Kaatru Veliyidai review: Mani Ratnam's film has poetry, but lacks drama to keep the fire going 

Release Date: 07 Apr 2017 / Rated: U / 02hr 27min

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

The director delivers a poetic film riddled with character flaws and plotlines, but tops it up with enchanting visuals and excellent music.

Twenty-five years is a long time to be together in the world of cinema. With Kaatru Veliyidai, AR Rahman and Mani Ratnam celebrate the silver jubilee of their first project, Roja. Sadly, Kaatru Veliyidai has flaws that makes its ranking alongside classics like Roja (1993) and Iruvar (1997) impossible. 

Kaatru Veliyidai is the passionate, mercurial love story between Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) and Varun 'VC' (Karthi). She, a doctor at a hospital in Srinagar. He, an arrogant, flirty cadet at the flying school. Having saved his life on her first day at the hospital, Leela falls head over heels for Varun's brash charm. For his part, he is passionate, suave and equipped with a masculine charm that makes him irresistible. It is Roja meets Top Gun.

However, his passion and penchant for 'Yes or No' decisions also comes with a quick temper, dysfunctional personality and emotional abuse. As Leela struggles to understand and cope with the constant changes in Varun's personality, she finds herself pregnant. But before they can arrive at a decision, war breaks out in Kargil. Varun finds himself stranded in enemy territory, imprisoned in an 8x5 cell in Rawalpindi, pining for his love. His escape and return to her is the Shawshank Redemption of the rest of the plot. 

If Ratnam films could be described by the summary of their plot, he would not be hailed as the master of cinema. The magic of Ratnam's films lie in their telling. The ability of the director to tease, shape, and mould characters within his story is unparalleled.

In Varun 'VC', Ratnam has another peculiar character which holds your attention. Karthi plays the arrogant air force pilot to the hilt, almost making you envy him for being so undeserving of Leela's love. At times, the actor fails to convince with his drastic transformation from lover to emotional abuser, but captures the intriguing persona of his character well. The character goes through a nice, although unconvincing transformation through the film.

Hydari, beautifully shot in the film, does not possess the fire, conviction, or the spark of the Ratnam heroine. The character is often conflicting in her choices, but manages to portray her inner conflict beautfuifully. However, the lack of conviction — a trait that defined Ratnam's heroines from Roja (1993) to O Kadhal Kanmani (2015) — is detrimental. Another flaw in the film is the lack of any substantial supporting characters.

Ilyas (RJ Balaji) and Dr Nidhi (Rukmini Vijayakumar) are the only foils to the leads, but fail to emerge from their nascent moulds. Delhi Ganesh and KPAC Lalitha are wasted in characters that are neither influential to the plot, or the lead duo of the film. 

The use of Subrahmanya Bharathi's poems seem like a contrived addition. Unlike the poems in Kannathil Muthammittal (2002), they do not flow with the story. Neither does the soldier poet seem like a consistent pattern in Varun's behaviour. His lackadaisical attitude towards poetry almost reflects his attitude towards Leela in the film. 

Despite that, it is hard to dislike the visual poetry of Ratnam's film. Ravi Varman's camera captures the smallest expressions of beauty with the keen eye of an artist.

For students of film, the scene where Leela's face emerges within Varun's pupils is worth the entire film. The director paints romance and passion through visual elements like snow storms and rain. He even throws in signatures of his iconic films like Easter eggs for Ratnam nerds. A touch of Roja's snow capped mountains, Bombay's romance within single rooms, Mouna Raagam's wait at the registrar office and finally Alaipayuthe's meeting of estranged lovers at a medical camp. The visuals of songs 'Vaan Varuvaan' and 'Sarattu Vandiyile' are visual poetry. Topped with Rahman's masterpiece of a background score, it makes for pleasant viewing. 

Despite the visual elegance, Kaatru Veliyidai is riddled with holes. The film dawdles for too long on the romance, killing it completely. The characters lack conflict. The drama, Ratnam's greatest strength, fails to emerge from the shadows till too late.

Till intermission, Karthi's Varun seems to give no reason for Leela to continue loving her. The audience, like Dr Ilyas, is confounded at this stupidity. The narrative of the prisoner of war finding inspiration in his long lost love, and seeking to escape for her sake, seems cliched. The leisurely pace of the film, though aided by brilliant camera work, does not help either. 

There is no question that Ratnam remains one of the greatest filmmakers of our age. He's a director who possesses the ability to depict human conflict, of the heart and otherwise, in all its colours. In Kaatru Veliyidai, he fails to convincingly build his picture around that. Kaatru Veliyidai is promising, but lacks the final touch to make it memorable. 

Reviewed by Shriram Iyengar