NOTE: Spoilers ahead
So here’s a girl who can’t sit through a proposal. It’s innovative enough for the time it’s set in. The guy and his buddies serenade her via video tape with a groovy tune and some odd dance moves thrown together. Very endearing stuff. Yet she can’t last the duration of the song. She puts it off long enough for a wardrobe change, something to chow and even pauses it till a friend can come watch with her. Who does that?! Mani Ratnam’s Leela Abraham is stuck in a spot trying to escape a nauseating relationship that she both wants and hates at the same time.
Everything about Karthi’s VC is hurried. And so, the honeymoon period is over. Just like that. He wants to get married in a hurry. He wants her to meet his family in a hurry. Basically he’s just shoving her around as per his moods and whims. And not just figuratively. He makes it very clear that to him, a pilot, she’s just another conquest.
Mani Ratnam is not hiding the abuse. Though VC comes with all the trappings of a hero, Ratnam makes no bones about the monster he is. In fact, in a particular scene, he has fellow pilots denouncing VC’s attitude. So why does Kaatru Veliyidai not cut it for us as a romance gone wrong?
This isn’t the first time Mani Ratnam has dealt with an abusive relationship. We’ve seen him tackle it in Ayitha Ezhuthu. Madhavan’s Inba and Meera Jasmine’s Sashi are in a passionate and volatile marriage. Their passion feels real, their story rooted in reality. Sashi loves her man but is headstrong and won’t take any bullshit lying down. Inba is quick to rage and apology. And when he does do the latter, he is sincere. At least till the next meltdown.
In Kaatru Veliyidai there is simply no chemistry between Aditi’s Leela and Karthi’s VC. There is nothing that draws this good girl so irrevocably from this bad guy. Their ‘I love yous’ are the kind exchanged in a school playground complete with giggles. And their intimacy is boring. Their relationship is based on zero passion, all of the violence, and no attempt at remorse. So why does she stay?
In the only grand gesture VC makes in their short-lived honeymoon period - a plane ride high up in the mountains - Leela says that she knew ‘this’ would happen. That VC would take her to the clouds. VC looks bemused. She goes on to ask him if he believes in fate and destiny. And then, she confesses that she’s known VC all along, thanks to the letters from her late brother who was VC’s mate from the airforce.
Something about this makes us wonder if Leela Abraham is grieving. Earlier, she also says that she decided to move to Kashmir because this is where her brother was last alive. While she is repulsed by the bullying nature of VC, his obnoxious attitude towards her, and his sexist mindset, she wills this relationship to be. Kashmir and VC are the last remnants from her brother’s life. And despite every hurdle that VC’s abuse poses to Leela’s independent and compassionate self, she pursues it.
We wish that Mani Ratnam had fleshed out her character to be a bit more than being lit up beautifully throughout the film. As for Karthi, every time he accosted Leela with a maniacal look in his eye and we cringed at his attempts at professing his love, we hoped the film would change tracks to a psychological thriller. It had potential and would’ve been worth the watch.
Kaatru Veliyidai could have gone in so many different ways with Leela’s backstory and VC’s character. But it does nothing for us as viewers. It’s an unpleasant story. And we can stomach that. What we can’t swallow is the neatly-tied up ending. Can a time-out really smooth over the cracks of an abusive relationship? The film is shallow and left us echoing an oft repeated phrase by its characters, 'idhu seri varadhu.'
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