One hoped that with the partial return to form with O Kadhal Kanmani (2015), Mani Ratnam was on the road back following a string of disappointing films. Kaatru Veliyidai, however, is a step back in the wrong direction.
A love story of an Air Force Squadron Leader, Varun Chakrapani ‘VC’ (Karthi), with a doctor at a civilian hospital in Srinagar, Leela Abraham (Aditi Rao Hydari), Kaatru Veliyidai is a dull and awfully sluggishly paced film with few memorable moments and a lead pair that is the weakest ever in a Mani Ratnam film. In his earlier love stories, the heroines – Revathy in Mouna Ragam, Madhoo in Roja, Shalini in Alai Payuthey or Nithya Menen in O Kadhal Kanmani – are the life and soul of those films. It doesn’t help here that Rao Hydari is insipid to say the least, while Karthi just cuts a sorry figure as an actor with some terrible face making and some astonishing eye rolling that make you wonder if his character is actually mentally off at places.
In fact, a major problem with the film is Karthi’s character. Both, in the way it is written and how it plays out. OK, so he’s an arrogant full-of-himself jerk, a terrible chauvinist and possibly even a physical abuser of women, but you presume his women earlier and now Rao Hydari got taken in by some terrific charm or ‘x’ factor he possesses to be able to sweep them off their feet. If he did – even at the writing stage – in the final film, it is certainly not visible. Truth be told, there is nothing endearing to him. Sadly, neither does Leela’s largely bland character make you feel for her even as she is helpless in love and finds herself going back to Varun despite him humiliating her repeatedly. It is an aspect of the relationship, if treated with depth, layering and sensitivity, could have been the film’s big strength but ultimately ends up as one its major shortcomings. It is also not quite easy to accept that those few years in a Pakistani jail would have cured VC’s mental make up so easily so that the film ends with the customary much-too-pat happy ending.
The film, told in a series of flashbacks beginning with Varun’s capture in the Kargil War of 1999 and him being locked up as a POW, falters in both its central tracks. The escape from jail to making it back to India via Afghanistan is far too easy and predictable and totally devoid of any thrills or suspense. Meanwhile, the great love story that supposedly kept VC going all this time in prison in Rawalpindi is unable to go beyond its wanna-be-poetically-epic aspirations with the two leads doing everything but their jobs and that too in an area of military strife. Ratnam self consciously and even desperately tries to bring in small moments and deft touches to the love story that used to come to him so naturally in the past but sadly, have been eluding him for some time now.
What does work then? There are the odd flourishes like the first plane ride VC takes Leela on and she screams in joy; or the scene, where, for the first time, he humiliates her in front of his mates, creating one genuine moment when we empathize with her. But these are too few and far in between. Of the supporting cast, Rukmini Vijayakumar is fine enough as Leela’s practical fellow doctor friend, Nidhi, who is also quite the dancer. Technically, cinematographer Ravi Varman’s eye catching visuals do lift the film a notch even if the film is supposed to be set in Srinagar but is mostly shot outside it – in Ooty, Lovedale (Lawrence School) and other places. AR Rahman’s music goes well with the film and it is interesting see Ratnam try something fresh with a couple of songs like the one where VC sings out his apology to Leela (ruined unfortunately by Karthi’s awful enactment of it) or the ‘music video’ VC creates with the help of his mates and Nidhi to woo Leela. The background score, though, is overbearing trying hard to put emotion into an otherwise not-so engaging narrative.
All in all, with the disappointment of Kaatru Veliyidai, what can one say except that yet another film goes by while we still wait (in hope) for Mani Sir’s big comeback…
Tamil, Romance, Drama, Color