When Leela (played by Aditi Rao) asks VC (played by Karthik), “Naan yen unkita thirumba thirumba Varen” (Why do I come back to you again and again?), I wanted to shout that she has a pathological urge to get mentally abused by a prick, and she has to visit a psychiatrist. It’s worse because she is a doctor and expects an equality in her relationships.
Yes, she is not getting abused physically, but he twists her arm once because she wants to leave the place when he shuts her in front of his colleagues. The character sketches of VC and Leela give you an unsettling feeling. You get the glimpse of how VC’s father treats his mother. You get to know that he has lived in an abusive household and he even laments that he will not be a normal father. Still, his narcissism doesn’t allow him to realise his folly.
VC is a hot-blooded, narcissistic and misogynistic man who wants a trophy wife. It’s apparent in the way he announces that Leela is his girl. He never talks “us”, he gloats about his manliness and every other character in the movie knows it but yet, Leela goes back to him. The narcissism is so palpable that it gives a bad taste in your mouth.
Mani Ratnam justifies every act of VC under the garb love and romance. On the hindsight, this is probably one of the few Mani Ratnam movies that reflects the reality, in spite of the staple unrealistic poetic dialogues. It’s true that most relationships are mentally abusive in nature. These exaggerated romantic movies fuel unrealistic expectations in relationships and justify the act of casual chauvinism. The film doesn’t explore the aspects of why the character is self-indulged. Mani Ratnam doesn’t want you to explore his mother’s life or his sister or the disabled younger brother. All he wants you to see is the beautiful snow-clad mountains and how intense the romance between the leads are.
The narcissism is so palpable that it gives a bad taste in your mouth.
Let’s park the sub-text for a moment and look Kaatru Veliyidai just like any other movie. It’s a stereotypical Mani Ratnam movie that is a mashup of his many other films. The casting is erroneous, and the acting is inadequate. Seasoned actors like Delhi Ganesh and KPAC Lalitha go without an impact. Although Rahman’s songs are well-received, I liked (only) Nallai Allai (it’s resemblance to Rooth Na Jaana from 1942 A Love Story can’t be discounted). You would never understand why a full Hindi song for a situation like that – in fact both the characters are Tamil (Note that there have been a complete Hindi songs in the past – for instance, in Nandu, the hero is from Lucknow and the only language he knows is Hindi). You don’t have a clue why he cues with Vaan Varuvan at the start although it’s a duet at a later stage in the movie (I observed a similar pattern in Raavan).
Two things that baffle (in a positive way) you are Ravi Varman’s camera work and Sharmistha Roy’s production design. Faithful to the title of the movie, Ravi Varman’s capture of the vast expanse is so perfect that it can become a tourism movie for India. (I made a similar observation for Raavan/Ravaanan). Sharmistha Roy’s production design takes care of even the minutest details. Apart from that, there is nothing special from the movie making’s point of view. But you never know, after a year, there could be 100s of articles that might talk about the subtle references that even Mani Ratnam wouldn’t have imagined. I could point out one -VC’s self-love expressed through his Ray-Ban.
Mani Ratnam has become a hedonistic director and has made a movie out of random thoughts. There have been self-indulgent directors like Kadhir who fizzled out after a couple of films. Mani Ratnam is one of the best in his craft (I am talking about his movie making prowess alone), but his stories have made a generation of young people who believe in unrealistic relationships. Kaatru Veliyidai is an epitome all the bad things that a Mani Ratnam’s story can offer.
There could be arguments about how VC shows a change after being in jail for 50 days. If every narcissistic misogynist man needs a 50-day stint in Pakistan Jail, then shouldn’t we send all of them to that prison? Probably, there is a psychiatric hospital inside the jail. Everyone can’t have a life changing experience to understand his character. It would have been a better end if Leela rejects VC and walks off with her daughter. Alas, it doesn’t happen, she wants to get into the trap along with her daughter. I feel sorry for Rohini (their daughter) as she will be living with a misogynistic father who will mentally (or physically) abuse her soon.
Kaatru Veliyidai is a typical over-the-top romance from Mani Ratnam that features even worse characters than his previous movies. You will watch this film irrespective of this review but try to reflect the points that you just read.
A 1/5 for (another) beautiful lonely planet video from Ravi Varman.
(PS., the mentally abusive relationships happen from both ends of the spectrum. The references to men in this review is because of the movie and nothing else)
Kaatru Veliyidai review was written with inputs from Vid Dev, who writes at The Pensieve