Each time Mani Ratnam comes up with something unique, it’s a celebration for cinephiles across the state of Tamil Nadu. The euphoria is so much that the entire industry wants Mani Ratnam to emerge as a winner.
Set against the backdrop of the Kargil war, Kaatru Veliyidai is an emotional love story between fighter pilot Varun (Karthi) and doctor Leela Abraham (Aditi Rao Hydari). While being held captive, Varun reminisces about his ladylove and tries to redeem himself, and his love.
Perhaps Mani Ratnam is one of the few filmmakers in Indian cinema, whose works require close observation and call for multiple interpretations. In Kaatru Veliyidai, the probing begins from the very first scene. The camera pans to a prisoner singing an Anthony Gonzalez song, while Varun is being tortured and tormented by the Pakistan police. Mani Ratnam wants you to notice the song here. The prisoner tries to establish his Indian identity. We then hear a feeble voice-over of Varun introducing his love Leela. Mani Ratnam gently ushers us into the plot, with an aerial shot (his strength since Nayagan) of Leela landing in Srinagar. Kaatru Veliyidai reminds us of an old quote, “All is fair in love and war.” Of the two, the most important factor is survival.
Leela sees Varun with another girl Girija (Shraddha Srinath). In a series of unfortunate events, Varun is hospitalised. He sees Leela, the doctor who saved his life, for the first time. He falls for her. Poor Girija gets ditched by Varun with a Bharathiyar poem. In a career spanning three decades, Mani Ratnam has everything to his credit. But he has never been recursive in his films, be it content wise or with the narration.
Perhaps, that’s what makes him a standalone filmmaker and relevant even today. Take this scene for instance. Varun wants to take Leela out for a ride, but he still hasn’t got a nod from the latter. He calls her over the phone and we hear the noise of the aircraft engine. Leela smiles, and we join her. Later, in another scene, Varun and Leela are flying in the sky. Leela asks (underline the word) Varun if she can shout her excitement. Before she does, Leela pauses for a microsecond when AR Rahman’s score gently caresses you. That’s Mani Ratnam. Kaatru Veliyidai is laced with such Mani moments in the first half, only if you choose to enjoy his unconventional writing. The common trait in Roja, Bombay, Kannathil Muthamittal and Kaatru is that Mani Ratnam breaks a conflict into characters. But Kargil war is probably the weakest link here.
Like most of his films, Mani uses nature as a powerful tool for narration. For example, Leela’s portion is staged with snow as a symbol. In literary sense, it depicts hardships, challenges and innocence. On the other hand, Varun’s scenes in Pakistan mostly involve sand, the symbol of a short-lived dream, of the transient. He’s the master of love stories. But you can’t expect an Alaipayuthey or OK Kanmani from him every time.
Kaatru Veliyidai may annoy you in parts, especially if you watch it with the lens. In fact, Varun’s character is a mirror image some of the men in our society. He’s self-centered, narcissistic and sexist. There’s a problematic scene where he twists Leela’s arms in front of his soldiers, to explain womanhood. Each time he inflicts pain, he smiles. She gives in, out of love. Speaking of which, Varun’s character is akin to Prithviraj’s from Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan. Both are benevolent sexists in several ways.
That said, Kaatru Veliyidai is not about what these characters feel and who they are. But it’s about what they become over the course of time. Throughout the film, Varun wears glasses; sometimes shades of black, sometimes blue. What better way to explain his volatile and empowering nature? After Paruthiveeran, Kaatru Veliyidai is by far the best thing that has happened to Karthi. Thanks to his ‘Nallavana-Kettavana’ character. He’s Nallavan partly because he doesn’t want him to be like his father, a misogynist. Varun warns him when he tries to control his mother. At the same time, when Leela tries to calm him down, he yells at her. Hypocrisy?
Aditi Rao Hydari hasn’t had a successful run in Bollywood. With Kaatru Veliyidai, it’s safe to say that the actress has finally arrived. For the most part of the film, it’s Leela who is the holding factor, as the film is centred on her. She’s cute, sometimes childlike. But each time she goes against Varun, it’s not the Aditi we have seen so far. Heck! She gets all the lines right! A big shoutout for both Karthi and Aditi, especially for the climax sequence.
Mani has transformed comedian RJ Balaji into a character artist, who steals the show with just one word, ‘Oh.’
One of Mani Ratnam’s biggest assets is his music. They’re not just visually pleasing but follow a chronology too. Take away all the scenes from his films, and you still have a story. While Vaan Varuvan, an optimistic song, is wonderfully shot, it’s the hit number Azhagiye that raises the tempo. What if soldiers had Skype back then to communicate with their loved ones? Having said that, what’s amusing about Mani is his ability to extract the visual output from cinematographers. Ravi Varman is at his best, whose visuals are so poetic, literally.The film takes a fleeting moment in the second half, where Mani Ratnam lingers over Varun and Leela’s conflict for a brief period. Also, Bejoy Nambiar plays a cameo.
Kaatru Veliyidai is an abstract taken from Bharathiyar’s poem. What a way to end the film with a befitting climax.