Director: Mani Ratnam
In the poem ‘Kaatru Veliyidai Kannama’, the poet describes the beauty of kannama, how it mesmerizes the lover, captivates him to his core and becomes the torch for the darkness within and around him. VC, the protagonist of the film, Kaatru Veliyidai, takes off from the poem in spirit. He is mesmerized by the mere presence of Leela. Such is the power of Leela that the moment she lights a torch into the eyes of VC, the player gets played by the ethereal aura of the rightfully named Leela.
Mani Ratnam, here seems to be more interested in interpreting the poem in its various facades. He starts off this ambitious vision with self-indulgence. Thus, VC, who gets mesmerized by the beauty of Leela, wants her to be his anchor, the human embodiment of his poetry, the breeze that comes along with the air that surrounds him and ultimately the light to the darkness within. No wonder Mani makes the protagonist apologize through a poem, reminisce her through the wind that flutters the piece of cloth he has in his hand and finally as an anchor for his sanity when he is behind enemy lines. If these aren’t enough, through Leela’s friends and VC’s family, Mani pushes VC’s self-indulgence into the territory of self-centeredness. And this is where the core conflict in the movie arises. VC, who has fixed for himself the purpose of Leela in his life, is not able to see her as a fully formed human being. He fumes when she has an opinion of her own, forgets to value her time, barges into her life whenever and wherever he wants to, parades her as his trophy to his friends; the list goes on. It isn’t that VC doesn’t realize what he is doing, he clearly isn’t able to change even after multiple attempts. Mani beautifully juxtaposes this with the two cents VC gives his comrade that as a fighter pilot we don’t have second chances in life. By this point, I was back to the Ayutha Ezhuthu days, where Madhavan and Meera Jasmine fight it out to be in a relationship. On a side note, when I was watching Ok Kanmani, I was transported to the Siddharth-Trisha love track in Ayutha Ezhuthu. The scene with comrade also subtly points out that he is Arjuna, hat-tipping to his name Varun Chakrapani.
Coming back to KV, after umpteen sorry, when Leela moves out of VC’s life, the guy who has built an empire in the sky falls literally and figuratively. This is where the biggest problem in the film starts. Mani somehow thinks the fall and the intention to correct himself in the future as he crawls back to sky is enough for VC to get redemption. Yes, allegorically, VC needed to be grounded to realise his mistake. But what Mani doesn’t show or explain is how this realization can manifest into action. Thus, when the coda unraveled, I felt cheated. Can 3 years of search for a woman be enough to show that he has changed? It only shows to me how persistent a stalker he is. This is the next big problem in the film. Why does Leela get played (conned) by VC in perpetuity? Is it just to be different from the Meera Jasmine role (in Ayutha Ezhuthu) or the Anjali role (in Iravi)? Alternatively, if Mani is trying to imply the loop of love-insult-hate is going to continue, why is the end treated as a fairy tale one? This cop-out at the last moment isn’t new. I experienced the same in Ok Kanmani where the director decided that the young couple should get married seeing the love in the older couples, although they aren’t interested in marriage for completely different reasons.
Does this make the movie an excellent one sans the ending? Unfortunately no. The redemption portion that happens in the enemy line, apart from lackadaisical conceptualization, seem to happen non-linearly for the sole reason that the poem ‘Kaatru Veliyidai Kannama’ is about a lover reminiscing his Kannama. This again harps back to the Alaipayuthe days wherein the non-linearity stuck out like a sore thumb. If at all the whole story is going to be represented from VC’s point of view through his memories, why can’t it stay true to the concept consistently instead of doing a Gautham Menon (as he did with Vaaranam Aayiram). Is it to avoid the Mariyan treatment? Further, in a film that is meticulous enough to underline the caste and background of VC’s family, it disrespects the viewer by representing them through north-indian actors. The cherry in that nativity cake is the ‘sarratu vandi’ song which withers without any kind of root. The problem doesn’t end there. The symbolization of Leela as the wind that makes VC fly is used whimsically, pushing me to contemplate how fitting it would have been for theme of the movie, had it been a consistent prop.
In the end, it is unfortunate that these negatives pull down a movie filled with beautifully staged and narrated sequences like the storm, coffee table singing and dinner table sequences.