Varadan and Chitra

I was not going to publish this post for two reasons. For one , the spoilers would ruin the movie for a lot of people and I wanted to analyze this particular relationship with its nuances , angst , resentment and all related baggage for a longer time before sharing my thoughts for the world to see. But then I had this long DM with PV and I suddenly felt like writing and so here I am. I’d offer one warning though – stay away from my post until you have seen Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and have had the time and patience to let the movie sink in.

Varadan is a selfish man just like his brothers. But what sets him apart is this inherent inferiority complex and resentment against his father who may have married his mother in a Tudor like set up to consolidate power . <It is implied that Senapati murdered his wife’s father , was a serial philanderer and was an emotionally distant father and extremely controlling one when it came to Varadan> .  Varadan is married to his first cousin Chitra and it is implied that his father imposed the marriage and Chitra on him and Varadan resents the marriage and Chitra by extension .

There is this simmering resentment between the two but  there is also trust and he depends on her to hold things together at the home front. Chitra  knows the family and Varadan inside out warts and all.  She is blunt , calls a spade a spade and is his emotional crutch and de-facto second in command. She is his mirror and there is nothing that is hidden from her including the paramour . Chitra knows about Parvati and is probably more than a little hurt that her husband loves to wind down with the other woman and not with her. But you don’t see her cry about it. Parvati , to her , is one of the many paramours and she has probably seen men in her immediate family stray and cheat that she appears to take this in stride.

Her love and complete devotion to Varadan is not reciprocated in kind and one gets the feeling that Varadan probably sees her more as an ally than as a wife and that status quo continues until they have to run for their lives. Chitra refuses to abandon her man and matches him step by step as they seemingly outwit their foes and gain a safe abode. There’s a lull where they indulge in normalcy  : Varadan , Chitra and their henchmen and then she is caught in the cross fire and is fatally shot.

Varadan rushes to the hospital , never leaving her alone for the moment and you see this vulnerability in his eyes that makes you realize that he loves Chitra in his own way. On her death bed she asks him to abandon her and escape to ensure that their kids at least have one living parent and even then he doesn’t give in or give her the comfort/assurance she seeks . He refuses to abandon her and goes on to lament about his mistakes.  In a very vulnerable moment , she asks if he is alluding to their marriage when he is talking about his sins and mistakes . He is quick to say no , but in true selfish Varadan fashion goes on to make that Macbeth like confession and she passes away as he is ranting , denied of comfort ,  emotional assurance or even a few words of love that she very much deserves. Varadan , the selfish man that he is , knows only to take and even in her death , Chitra is deprived of the attention and affection she desperately craves from her man. But once she is gone , Varadan becomes unhinged and goes on that splendidly choreographed rampage and therefore Chitra’s death is in a way Varadan’s death too.

With Parvati , Varadan is dominant yet passive.  She feeds his ego and he feeds her back < literally > .You get the sense that with Parvati , he is probably playing at his version of happy families , where he is the caretaker , the care giver and the man who does not have flaws. One gets the feeling that Parvati is very important to Varadan. Heck even Parvati , Chitra and maybe even Varadan feel the same about it . But once Chitra is gone , taking away that blanket of emotional strength and support , you realize how important Chitra is to Varadan . May be Varadan also realizes the fact only when it’s too late and the situation is beyond salvation.

Varadan strays , not because he is seeking love , but because he is seeking control. Being with Parvati makes him feel in control whereas with Chitra it is probably the other way around. She knows too much about him for his comfort : his ambitions , inferiority ,  baser instincts , selfishness , self doubt , resentment , suffocation are all known to Chitra and even as he takes a lot of emotional support from her , he resents her because she sees too much and knows too much and Varadan simply cannot come to terms with it and by the time he attempts to man up , everything is done and dusted . There is love behind all these smokescreens but ultimately that love is toxic and is not of any help.

May be , there is redemption waiting for Varadan and Chitra in a different universe – one where he is a little selfless , tactful and sensible and one where he grows to love her. In that universe , maybe Chitra and Varadan would grow into Senapathi and Lakshmi . Maybe there is a better world where Chitra has had enough of this family , takes an out from it when offered and is happily settled in Coimbatore with her children away from all the toxicity , venom and violence. In yet another universe , Varadan and Chitra are running the syndicate together , him providing the strength and her providing the brains . May be in all these universes , Chitra is still unhappy as she only knows to give but not to take or may be she is happy , because she gets to be her man’s emotional anchor . One never knows , because alternate universes rarely exist and even if they do , one can never predict which way things are going to go .

Varadan and Chitra are not real but they felt like real people ( thanks to the brilliance of the actors who carried the part with elegance) with real issues and for a few hours after the movie , I brooded about why Chitra was dealt such a poor hand by the God above and why Varadan couldn’t be man enough to acknowledge all that Chitra has done for him and at least try and repay that in kind.

Thank you Mani Ratnam , for making me feel that .

96 – A conversation

Love can be one-sided but a love story always has two sides. A man and a woman will have different things to say or have different ways to say things , at least in real life.

That , unfortunately is not the case when it comes to our films. More often than not , you have a man fantasizing about how he would like a woman to respond and 99 times out of 100 the response will be in a tone that that borders the servile. Women do write beautiful lyric but they don’t get the same space or footing and therefore their voices get drowned out in the din. Thankfully , 96 breaks the precedent . The album is nothing but a conversation between a man and woman on equal footing , where their views are given equal space and importance.

Karthik Netha waxes lyrical about love in Anthaathi , elevating the emotion to an omnipresent entity . To him , love is a dance that your mind and heart indulge in as you go about the world , a never ending search that remains your constant companion through life , adapting to you as you change to the rules and roles dictated by love. In Thaabangale , Uma Devi picks up from where Karthik left off . Love and desire have a form and shape she says . They tell their own story she adds , a story in which the racehorse of time takes you to that time and place in the past where echoes of a similar desire and love can be felt.

Yaen is a role reversal of sorts where Karthik gives voice to a woman who is clueless and hurting. Look at the way he paints her portrait  by describing her surroundings – The skies are grey , the clouds are missing , life is a puzzle and the path through it is drenched in tears that are prayers to find the missing. Her eyes are searching for him for he has left the city , but the heart keeps dissuading her search as he has forsaken his roots. The imagery is so vivid that you can envision a woman trying to soldier on despite the pain.

Uma Devi , on the other hand compares separation to a wasting spring  and a long stretch of never ending distance among other things. She compares the woman to the waxing moon of love and that comparison immediately took me back to the famous “Veramendrol valai negizhumme koorai thozhi yaan vaazhumaare” lines that speak so eloquently about separation angst. Vasantha Kalangal is all about Chinmayi and that brilliant guitar in the beginning , but once Uma’s lines take hold , they hold your heart in a vice grip and never let you go.

“Indha Thaamarai kulam neeril thani aaguthe. Athan Sooriyan pagal indri veyyil kaayuthe.

Oru paathaiyil iru jeevan thunai thedudhe. Ada kaalangal thadai meeri thadai poduthey. Nee indri naane dhinam vaazhavadhoru vaazhvaa , vaazhve vaa , nee thaan uyirin uyire “

Take a look at the uvamais in Iravingu Theevaai.  Karthik hails love in Anthaathi, and feels that a content life is one where  love is present in some form of other. Uma on the other hand , feels that a life without her lover is worthless , memories and love be damned. Her comparison of the woman to a lotus isolated in a pond sans her life line is poignant . Her comparison of the man to the sun who’s roasting in his own heat amidst the darkness is equally poignant .

If at all Karthik gets an edge , it is in “Life of Ram ” where his words paint the story of the male protagonist , a man who’s learning his lessons late in life . A man who is a slow learner, but keeps learning and keeps moving on. Karthik’s words help us paint a picture of the man and his past , his present and his hopes for future.  In the larger scheme of things though , this piece does not influence the larger conversation and for that I am super happy.

I set out on a mission to write about the music of 96. It is the best soundtrack to have come out of the Tamil Film Industry so far this year. It also has the distinction of having provided the same scope and space to its male and female vocalists . That in itself is a rarity. Govind then goes one step further and sticks with a single male voice and a single female voice for a major part of the soundtrack. The tunes are lovely , the guitar , flute and violin are soulful and dreamy and yet after multiple repeated listenings , it is the lyric that stands at the forefront – so much so that I am unable to look beyond them. One day , I will write about the music and singing for they deserve their own post. Until then , I am going to lose myself in this conversation and its words.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Srinath,,

Dear Srinath,

Or should I really begin with dear Javagal , for to me there are two of you out there – Srinath , the mild mannered instrumentation engineer and Javagal , the wily , menacing pace bowler who used to outthink and outsmart the best batsmen on their day.

My first memory of you is from that titan cup match against Australia where you and Kumble fought against the odds like two clumsy circus fools finding their way through the tight rope. I think it was a few months after the 96 world cup and I had by then been firmly addicted to the siren song thats cricket. I don’t remember much about the match except for Sachin’s 88 and your partnership. I remember elders in my family joking that your families were probably chanting slokas nineteen to the dozen hoping that your luck continued to shine and took us across the finish line. I now realize that it was not luck but sheer determination that got us home that day.

My next memory of you comes from that Ahmedabad test few months later where I pleasantly surprised by the score card reading 0-2 thanks to you. I later learned that you were reverse swinging the ball that day , which is a skill thats still largely mastered only by our feuding neighbors. You became my hero after that spell but then you got injured the next year and fell of my pedestal which has been largely occupied by Rahul Dravid ever since.

I now understand that the 1997 injury was scary and that when you came back , you were not the bowler you were thanks to the Injury. At least this is what I keep hearing from peers and fellow cricket nuts at college . The next three years are frankly a blur. You missed quite a few matches but when you did play there were quite a  few good memories here and there  – A five for against New Zealand , the 200th wicket at Sharjah (?)  and then that comeback to the Indian side for the champions trophy final against Srilanka that was rained out. I still remember your figures from that first rained out final . You went for 6 odd runs and I was like no way this oldie is going to South Africa but prove me wrong you did and in such a spectacular way that I was forced to eat my words until that day in March about a year and half ago when you and Zaheer went bust against Australia. Maybe I should not have worn that India Jersey that day. If I hadn’t may be Javagal would have come out and made the opposition cry. But Javagal didn’t come back. He pulled up his boots eight months later without bowling a single ball after that final.

I have since gone back and read about the previous games. I’ve talked to my dad and my peers who have sung paens to you and have told me how effective you were in overseas conditions. They lament that you were overworked and you let yourself be abused in such a manner for the better of the country and they hope and pray that the same won’t happen to Zaheer ( who has come back from an injury)

Today , we won a test match in Bombay and Zaheer Khan bowled 8 overs and got two wickets and that was the extent of his spell. I wonder how many overs you would have bowled had you played today. I don’t know . I had no chance of knowing because you retired less than a year ago and I guess I will forever hold it against you for not avenging that defeat to Australia in South Africa .

I guess Zaheer will have to do it for you. He is not the experienced statesman that you are , not yet anyway. He is a left arm pace bowler  and you are a right hander. He was the terrific understudy and hunting partner but you were the elder statesman and the kingmaker. He leaked a lot of runs during that World Cup final and you leaked a lot of runs during that World Cup Final. However only one of you will play the 2007 world cup in the land of the calypso.

They tell me Zaheer is also an instrumentation engineer like you. They reassure me that Zaheer will grow and become better. They say that he has an abundance of natural talent that you lacked in and that they will write calypsos about Zaheer as he swings his heart out on our way to the final. That image makes me smile. I hope to god that statement comes true. I hope that Australia will make the final in 2007 , I hope and pray that we do too and in that final I hope for Zaheer to get those wickets and then thank you and say “This is our revenge” – and somewhere in the calypso that is written for Zaheer Khan , I wish for a line or two about you , praising your talent and lamenting the fact that it was recognized only when you were gone too long.

PS : Someday I hope to meet you. In my head it is always at a place bustling with people moving frantically , going about their day to day lives , like an airport lounge or a coffee shop.You would be going through your motions too , no longer the wily bowler who nearly won us a world cup . I will approach you with caution and introduce myself as a fan and then say “Thank you! Thank you for going on when the rest of us didn’t bother to acknowledge you . Thank you for going there and bowling your heart out and thank you for making sure we have fast bowling riches to be proud of.” and then I will walk away with the satisfaction of a fan who finally got the chance to acknowledge your feats and pay her dues.

PPS : Except for the postscript , this blog post was written sometime in November or December 2004 , after a test match win against Australia in Bombay . The only edits I did today was to correct the tenses used and update my dreadful punctuation.  When I wrote this blog post I did know about the pre 96 Srinath, but not a lot  and I did not know that Zaheer would become the great he did. I also did not know that we would fizzle out of 2007 WC the way we did. This post has been languishing in my blogspot drafts for more than a decade until a photo of Srinath shared by Sachin , nudged me along and made me revisit this . I am posting this unedited , as @ungaaya asked me to. I will probably publish a revised version later , adding to the pre-96 Srinath era that I am familiar with now thanks to youtube , ten cricket and all that Jazz. I will also edit the post for the things that have happened since Nov-Dec 2004.

Jab Imtiaz Ali met SRK

You know how they go on and on about Imtiaz making the same story again and again and again — well thats true. Imtiaz does film the same story repetitively but the people inhabiting his story and the journey they undertake are different .Over the course of a decade , I’ve come to enjoy watching these messed up people fight between their heart and head , spectacularly self-combusting thanks to some external catalyst and then trying to pick up the pieces and move on. The reason why I’ve enjoyed this over and over again is because these people are messed up , quirky yet real and relatable. Harry and Sejal are no different , at least on paper .  But in trying to fit SRK in his world , Imtiaz has compromised with his characters and writing and this is the one thing that makes JHMS his weakest film till date.

On paper JHMS is a brilliant film with a cruel , stupid and stubborn woman finding love and kindness in the most unlikeliest places , when she is least looking for it. Sejal , the lawyer runs out of the Amsterdam aiport , catching Harry her tour guide unaware. She has misplaced her engagement ring and wants Harry to take her back to the hotel where she is sure to find the ring. Harry can see that she is visibly upset and tries to reassure her while also politely trying to lay it out that  he is no longer obligated to accompany her as the tour has ended. She reacts horribly , questioning his audacity to refuse her , putting him in the place of a lowly employee who should absolutely follow his employer wherever she deems fit. Sitting in his BMW car , she so casually says ” So its all about money” that you react the same way Harry does – with incredulity . She does not change a bit even when she falls in love with Harry.

Take for instance  , the cafe sequence in Budapest – she is clearly attracted to Harry and half in love with him but there is this classist , snobbish part of her that is repulsed by Harry’s job of a tour guide. She instructs him to act like her fiancé and the fool that Harry is , he acquiesces to her request and almost comes close to asking her about the next step when she puts him down with a cruel ” I’m not that kind of a woman who leaves her fiancé for a tour guide” retort  . Its Harry who is the hurt here despite his tall claims of being a rake and womanizer of the worst sort.

Consider the yaadon main sequence before they are kidnapped by Gas. They are in this club , having an intimate dinner and Sejal is in tears , listening to the sad story of the woman yearning for her beloved who left for India , in search of riches . Yet it is Harry who is the most affected. He knows that Sejal will leave him for the established fiancé and the stability he provides and that he “Harry” will be left yearning for Sejal . Some time later , by the beach he talks to her about his first love – Kulwant Kaur and almost confesses his feelings by expressing his angst at her inevitable departure and she doesn’t get a chance to react at all. Even at a later point in the film where they seem to gel like spouses do and are clearly in love with each other , she claims to be in a dream world , emphasizing that she would give up an ideal partner and ideal life with him and return to the real world. No wonder this hurts Harry and he acts out on his hurt , giving her an out to leave him.

What is so fascinating about Sejal is that she is so casually cruel to Harry and at the same time , keeps looking up to him for validating her self worth . She compares herself to Harry’s ex , the stripper they meet in their search for her ring , random women that she has heard about and cannot stand the fact that Harry finds her ” sweet , beautiful , china vase types”.  She realizes that he is her ideal partner and yet keeps reminding herself and him that women of her class do not fall for a tour guide and keeps bringing up the fiancé who never bothers to stay in touch , when her moments with Harry get too difficult for her to handle. I was fascinated with this woman , her classist , snobbish nature , that messy superiority and inferiority complex that she seems to suffer from , her decision to have a honey moon fling before she settles down as a proper Gujrati wife and the moment that made her come to terms with the inevitability of love. Sejal with all these facets and quirks is criminally ignored in the movie which is about her , because Harry is played by none other than the SRK.

Because Harry is Shahrukh , we don’t see enough of the character’s vulnerabilities and hurt . Heck we don’t see him as Harry even : there is that DDLJ wall Raj hangover around him which he is unable to shed , despite trying hard to achieve that feat. I almost wish that Imtiaz had casted a lesser known star as Harry – Diljit for instance . Diljit would have played Harry the way Harry was meant to be played – a second fiddle , catalyst and love interest to Sejal who grows up , becomes confident, falls in love with herself and Harry and learns to look beyond the social tags associated with people and identify them for they are – fellow humans who need respect , kindness and love . Alas , Harry is played by the Super Star SRK and we are left yearning for the movie this could have been – A story of a woman coming into her own and growing up. Better luck for the next one Imtiaz Saab , but I really liked this one too.

P.S. Its a criminal offense to release such a wonderful soundtrack the day the movie released. Its one of Pritam’s best so far and needed more air time before the release.

P.P.S. Imtiaz has used the songs brilliantly to underline the narrative as usual. Take Radha for instance . The punjabi lines rendered by Shahrukh , talks of a lotahrio who keeps flitting between lovers , yet he is at that point , irrevocably and subconsciously in love with Sejal . The Hindi lines rendered by Anushka talk of Radha and her undying devotion , yet there she is , flirting with Harry , despite having every intention of going back to Rupen. Kudos! Irshad and Imtiaz, Job well done !

P.P.P.S. Movies can be read differently by different people and hence their views can be different. Please give this movie a chance. It doesn’t deserve the vitriol and absolute hate that it has been receiving from most quarters.

P.P.P.P.S I will try to come back and write about some sequences from the movie that I really liked and about Chandan Roy Sanyal’s Bangla gangster at some point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baahubali – The Conclusion

Like most film fanatics , I  caught Baahubali 2 on the day it released . For almost two years I had waited for the sequel wanting to know the answer to the most important question “Why Kattappa killed Baahubali”. Like most people at the movie hall , I left behind all the conspiracy theories , questions and doubts as the movie started only to come out oddly dissatisfied . If I could compare this feeling to anything at all , I would compare it to a Kalayaana Saapadu that was bereft of the king of desserts , the Ada Pradhaman.

Almost everything in the sequel is an improvement over the prologue. The acting is top notch and the VFX is way better.   The canvas is grander and the characters are fleshed out lovingly , with every important facet of their nature being highlighted as the story twists and turns towards it’s thundering end.

The movie begins with a bang where the queen mother is all set to coronate the deserving son and get him married. Said son falls in love and like the ultimate do good guy decides to win the damsel over without revealing his background. The damsel is a revelation — brave , quick to anger , brutally honest and righteous to the bone , she wastes no time in winning the son’s heart and shunning the mother away.  From here on , the film starts cruising to the end we are all familiar with – Mahendra avenging his father and gaining the throne and boy oh boy Rajamouli takes us on an unparalleled joy ride through this journey .

The sequel retells the now famous tale of Ramayana and Rama’s Vanavaasa in a largely linear manner with a few clever tweaks and assumptions.  What if Bharata was ambitious and evil ? What if he fueled Kaikeyi’s apprehensions to total hate towards Rama? What if Sita was feisty , quick to anger and human ? What if it was too late by the time Kaikeyi realized her folly ? What if Rama’s son avenged him and won his kingdom back ? All these what ifs stringed together embellish the familiar tale with amazing cinematic moments but with one jarring flaw – which is in how some of the characters act and behave out of character.  In an effort to underline the Ramayana influence , Rajamouli makes the two chief characters in the Mahishmati universe behave in ways that is so alien to their nature.

The prologue set up characters with strong and wide brush strokes. Kattappa was the grim and dour warrior married to duty. Sivagami was the shrewd , politically aware queen mother and when these characters stray from the established arc for the sake of narrative , you are jarred and it takes a while for you to get over that annoyance and sink into the movie and that to me is an unpleasant experience.

That said , this is a movie that must be watched on the big screen and cherished on DVD.  There are moments that make you applaud , moments that make you remember the glorious movies of the past , moments where you know what is going to happen next but  not how it happens and this is where the film maker wins.

If I had to summarize Baahubali the conclusion in a line – I would call it an exemplary well written , OOC harry potter fan fiction . It has all elements going for it but the OOC factor results in a slightly unpleasant after taste.

PS : Most fan fiction readers would recognize OOC. It stands for Out of Character and is used to denote fan fictions where the characters act and behave in a manner that is totally contrary to their character arc established in the books / movies or canon universe.

PPS : Anushka is awesome as Devasena. This is one actress who was born to play a queen. Please cast her as Kundhavai whenever Ponniyin Selvan is adapted to the cinema screens.

PPPS : I missed Sudeep in the movie. Terribly so , because the first movie drops a tantalizing hint that he would come to Mahendra’s and Kattappa’s rescue when they are in dire need of arms , ammunition and other things.

PPPPS : Rajamouli should bring Mahabharata to the big screen . There is no other film maker who can do better justice to war sequences I tell you.

 

 

Bully the bully

I had a fairly normal life for the first ten years of my life. I was a ranking student in school and my best friend was the most popular girl of my class .I was the teacher’s pet and belonged to the “in” gang . Life was fine and then it changed all of a sudden.

You see , the bullying started for no apparent reason. One day , this clever ,clever person called me Kirukithikaa , a play on my name  with the snide interjection that seemed to indicate that I had lost my marbles . This nickname caught on. Teachers and students alike, used this version of my name without realizing that their action was shattering my self-esteem to smithereens .

My dental braces with their inter arch rubber bands brought on a bout of “she is so unclean that chewing gum sticks between her teeth” or “open your mouth ha ha ha ” jokes , that lasted through the year. The next year it was about my plaits .The year after that , it was about my body hair and the following year it was about something else . It was about my loud voice , my nature to raise my hand and ask a question when the teacher was bull shitting or when I couldn’t understand what was being said. It was also about my fluency in English . The bullying was not limited to my class. These cruel, cutting jokes first spread to my seniors who started using them and later to peers from different schools. Soon the neighborhood kids caught wind of these jokes and the taunting started within my apartment complex. The bullying was not limited to kids . The woman who was my tuition teacher called me aside and said ” Un Koral Bajaari maari irukku . Unga Ammava paathu sirikkara maari thaan unna paathu sirippanga”. I stopped going to her classes from that point on.

Things at home were not much better either and I constantly felt that I was fighting a battle that I could never win. Everywhere I went , the bullying followed . Every single thing I did to prevent bullying caused more of it. I tried open confrontation but they had strength in numbers . I tried staying low on the radar but they always sought me out. I tried making new friends – it didn’t work.  The newbies always realized that the popular gang had numbers and would join in with the bullying chorus. I was isolated and friendless. A well-meaning senior asked me to change myself to fit in. I tried and it failed miserably. Every time I tried changing myself to fit in , the chorus would find another thing to bully me about. One day I contemplated suicide . After a disastrous day at school , I locked myself inside the bathroom and thought to end it all . The moment passed and I realized that I loved my life and I wanted to complete the journey I set out on.

I stopped changing myself and put up with the bullying . I found solace in books and music . I discovered creativity on the internet . I vented out by writing harry potter fan fiction. Meanwhile things did not improve for me at school and elsewhere. Books were my best friends and Heathcliff , Blakeney and Pip were buddies. My academics continued to take a hit and my self-image issues kept burgeoning.  I graduated school in 2004 friendless and rudderless. But I was determined to go on. College was a little bit better. Some of my bullies became buddies – the sort that would SMS me for a copy of the class assignment but would never acknowledge me in public. I helped them when I could and made them squirm when I got a chance. I graduated college , found a job and made a few friends that I would cherish for a lifetime.

I survived but with scars. I have body image issues. I have confidence issues. I still abhor the word Loosu. I still cannot stand certain jokes thanks to the bullying that happened in the past. But what matters is that I survived and this survival has made me a stronger person, a better person.

What happened to my bullies you ask? Well, most of them  have had wonderful career graphs and are leading charmed lives. They are post doctoral scholars , Google engineers , Facebook tech wizards and the like. Two of them are my good friends now –  their awkward apologies to me not withstanding.

I feel that the only way to confront bullying is by continuing to live and live well. You will have battle scars and the scars will take decades to heal. But you will live to tell the tale and that is the only thing that matters .

P.S. Please please stop by https://www.stopbullying.gov and spare a thought for those kids  that were bullied in your class or neighborhood. Please educate and enlighthen the next generation on how bullying can affect a person.

 

 

 

Kaatru Veliyidai

@Nagrathnam once told me that one should make it a point to watch movies made by certain filmmakers , regardless about the feedback they receive or the buzz that is made. ManiRatnam to me is one such filmmaker. His films provoked me to care for his characters , to write about them and made me care about films the way I cared about my books and the people inhabiting their pages.

I caught Kaatru Veliyidai on the first day and loved the film – simply loved it. You see , the Mani Ratnam I knew was going through a change and this had been evident in his films since the late 2000s . You see glimpses of it in Raavan . In Kadal , he was like that butterfly trying to break out of the cocoon. In Kaatru Veliyidai , this new Mani Ratnam is preening through the movie , having gotten rid of the struggle between his past and present selves. I loved the texture of the movie , the context and layers he imparts to his characters and the way he paints a love story we have known and heard about in such a way that we don’t even recognize the original story in the movie – but more to come on it later.

Therefore , I am somewhat taken aback by the vitriol the movie is receiving on social media platforms and elsewhere. Can the audience blame a movie and a moviemaker when it is the audience’s failure to concentrate on the movie and its layers? I don’t know and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. So I am going to do what I know best – try and put down my thoughts on the movie and my interpretation of what I derived from the 2 hr 20 mins of screen time. Most people have a problem with how the movie ended so I am going to start with the end. This post is going to be spoiler heavy from this point on , so if you haven’t seen the movie yet , this is where you favorite my post , get off and come back once you have seen the movie.

Leela is a doctor and that makes her pro-life in a way. So she gives birth to Varun’s daughter . However , she doesn’t inform Varun about their child because she does not know if he has changed . She loves him but she does not want her daughter to get affected by his cruel nature. Even when she introduces Rohini to Varun , she goes “This is Varun ” not “This is your Appa” .  She is very clear here – I love you , I want you back but not at the cost of my daughter. You do not get to be a father , not yet . Prove yourself to be capable of being a father and a husband mister , and then we shall see if we have a life together.

The movie has a lot of time lapses and the story covers 7-8 years in a couple’s life. Rohini looks to be 7. Varun has endured captivity for 4 years and has been back from captivity for 3 years and in those 3 years he has followed her to every RedCross camp , waiting for Leela to notice him patiently , without intruding on her , with the complete understanding and knowledge that she could have moved on or could be in the process of moving on as he waited. Contrast this to the earlier moments in the film . He barges in on her without giving a single thought to her feelings and moods – at her grandpa’s party and later at his funeral. And here he is coming back every year , waiting for patiently , catching a fleeting glimpse here and there , waiting for her to make a move. Is this not repentance enough? Is there a better way to show how much Varun has changed himself than this? I don’t know .

What I love about the ending is that MR does not spoon feed all of this – this information is there in the dialogue , in the costume , in the body language of the actors.  “Tarcheyala” she asks . He shakes his head vehemently and says no and that is when the light bulb goes off inside your head. Varun finding Leela at this camp is not a coincidence or an instance of destiny or fate . He has been dogged in his pursuit and has been following her to every single camp , watching her from the sidelines , knowing that she is alive , maybe content and heck even happy. “Doorathulendhu paakanum” he says. ” En enakku sollala? ” Varun asks and Leela says ” Unakku Rohini Pidikkalena illa enna pidikkalena “and that is when he realizes that his actions has made her doubt his love . She is not confident about her position in his life because he never appeared sincere and did nothing to make her feel secure .

Look at the way this scene is staged . The landscape is dry and dreary like his life and Leela is dressed in a maroon anarkali suit , with the dupatta worn as a ghoongat like a bride , and he does see her as a bride. Chances are Leela has noticed him in the past but ignored him . She sees that he is persistent but he has not intruded and bent her to the force of his will , and she has seen it year after year. Which is why , she decides to approach him that day and talk to him and introduce their daughter and therefore the red anarkali suit is a deliberate choice.  When he hugs her and cries at the end , it is for all those years and memories he has lost , it is for the circumstances that had made him a stranger to his daughter and when she hugs him back , you know she still loves him to bits and is happy but that happiness is tinged with Caution . He is sorry and he has changed. Leela has changed too – she is no longer a doormat , one more stunt from him and he is out of their lives. This single sequence in the movie has so many layers , so many subtle nudges and nods weaved into the music , dialogues and costumes that give you a clear idea about what happened in the time jump prior to that scene.

Another pet peeve that has been making the rounds is that we are not told why Varun loves Leela .  Why should we know why he loves her and why should it be told clearly? There are clues all over pointing to the when and why. When you see Varun and Leela at the ball – he is gentlemanly , charming and polite. He has heard about Ravi’s sister and his head Ravi’s sister is a class 12 kid who probably wanted to become a doctor. But Ravi died and therefore his sister is still a class 12 kid for Varun. Initially he is flattered by her attention , she is intelligent , looks like an angel and has been in love with him for the longest time . The devotion and love is in her eyes when she looks at him during the flight and then he goes to Leh – where Ravi died , where the memories and guilt chase him for two months until he sees her on that evening , singing Pappihara and wham he realizes he loves her . He has reconciled Ravi’s kid sister with the lovely medico in these two months and he has fallen in love. Fast-forward to that scene set in the snow storm where he says adichu thookittu poven and enakku nee venum. He loves her and hence his true nature has come out. You do not pretend in front of your own and his pretense has come off.  Sometimes , shared history and memories are enough to make you fall in love and at times you fall in love because the other person loves you so much. The problem here is that Varun’s thoughts, feelings and memories are left to our imagination. MR wants us to demonize him and despise him and succeeds in it in such a way that we miss these cues when we see the movie. They come back at a later time , when you keep thinking about the movie , about the splendidly set scenes and the dialogues.

Kaatru Veliyidai is also a retelling of the Dushyant – Shakuntala tale , painting Dushyant as the cruel , chauvinistic , abusive and in love male lead who has to redeem himself to get back to his love. The abhijnana shakuntalam beacons are strewn through the movie – Ravi’s letters , Varun standing Leela up at the registrar’s office , the ending and  the gandarva vivaha moment in the film ,which is another of my favorites. She is dressed in a Maroon Saree in Nallai , he comes and gets her and that cruel she’s still my gal moment happens and minutes later he is spinning her round and round and round with I love you’s going around , chiseled and captured like pheras.

The movie is filled with many such moments that are immersive and brilliantly crafted with so many layers and contexts. In Kaatru Veliyidai , MR has created a wonderful jigsaw puzzle. He gives us all the pieces to the puzzle in the movie and says there , now you go home and assemble it and get the context – the only caveat being that to assemble this particular puzzle , one must pay a lot of attention to the source picture , get immersed and then think about it a lot. The latter is not a chore as the movie stays with you and refuses to leave your thoughts.

Thank you ManiRatnam. Please keep making more of such films.

P.S. This movie has the best AR Rahman score in ages . I will write another post on it , sometime later.