Kaatru Veliyidai – Mani Ratnam’s latest romantic film with complex characters

Screen-Shot-2017-03-15-at-4.04.28-PMA 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.

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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.

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I looked him up when I got home, and he’s the younger brother of Tamil Superstar Surya, who I really enjoyed in 24.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo – Very Satisfying Romance Thriller with an excellent Naga Chaityanya

saahasam-swaasaga-saagipo-movie-ratingOne of my followers suggested I try to catch Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo (Live Adventurously) with Naga Chaitanya in theaters this week, after he read my Premam review.  I’m so thankful T.J. told me about it before it was gone!  It’s the start of the hectic holiday season here, and I did not even realize Naga had a new film in theaters.  I caught the ONE showtime it played today, and it was pretty darn good.  Guarav Menon filmed it concurrently in Tamil with another lead actor, but the same lead actress.

I LOVE the film allusions right in the dialogue itself.  First there’s a title card that says “Inspired by a scene in The Godfather“.  It has been a loooooong time since I saw The Godfather, so I had to look it up when I got home.  It was the hospital scene.  That is key to the action second half.

Another interesting thing is that the hero’s name is never revealed until the very end of the film, and it has a dramatic punch when it is revealed — And a touch of humor to it.  The heroine doesn’t even know his name until almost the end.  She jokingly puts his number in her phone under “Unknown”.

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The first half is swoony innocent romance and the second half action thriller.  Sort of like how Kali had two very different moods to the two halves of the film, but here the romance is almost Premam level innocent and sweet.
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There’s a prologue where we see a man and woman attacked in their home, and then we see our hero beat up 6 guys who had been harassing his sister.  “Stalking like that is so 80’s!”

He sees them approach backlit and there’s overlay voiceover that had me chuckling.

“Four men suddenly appeared approaching me like in a Mani Ratnam film so I knew I was in trouble.”  LOL!  He dispatches them easily and comments on how it was his first taste of violence.

Then the friend of his sister, Leela, moves into their family house for a few weeks, and they shyly say not much more than “Hi” to each other for awhile, and then gradually, sweetly become friends.  Naga finished with school and wants to travel before settling down, and plots to hit the road on his motorcycle with a friend “His girlfriend probably won’t let him go.”

Leela unexpectedly shows up when he’s leaving and asks to go with him.  I LOVED this.  That she asks to just be one of the guys and share the adventure, not be his girlfriend/lover right away.  They have a wonderful trip to Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of Tamil Nadu to see the sunrise.  It was spectacular scenery of a place I’d never seen before.

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There is a really exceptional “I’m a good decent boy” moment in the romance.  For money’s sake, they book a hotel room in Kanyakumari with two twin beds.  When it’s her turn to shower, he offers to leave the hotel room so she’ll be more comfortable.saahasam-swaasaga-saagipo-movie-stills-05

THEN the whole movie turns on a dime into a thriller. They should part, as she is due home in Maharashtra, and he offers to take her all the way home.  Their trip has been a secret from everyone.  Neither family knows they are together.

There’s a road accident, and then The Godfather moment comes.  It was her parents that were attacked in the beginning, and our hero rises to the occasion to protect Leela and her family.  The cops are corrupt, and there’s one particular bad cop that is their nemesis.  The action is pretty gripping and I didn’t know what was going to happen from one scene to the next.  Not quite the unbearable tension of Kali, but pretty darn good.

The final resolution ending is SO satisfying as only South Indian films can be.  They’re so violent, but there’s just a YEAH!! moment when the villain is vanquished and the hero is triumphant.

The lead actress, Manjima Mohan, was okay, but I am continually impressed by our boy Akkineni Naga Chaitanya.  Innocent romance he excels at, and he was very, very convincing as an everyman who rises to the occasion in the action sequences.  He was very good in the fight scenes.  I think the cinematographer was non-Indian, maybe from Hollywood because it was more of a Hollywood close camera work kind of style in the fist fights.

The music is A R Rahman which is always good, but it didn’t blow me away like Mental Manadhil from O K Kanmani.  I did really like this haunting love song which in the film is intercut with the road accident, which was a really interesting editing choice.  This slow passionate song –

So, T.J.  thank YOU for giving me another reason to be thankful this week of American Thanksgiving!

On a shallow note, I was also thankful that Menon gave us a few Naga shirtless scenes (he’s been working out!) and this particular shot.  😉

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