage of the society goes on an airplane for their first date? I felt their meet-up after getting exhausted by Tango dance moves, would bring us back on track.
Unfortunately, it failed again. Questioning realism wasn’t an issue for your previous films. For instance, Roja. When the terrorists spoke Tamil, who cared? Who bothered, Mani sir? Because we were all reaping the emotional dividends of what we invested in both Madhubala and Arvindswamy from the start of the film. I was 11 years old when I watched Roja for the first time. Along with Madhubala, I was also petrified and prayed to every God I knew, to save Arvindswamy.
Of course, there were a few detailings in the scene that I enjoyed watching. For instance, when VC and Leela were talking to each other (at the foreground), Aditi’s friends and the airforce guys were singing songs and playing music and dancing to the tunes (ok now, I know what is the criteria to become an Air force officer- that is to dance and be musically inclined.) Maniratnam made sure everyone performed in every shot.
There was another scene when when leela requested VC’s physically challenged brother to move out of her room as she wanted to change her clothes. The brother very casually admits his pornography habit, confessing that he was used to seeing nude females . Bold dialogues- Maniratnam strongly shines at such instances.
Aditi’s swooning body language and dance gait were well suited to her character, and she fared better than Karthi, whose acting scope was too restricted to explode a volcano beneath the maidaa-maavu look. Karthi’s trademark eyeball rolling and smug expression were insufficient to show Varun’s complexity and his anger-filled world. A little narrative confusion wasn’t fatal, but a blank central character was. VC seemingly was one and with not many well-constructed and deeply developed scenes for us to understand his anger, his laughter, his male chauvinistic behaviour, Kaatru Veliyidai was just another packet of potato chips with more air and less chips.
The oscillation from joy and levity to seriousness and sorrow that was only felt through over-usage of voice-narration failed to create impressive winds. The skirmishes, squabbles, sentiments and the teething troubles that lovers undergo, was attempted but far away from a fresh natural style that bore the Mani Ratnam stamp.
Kaatru Veliyidai- Poetic moments lost in a Chaotic cascade
(Just as I finished typing my thoughts, something strike my mind- How Kaatru Veliyidai would have been if it were performed by Dulqer Salman and Sai Pallavi?)