Salim on Kaatru Veliyidai
Going to see a new Mani Rathnam movie, one feels unusually assured that they will be treated to a few hours of high-quality cinema. Given that we no longer live in the 1950s when Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt led a pack of highly esteemed film-makers regularly delivering decent cinema even in their weakest creations, Mani Sir stands relatively alone. Kaatru Veliyidai however is not easy viewing and both the characters as well as the world in which they lived are worlds apart from the director’s last offering, the delightful OK Kanmani. Staple Rathnam features such as Rahman in top-form and gasp-inducing cinematography by Ravi Varman however never let us forget that we are in the hands of a master who is able to optimally use these aspects of cinema regardless of the genre.
Rathnam has built a film around two incredibly complex characters. Karthi is a strange-looking creature (a cross between Abhay Deol and Gollum) and his character VC’s personality is vile. He is arrogant, chauvinistic, ill-mannered and abusive; we are not offered any redeeming characteristics and whilst his voice-over near the end talks about how he is now a changed man we actually see no evidence of this. Neither does Leela and therein perhaps lies the key as to why the climax doesn’t work for many. Aditi Rao Hyderi who plays our ‘heroine’ is enchantingly beautiful; not since Deepika in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani has an actress appeared so physically captivating on screen. She plays a rather pathetic (albeit smart) girl whose character sadly seems to be as incapable of developing as her nasty lover. He treats her like dirt…her luminous face exudes hurt; he apologises…she takes him back. This scenario plays on loop. He shouts at her in front of his family, he physically and verbally abuses her in front of his friends, yet she keeps going back for more. Years later, we hope, perhaps taking on the role of her well-wishers, that having had a child she may now finally be able to say No. Sadly, without a second thought she entrusts her defenceless child to this awful man, with no reason to believe he has changed or will treat their daughter any better than he has treated her. Leela remains as frustratingly unaltered as Vikram.
Rangan, master of his own field, states in his review “Leela herself says she doesn’t know why she keeps returning to VC. So yes, in our heads we know love isn’t logical, but the film needs to convince us about this particular instance of illogical love. It doesn’t.” Therein lies my issue with the movie. We know that women repeatedly return to abusive partners, much to the dismayed observation of their helpless friends and family, and so the scenario here is neither implausible nor unexpected. Yet if a film is to be made about such a character, then we want to understand why this person behaves in this way. ‘Love’ is not a good enough answer. If Leela’s decisions are impulsive rather than logical then we desire an insight into what drives those impulses. In life we are often not in a position to intrude into a person’s decision-making regardless of how close we are to them or how self-destructive they are being. As viewer, if we cannot influence what our characters do, we may at least want to understand them. Kaatru Veliyidai perhaps leaves a little too unsaid…but at this stage of his career Rathnam can say as much or as little as he wishes – either way, we’ll be listening.