To describe Kaatru Veliyidai as a movie about love would be too simplistic. But it wouldn’t be wrong.
To do justice, I would go a bit far. I would say Kaatru Veliyidai can be described as a movie about emotional abuse, a movie about the potential trauma that a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force goes through unknowingly, a movie about Stockholm syndrome and love, and a movie about testosterone dominant relationship where the male partner expects and takes things for granted.
If you like writing or have ever been fascinated with what goes through a movie script writer’s mind when he/she conceives an idea, develops conviction and goes on about writing a full movie script, then this movie would make you wonder what could have been the trigger for Mani Ratnam to write Kaatru Veliyidai.
Relationships are complex and there are many different dimensions one can use to weigh relationships. And certainly one can take many different points of view to look at the complexities of a relationship. As an avid Mani Ratnam movie fan, you’d think, Mani Ratnam has already dealt with so many different shades of relationships in his past movies. Even as late as his last movie OK Kanmani, where he dealt with live-in-relationships, he has pretty much looked at relationships from so many different angles. So I wondered if the trigger for this movie, Kaatru Veliyidai was really him wanting an another take on one of those unexplored complexities of a man-woman relationship or if there was something else.
Ravi Varman, the cinematographer of Kaatru Veliyidai must have had quite a ball. With so much of scenic landscape to play with, with so many close up shots to work on, with so many long takes to deal with, and most importantly with Mani Ratnam providing you the inspiration, what a lovely job it must have been to be behind the camera. He excelled in his craft and the movie was an absolute visual treat.
Aditi Rao Hydari is such a revelation. During her pre-release promo interviews which I followed, I could tell here is a girl who has her head above her shoulders, knows what she wants, etc. etc. But I wasn’t sure what to expect of her as an actor, on screen, other than bringing a fresh face to Tamil cinema. Aditi manages to surprise you. To pull off those emotions and the nuances in close-up shots are not easy and she has done it extremely well. “She was likable throughout the movie” would be such an understatement.
Her character Leela Abraham, is the victim of emotional abuse. A girl who has heard so much about her brother’s squadron colleague, the charming VC (Varun Chakravarthy) and the one whose spot her brother eventually took on that flight on that fateful day. She gets to meet VC eventually, after she graduates from medical school and she is completely in awe of him, with all the infatuation from childhood, culminating in an uncontrollable mixture of feelings for him. This mixture is certainly not love. Perhaps more than love. Perhaps less than love. Or love that is not what she had dreamt of till then. Or perhaps she doesn’t think she is ready to love another person yet. All these are evident because of her hesitation to say “I love you” to VC, who on the other hand, has been shamelessly saying “I love you” right from their second meeting.
Mani Ratnam leaves a lot for you to explore Karthi’s character (VC) on your own, other than the obvious references to VC’s chauvinistic, male arrogant instincts that come to play more often than not, when he is around with his friends/colleagues. A very typical fraternity club behavior – When you are around with your “guy” friends, you want to show off how much “your” girl loves you. When he is alone with Leela, he quite often exhibits a split personality – a possessive & a helpless lover, who is desperate for attention but he quickly changes into a controlling boyfriend, who doesn’t mind saying things that you want to hear. Even though we get a glimpse of his family and the complex relationship with his dad, the mentally disabled brother, etc., I wish Mani had given more food for us to explore those aspects that may have contributed to who VC is. Karthi pulls off a heavy role with a lot of intensity and charm. This is certainly one of those rare Mani Ratnam movies, where there were many lines to be rendered with many long takes and both Karthi and Aditi carried their roles with aplomb.
Leela’s parents on the other hand, come across unlikeable and Mani gives us very little room for us be imaginative here, except connecting the obvious dots and concluding that they hate VC because of their son’s death.
When the orchestral version of Vaan appeared throughout the movie in bits and pieces, I was longing for the extended version. If I remember correctly, the orchestral version appears in a little more complete form only towards the end and then you get to hear a 2-3 minute version of it during the rolling end credits. I really wish AR Rahman releases the extended version soon. The background score was extraordinary and the whole electric guitar bits he had used as his general Air Force and fighter pilot themes were stunning.
Now, the most interesting part of Kaatru Veliyidai for me was the unique IAF backdrop, the Kargil conflict, the POW situation, the great escape from Rawalpindi to India through Afghanistan and of course things that are related to the Air Force lifestyle. Why all these? That brings me back to the question I had asked earlier – What was Mani’s trigger for this movie? The Air Force backdrop and the conflict?? Or was it the elusive and insidious emotional abuses in a relationship, which we rarely talk about as opposed to physical abuses?
Kaatru Veliyidai is making us aware of the fine line that exists between possessive love and emotional abuse. And making us know that it’s as fine as the gap that exists between layers of a breeze.