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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Pakistani soaps Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai now on Netflix!

I finished up watching The Crown (so good!) and all of a sudden there were new recommended for me shows on Netflix.  Usually, Netflix turns over new content at the beginning of the month, but this time, it was mid-month.  My jaw dropped.

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The Pakistani soaps Humsafar (Soulmates) and Zindagi Gulzar Hai (Life is a Rose Garden) are now streaming in glorious HD with subs on Netflix!  Netflix gave me an early holiday gift!  To say I was excited would be an understatement.

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I was literally jumping up and down in my family room.

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Why was I so excited?  I fell, and fell hard for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when he debuted in the Bollywood/Disney film Khoobsurat with Sonam Kapoor in 2014.

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At that time, I wanted to see more of his work, and there was nothing else on film, but he had done two soaps in Pakistan that were sensations in both that country and India.  ErosNow.com put all the episodes of Humsafar to stream on their site with subs and I was totally hooked.

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These soaps are not like American soaps that are open ended.  These productions are just one season or about 25 episodes long.  They have a complete story arc.

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Humsafar also stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan who will debut in the Bollywood film Raees opposite Shahrukh Khan next month.  (Bonus!  There’s another Mahira Khan soap on Netflix, Saqday Tumharay).

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In Humsafar, Mahira is the poor cousin of Fawad.  Her mother is dying of cancer and asks Fawad’s father to arrange their marriage so she knows her daughter will be taken care of.  It’s rich boy/poor girl with a love triangle and a scheming mother-in-law.  To me, it was absolutely fascinating to get a glimpse of life in Pakistan and Fawad is amazing.

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Zindagi Gulzar Hai is even better but was much more of a challenge to find with subtitles, and there were a few episodes I never could find with subs, but I watched anyway because I was hooked right from the first episode.  I am thrilled to be able to watch this with subs, and in high def since I was scrounging on Youtube and Pakistani sites to find the episodes in questionable quality.  Again, we have the poor girl (Sanam Saeed as Khasaf) and the rich boy (Fawad Khan as Zaroon) dynamic but both characters are flawed and complex.  It’s also hate-to-love which is just about my favorite romance trope.

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Zaroon and Khasaf meet in college, and Zaroon is frosted that this arrogant girl bests him in the class rankings.  Khasaf thinks Zaroon is a shallow playboy, and Zaroon thinks Khasaf is a too traditional stick in the mud.  It’s just delicious to see their feelings change over time.  Your heart aches for Khasaf who has so many struggles in her life, but she’s also so prickly a character.  I loved what a spitfire she is.  Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh, who was SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, plays Fawad Khan’s father.

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The proposal scene (which I can’t find with subs) is just the ultimate.  Khasaf can’t believe the guy who hated her through college now wants to marry her, but is convinced he’s changed when he catches hot chai in his hands when it’s about to spill on her.

 

But it doesn’t just end there — there’s more to the story as they adjust to each other in their marriage and have to accommodate for Khasaf’s career in the civil service.  The reason Khasaf scoffs at marriage and men is because of her complex relationship with her father who married a second wife to get a son, and abandoned his first wife and daughters.  I just loved getting to see these actors portray complex characters who grow and change over time.  Highly, highly recommend both soaps.  I’m going to enjoy watching those episodes I couldn’t find previously with subs, and trying Mahira’s other soap.  I love how Netflix is getting content from all over the world!

Check out this post on BrownGirl to get a sense of what a sensation both Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai were in Pakistan and India when they first aired.

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Another new addition to the Netflix line up is the excellent Israeli film Sand Storm.  It was the winner at Sundance for World Cinema last January.  It’s set in the Bedouin community in Israel. Sand Storm is a family drama where the father in the family marries a second wife, and his headstrong daughter has a secret affair with a boy from another tribe she’s met at college.  Such a great film!  The Q and A was fascinating with the Israeli director Elite Dexer.  She said that most audiences see the film as an intense drama, but when she showed it to the Bedouin community where she was allowed to film it, they laughed and viewed it as a comedy, especially the put upon husband dealing with two strong willed wives.

 

Check out AccessBollywood for an up to date list of Indian content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Some of My Favorite Indian Cinema Rom Coms

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order, although number one is my top favorite.

  1. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi — Can’t even count how many times I’ve watched this one.

2.  Jab We Met

3.  Band Baaja Baaraat

4. Dil Chahta Hai

5. Hasee Toh Phasee

6.  Dum Laga Ke Haisha

7.  Khoobsurat — Fawad Khan Fever!

8.  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

9.  Tanu Weds Manu

10. Queen

11. Bunty Aur Babli

12. Dostana

13.  Bang Bang

14.  Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

15. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

16. Main Tera Hero

Does DDLJ count?  🙂

And if you’re willing to go outside Hindi cinema, I have a few South Indian films that are great rom coms:

OK Kanmani – 2015 Tamil Mani Ratnam film (currently on US Netflix streaming)

Bangalore Days (Malayalam) – Multi-starrer about three cousins and their romantic adventures

Ohm Shanti Oshaana (Malayalam) – A fantastic female centric coming of age romantic story.

And a Telugu film-   Mr. Perfect, a rom com with Prabhas of Baahubali fame:

(This post is adapted from a Quora answer.)