Film: “Kaatru Veliyidai”; Language: Tamil; Director: Mani Ratnam; Cast: Karthi, Aditi Rao Hydari, Delhi Ganesh, RJ Balaji, Shraddha Srinath and Rukmini Vijay Kumar; Rating: **
Every frame in Mani Ratnam’s “Kaatru Veliyidai”, his latest outing starring Karthi and Aditi Rao Hydari, is like a beautiful painting, dipped in colours that are irresistibly attractive and uplifting. Unlike most filmmakers, Ratnam uses these picturesque locations to explore the complexity of the relationship between his lead pair. But sadly, in the most uninteresting and disengaging way.
While there are flashes of brilliance in this intense, long drawn-out romantic drama, there isn’t enough soul to make us root for him.
Popular for exploring human relationships with sincerity and realism, Ratnam doesn’t let us delve deep into the core of his lead characters. Quite early on, we understand Karthi plays a sexist jerk, and he likes to keep women under control. When we meet him for the first time, he is driving a jeep really fast and seated next to him is his girlfriend Girija Kapoor, played by Shraddha. Girija asks if he wants to marry her. He replies in the affirmative, but wants to have a child first.
Much later when a similar situation arises, this time between Karthi and Aditi, he is afraid to father her child. He chickens out, and it affects their relationship.
As much as you’re intrigued to know why Karthi is such a sexist man, there’s isn’t enough to back up his attitude and actions. He loses his cool at the drop of a hat, and we are made to believe it could be due to his dysfunctional family. There is a silly scene involving his family and it hardly proves why he is being a jerk.
Karthi plays an Air Force pilot, and the entire story unfolds against the backdrop of 1999 Kargil war, so we wonder if the anger within due to the ongoing war shaped his personality. Ratnam just expects us to accept that his leading man is misogynist, spineless and selfish.
Aditi Rao Hydari, who is terrific even in an underwritten role, plays a doctor and she falls for Karthi. She gets treated miserably but we still can’t empathize with her because one wonders why she even lets herself be treated that way. Throughout the film, as a dialogue goes, she is either loved crazily or treated without respect. Nevertheless, Ratnam wants us to root for this pair, because theirs is destructive kind of love.
There are also flashes of Ratnam’s earlier films in “Kaatru Veliyidai”, and most evident is “Roja”. Karthi narrates his love saga while being held captive in Pakistan’s prison. As the story goes back and forth, he plans to break out of the prison and the way they escape is outright ridiculous. The whole prison break scene is so flat sans any thrills, you wonder if this was the work of a filmmaker with barely any experience.
A.R. Rahman’s music is addictive and all the more so when coupled with Ravi Varman’s cinematography that captures Kashmir like it hasn’t been showcased before. There’s so much of effort that has gone into making the film look beautiful, nothing short of magical, but wish equal effort had gone into the writing, because by Mani Ratnam’s standard it fell flat like a house of cards.