A new Mani Ratnam film is an Event with a capital “E”. He is one of the top Indian film directors and an auteur. He makes the films he wants to make, and doesn’t just try to chase commercial success. I’m lucky in that there is a theater five minutes from my house that shows Tamil and Telugu films. I was able to catch a matinee of Ratnam’s latest film, Kaatru Veliyidai today – the title translates to something like “Breezy Expanse.” I haven’t seen tons of Tamil films, but the ones I’ve sought out are mostly Mani Ratnam films, Roja to OK Kanmani. He is the master.
Kaatru Veliyidai is a romantic drama set around the Kargil War. Karthi plays Varun or “VC”, a cocky fighter pilot, and Aditi Rao Hydari is Dr. Leela Abraham. I have never seen Karthi in a film before, but I could tell he is a STAR and quite a good actor.
I looked him up when I got home, and he’s the younger brother of Tamil Superstar Surya, who I really enjoyed in 24.
Aditi I did not realize I’d seen before in a small role in the Hindi film Khoobsurat. She is just luminously beautiful in this film, especially the way Ratnam films her. She’s quite a good actress as well.
The film opens with VC flying his jet in a mission somewhere in Kashmir. His plane is hit and he is forced to parachute, leading to his capture by the Pakistanis. The film is a series of flashbacks from his time in prison to how he meets Leela and falls in love. He gets in a car accident, and she tends to his injuries on her first day as a doctor in the general hospital in Kashmir. There are some amazing feats of cinematography in these hospital sequences as VC goes in and out of consciousness and we see Dr. Leela reflected in his dilated eye. He sneaks out of the hospital once he awakes, and Leela doesn’t meet him again until the Air Force ball, which is gorgeous tango dance sequence. VC is so cocky in his attitude — his whole demeanor made me think of the film Top Gun. He’s shocked when Leela stands him up to his invitation for a flight over the Himalayas.
At first their relationship seems to follow a familiar path, but VC’s cockiness is also an arrogance and self absorption. The relationship has some dark tones to it. VC can be cruel and thoughtless. Leela wonders why she keeps going back to VC again and again. One scene struck me particularly when he gets her back and proclaims to his buddies in front of her, “I told you I’d bring her back. She’s MY girl! You owe me a whisky!” Was it all for a bet? Or can he really not live without her? They have such a volatile passionate relationship, it’s really an open question if they should be together. It reminded me in some ways of Rani and Abishek in Yuva.
Just at the moment that I was worried that Leela was turning into a dishrag at a critical juncture, she takes her life in her own hands. And while there is one of those key “confrontation with the girl’s parents” scenes, it’s key that while they are NOT pleased with Mr. Varun Chakrapani, they don’t scream and yell. It’s Leela who asks him to leave. She is an adult, and she makes her own decision as to the direction of her life. Mani Ratnam writes such great roles for women. Both of these characters in this romance are wonderfully complex, but especially Kartihi’s VC character.
As we flash back to the prison scenes, his goal is to escape and to get back to Leela to prove he is a better man. That leads to some gripping action scenes in the second half of the film.
I don’t think this is Mani Ratnam’s greatest film, but he truly excels at complex relationship films. I left thinking about Roja, and Dil Se. This is not a film about terrorism, but it does return to the theme of Kashmir.
The score is by A. R. Rahman and has some stand out songs — Rahman saves his best for Tamil cinema, and his very best for Mani Ratnam. Ratnam has a really clever way to include the most commercial song, Azhagiye.
VC sends Leela a videotape (VHS! It’s 1999!) with a Marry Me song filmed with his air force buddies. It’s sounds like the a cappella groups like Penn Masala. It reminded me of all those amateur Youtube videos of soldiers or sailors lip syncing and dancing. Brilliant!
There’s a family wedding setting for another great song, Saarattu Vandiyila. That shot with the red powder! Breathtakingly beautiful!
The ending left me satisfied, but yet wishing there’d been a little more. I do like to see my rogue heroes grovel quite a bit to earn their HEA. I’ll definitely be seeking out more films with both of the stars, especially Karthi. Dear Reader, if you have any to recommend I watch first, let me know in the comments.