Silence, for sure, is the most explosive weapon. It is difficult to realise its potent unless we experience it. Kaatru Veliyidai is definitely an one-of-its-kind experience, where the dialogue are airbrushed through a huge canvas of silence. The movies that unleash the inner self of most individuals have always been difficult to comprehend for majority people, which was what I felt while watching this idiosyncratic, brilliant beauty. My first reaction during the interval break was, “I love this movie, and it is gonna tank for sure!” Such is the new avatar of Mani sir, which asks us to do the process of unraveling all the knots and tangles of the plot and the complexity of the characters. Raavanan and Kadal (I think I’m the only one to love that movie) had Mani Sir working on his legacy after he’d already become a legend, and he continues the trend in KV too (OKK now seems to be a one-off, which revisited the good old days of Mani Sir without any heavyweight drama or conflict.) Despite staying well within the norms of mainstream cinema, he manages to use songs, drama, conflict in a completely different way with each movie. The way he plots his character arcs, the way he shapes all the archetypes, the way with which he makes a movie are evolving consistently, with the auteur himself pushing the boundaries and setting new standards. All of this doesn’t say that KV is completely devoid of problems, but is a very complex movie where there is no spoonfeeding. The director wants us to connect all the pieces together by investing ourselves in the movie, which many of us do not do.
In this fast and furious world, what we all expect is pace and speed. Especially in the world of movies, the biggest misconception clouds around the word ‘Pacing.’ For majority of us, pace is nothing but fast forwarding through the scenes in a blink-and-miss mode, which is filled with dialogue and nothing else. We are unable to accept or understand the form of storytelling, which uses the visual medium to capture and express silence rather than using dialogue. This kind of narrative, unless we are able to invest ourselves and our time completely in the movie, will be found odd, alien, bad, slow and shoddy. This is the reason why I feel sorry for filmmakers like Mani Sir, who rely more on this type of filmmaking.
Kaatru Veliyidai has fascinating characters. It has a romance which is very difficult to fathom. VC is one of those characters which can be seen very regularly among our men, yet is very difficult for many of us to come out and say that we’ve seen this kind of person. He can be the most lovable person at one minute, and can turn into an ugly animal the next. This one liner suffices to say that VC is the most complex Mani Sir character has created till date. Karthi, in my opinion, has pulled this role off really well. The traits of VC are such that he audience must be confused in reacting to his what he does. Can we love him? Can we hate him? Can we empathize with him? Can we feel sorry for him? Well, if we are able to find proper answers for these questions, we could’ve cracked open VC’s character. He is a mixture of Imtiaz Ali’s manchild and a Tamil misogynist – He will love you to the extreme, but will find it very hard to treat you equally. If he shows that he is putting you above himself, he’ll bring you down to the abyss very soon because of his self-centered nature and his ego. These things are established in just a single scene when we are introduced to VC’s family and the hospital scene that follows the colourful ‘Saarattu…’ They show us that VC is nothing but a carbon copy of his father – arrogant, self-centered, narcissistic, borderline chauvinistic person who cares for himself and very little else. He wears coolers all the time for two reasons – One is to show his attitude and the cheeky petulance that he carries; Two is to hide whatever emotions he holds inside himself. The eyes have a lot to say, but it is difficult to read through those black glasses, which seem cool but hide a lot inside them.
Leela is the polar opposite of what VC is. She is a strong, single-minded, independent woman and a doctor who knows what to do and when/how to react. On top of all this, she is a hopeless romantic. She falls for VC the moment she sees him (the pull that she has already had for him helps over there, for he is one of the, or possibly the most important reason for her coming to Srinagar), and VC too falls for her the moment her figure seeps through his eyeballs. But, as we’re told later, VC has fallen not for one but for a few. His love for himself has meant that none of those lasted, and he really falls head over heels for Leela the moment they have that beautiful conversation in their first flight together, which fuels the fact that Leela is the sister of Ravi, who lost his life while filling up for VC. We can sense the guilt that VC has, but it can be seen just for a second. The blink-and-miss factor lies not in the way the movie is shaped, but in how VC’s character is moulded. We can deem VC artificial, stupid and over-dramatic, if we miss those definitive seconds. The expressive, bulged eyes of VC represent the majority of us, in general. They try expressing a lot, but one factor or the other stops them from saying what they have intended to, and they stop midway through the process. Mani Sir also makes sure the creep and badass in him come across more often than we expect. In the snowstorm scene, what could simply have been a simple “I want you to be safe. Please come” turn into a war of words because of VC’s rudeness. This behaviour of VC just makes things all the more worse for himself and Leela, as she is the only person who makes VC’s world other than his own self. Aditi Rao Hydari does a magnificent job as the effervescent Leela Abraham, who is yet another complex character. The power of love is such that it makes even a strong, practical woman unable to break her off from a borderline chauvinist, and the magic as well as the so-called bad chemistry between them is unspooled scene after scene till the end. This kind of dynamic is very hard to digest unless we are able to invest ourselves and hold a connect with the movie.
The scene where Leela reveals her pregnancy stands out (the subtle eroticism that was on display borders on the never-seen-before kind in Tamil cinema) because of the things it establishes and the undercurrents that flow through it. It has a man at the height of his vulnerability, his indecision creeping up to unimaginable levels, his narcissism becoming his and his woman’s enemy, and a woman who has to put up with this man as well as take the most important decision of her life. Is he ready to be a husband? A father? A family-man? (Despite not getting full-fledged reasons for this madcap nature of VC, we get a glimpse of why he is this way. When a fellow fighter pilot quips about the other side (softer side) being people like them, he bluntly snaps that this is Kargil, not the Kurukshetra. Their job isn’t to empathise, but to eliminate the enemy. VC might have been trained a little too well on the job. If he sees that Leela is in danger of heading into a snowstorm, he will try rescuing her with his brute force, rather than try to reason her to come with him.) Are they both capable and understanding enough to lead a life together? Mani Sir is at the peak of his powers as a filmmaker in this scene (plus a few other scenes) where he puts in his own ideologies, but leaves the interpretation open to ourselves. The other scenes that have this spellbinding effect are,
1) Leela expressing her love for VC while she is with her grandpa (In this scene, three things – She’s classically trained and can also sing well, She is madly in love with VC, She can’t completely express the same in words – are established in a matter of seconds.)
2) ‘Vaan Varuvaan..’ stretch, where the power dynamics of their relationship has been beautifully explained – VC (figuratively…) throws her like a bouncing ball which shows how a power freak and a control freak (taking cue from OK Kanmani Edit😉) ) he is, and by showing Aditi to be very happy with him and hopelessly in love, Mani sir also shows how she has surrendered herself to this man (but she never loses her dignity, which is explained in 2 beautifully staged scenes before and after ‘Nallai Allai…’)
3) VC, being the asshole he is, woos Leela with the wonderfully tuned and placed ‘Nallai Allai…’, which is pretty much his way of apologising (Before that, a fight ensues between the couple and VC catches Leela’s arm as she is walking away and twists it. His smile suggests he’s being playful, but you get the sense he’s secretly enjoying putting her through this pain, that he’s getting off on the power he commands over her.) She’s drawn to him like how the modern people are to an alarm. She says VC can simply not treat her like a pet dog or a slave, but she’s unable to turn away from him. They end up driving to VC’s place, where he boasts to his friends, “Naan sonnen la. Naan koopta ava varuvaa nu sonnen la.” You think he would be relieved that she’s forgiven him, jubilant that she’s back with him. Instead, he’s boasting, as if he’s won a huge bet. This single scene shows the multiple layers of VC’s character.
4) VC’s conversation with the Abraham family (who have not one, but many reasons to hate this man – Their son was killed because of the fact that he went on a sortie in place of VC; Leela is in love with VC but he’s reluctant to marry her; Leela is carrying VC’s child despite not getting married or not even getting an assurance from VC about the longevity of their relationship), where he is all good and calm until a trigger point is reached because of their no response or an unexpectedly limited (and kind-of negative) response, which pushes him to the extreme from which he turns back only after the damage levels have crossed beyond control. This forces Leela to say “Get Out’ to him at first, but a raging glare from VC (being the control freak he is) reduces it down to a “Please, get out” from the poor Leela, who has done no wrong except loving VC. This part of the movie pushes their see-saw relationship to another extreme, which shifts gears dramatically.
The VC-Leela realtionship also comes across as an upper class spin-off on the Inba-Sashi realtionship from Aayutha Ezhuthu, with a more complex portrayal and wonderfully shot scenes. Ravi Varman produces the kind of magic that was not seen in Tamil cinema previously. He plays with colours as though they were his closest bunnies. The reds and oranges of Holi, the whites of the snow-clad Himalayas and those still frames oozing beauty and opulence throughout. One might feel that the depth and the shaping up of VC’s character was a bit unexplored, but the newer version of Mani Sir (post Guru) asks us to connect all the dots in the story and explore the depths of the story by ourselves. This made me completely buy into the transformation of VC (He still carries the same attitude and arrogance, but this is a mellowed version who has his inner self tweaked for the better) into a different person. This transformation is shown in bits and pieces by Mani sir from the scene where Leela reveals her pregnancy, and it is further established in the scene where Leela lets VC know that she’s gonna leave him. These dots, when connected, unwind the complexities that are present with the script and VC’s character, and present us a lot to introspect.
KV may not offer much in terms of the so-called ‘entertainment’, but this abstract masterpiece shows that Mani sir still has it in him as a writer, and he is at his best phase as a filmmaker. This is a kind of movie that requires patience, investment of time and mind, and is very much similar to Iraivi, which can’t easily be categorised as good/bad or best/worst and comes across as more from head than heart, but the cinematic experience it provides can be matched by no or very few movies!