Kaatru Veliyidai – To Like or Not to Like

What is the film? Is it the breeze you want to embrace? Or the dusty storm you want to run from? Whichever side you snuggle to, there is no denying Kaatru Veliyidai‘s lead character VC is perhaps the most complex role ever written in Kollywood.

VC, for Varun Chakrapani, is played by Karthi, an Indian fighter pilot made and kept charming throughout the film. And one layer beneath that charm resides everything we don’t want to see in a hero. Self-obsession, aggressive confidence, a pound of ego and chunk of misplaced romanticism.  It is all these that conduct half the dynamics of this relationship story.

The other half is Leela Abraham, a doctor girl who keeps going back to VC all through the film regardless of how carelessly he treats her: he shouts at her; twists her hand; pulls her to his lap, only to stress the fact that she’s a girl and can’t afford to be anything but beautiful. In her own words, he sees her like a pet dog and not as an equivalent with self-esteem. And briefly in a scene, we see his father is very similar: dominating, and if disrespected in the least, a violent man.

There are two beautiful, subtle-as-snowflake scenes that unravel for us these two characters. One shows us the romantic Leela is. She’s been hearing of VC since her twelfth grade through her brother’s letters (he’s VC’s colleague). She has not seen him at all, but has been hearing of him for years. Imagine what years of highly opinioned letters from a close brother could do to a mellow girl. It is this combination of mystery, age and credibility that makes her accept VC’s date invite. Once here, he only had to smile his charming smile and show-off some heroics to make her realise she has fallen for him years, years ago. And this is precisely why she doesn’t leave him at all.

The second luminance is about VC. He has taken Leela to a snowy peak, but in a minute senses a snow storm approaching them. He tries to take her away for her safety, but forcefully, and when she resolutely expresses her wish to stay longer, he warns he may slap her. She asks him what the storm could do and he replies it could swallow them entirely. ‘Couldn’t you have said this earlier? Instead, why treat harshly?’ she asks. That is VC. He cares, he loves, but all in his own self-centered, gene-inherited way. Even when we see him woo her with a song and much love, it is only, we realise later, to boast to his friends he can get his girl back.

So the internal conflict is himself. He loves her, quotes Bharathi, and calls her ‘Azhagu Rani’, but he can’t let her have her own way and can’t even marry her because he fears he wouldn’t make a good father, a good husband. The external conflict is Kargil, which captures and locks him in Rawalpindi prison. Left alone, he thinks of his mistakes, how much cruelty he must have dumped on the woman who had given him her everything. Fragments of memories and a rudimentary love now assuming shape in the absence of the woman it stands for keeps him sane and helps him escape prison, and Pakistan.

That most of us have in some point in our lives thought and acted like him connects us to the film, but to feel this, the audience I watched the film with wanted something stronger than snowflakes. Missiles of messagey writing would have maybe given them reason to connect.

While coming to like the film or simply dismissing it is a personal issue, missing the subtleties that underscore the story and stroke every character’s image is as grave as the sin VC self-confesses near climax. For the film is a visual thesis on character study. It plucks an exemplary one of us to show us what we basically are and how mad we can get, in and out of love.

Some of Ratnamisms are retained in this film. The most important being the hero’s romance built on an equal proportion of love and lust, if not more of lust. It is evidenced throughout the film and in the songs Saaratu Vandila and Azhagiye. But in my opinion, nothing can match this outright lyric from Aayutha Ezhuthu: Kadhal konjam kammi, kaamam konjam thookal. 

Wagah – A Borderline Drama

I say the film is a ‘border’line drama only for the pun. The film is much lower than that; at least, the end product is, because what director Kumaravel has hoped to bring on screen is an interesting premise, but what we are shown is… you will know.

Firstly, what spurred my interest to catch the film was that it was about an Indian soldier’s love for a Pakistani girl, set in the tense and ‘priceless’ (the film says, and so it appears) Wagah border separating India and Pakistan. Well, a clichéd one-liner certainly, but the director had come carrying on his shoulder the critical acclaim of his maiden venture, Haridas, which I still haven’t seen, but believe is a good film.

Wagah starts with Vasu (Vikram Prabhu) in a Pakistani jail, beaten up to bleed all his blood for having tried to escape. He is a BSF Jawan who has gone missing at the border, and in the jail, we see hope in his eyes. Flashback. Vasu is not an ideal man. He is careless and fun-loving, and even disrespects the national flag in the school assembly… as his eyes were on the girl he is attracted to. When he grows up, he wants to join the Indian Army just so that he could drink cold beer at a discounted price while rolling on Kashmiri ice with no dress (all his words).

God save our country, he is inducted into the training program, and after a few weeks, is given what I think is an AK-47, and posted at the border. Just after two days, he loses interest in his job and goes mad owing to the solitude of the ice-capped mountains and lush green ground. Right when he totally loses interest in his life he accidently meets Kanum (Ranya Roy), and falls in love with her. From this point, the only thing that makes him stay in his job is his love for that girl and his frequent evening trips to the nearby village where she stays. A great premise indeed! What the director could have done to further the story… How he could have taken the character arc of Vasu… There is so much potential, so many interesting internal and external conflicts to explore, but sadly, and sometimes frustratingly, the film wants to be as careless as its lead character.

There is very poor writing for the heroine. We know her true story only at the interval point. So much screen time is wasted on back-to-back songs that don’t stick at all. Interestingly, the only tune that seems slightly likeable is the one that comes after Vasu is captured by the Pakistan Army.

Another thread that seems interesting is Vasu’s stay in the jail. His co-prisoners are jingoistic men from the Indian Army, and he is the only guy who doesn’t care about his country or its protection. He still wants to escape only for his girl, and this only irks the men there. When Vasu is pitted to fight against an Indian officer, and is told that he can escape death only if wins the fight, everyone wants Vasu to die and the other officer to win and escape the disgraceful death waiting at the end.

How he escapes this prison, which is run illegally, is what we are shown soon after, but even the escape is so bland that we want Vasu to get shot in the forehead and the film to end. But we are asked to gape at an action sequence where he dodges bullets and other firepower so easily and comes out alive to expose the illegal jail run by the Pakistani army, not without a preachy message directed at the villain about nationalism, conflicts between neighbouring nations and how they are fuelled by superpowers like America. All this in the foreground of a patriotic composition beginning with Vande mataram…

God save our country, and cinema.

KABALI – A REVIEW

kabali-movie-review

I must admit I am a Chennaite and yet have only just realised the intensity of a Rajini release – thanks to Pa. Ranjith’s much-hyped Kabali. Though the posters, singles and fan-made sketches were doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter (not to mention my office and neighbourhood) I caught the Kabali fever only a couple of days prior to the release – not a fatal illness, as in the case of many of the demigod’s fans, but just a mild, paracetamol-curable fever.

You must have understood by this time that I am not a fan of Rajini, nor his ‘style’, which is so blandly recurrent in all his cinematic ventures; but yes, I do respect the personal side of the man, and importantly his decision to shed his filmy image while stepping out of the screen, and appear just as he truly is.

The Kabali fever, however, blanketed me more from Santhosh Narayan’s ‘Neruppu da’ than from Rajini’s newly defined look for the film; the latter did make a substantial contribution though. The more I was listening to the song, the more I realised Kabali occupying my mind and, regrettably, the little time I had outside of my work.

Thankfully, my company decided to takeus all for a corporate show when the film released. We were booked for the weekend show immediately following the Friday release of the film, much to the envy of countless of the star’s fans who had felt cheated out by the bulk-bookings of the corporate giants  in and around Chennai. I stepped into the theatre expecting the film to satisfy me wholly and convince me enough  that I become a Rajini fan too, vaguely feeling left out from the crowd of my colleagues engaged in a feverish discussion about the ‘Man in the Suit’. From the moment the film started playing, there were claps and ‘Oooohhs’ emerging from all around me (mostly for the wrong scenes), but I brought my hands together, a few times, only to rub my palms against one another to wade of the freezing chillness that the walls of the theatre were giving away.

The film is not your typical Rajini film. You have the star sporting greyish beard. You have him walking at only the pace permitted by his age. More significantly, you don’t have infuriating punch dialogues, or surreal dance sequences with a woman more suitable to play his daughter than heroine. It is the film of a Malaysian-Tamilian who rises from being a mere worker raising his voice to demand more salary for Tamilian estate workers to becoming a revolutionary figure for the holistic upliftment of all Tamils in Malaysia; though what he does to get to that level other than joining a prominent revolutionary (Nasser in a short role) is left for us to figure out. Also left in darkness is what Kabali does after becoming that revolutionary. How does he support his kindred? How does he fight the growing menace of drugs and child-trafficking? Does he keep in touch with the outside world and its progress (or deterioration) while in prison for crimes that he didn’t commit? It is all very nebulous. We even have an introductory song with a cohort of Tamils singing and dancing and celebrating the release of Kabali – a man they had as their leader for just two years and had not seen for the next 25 years.

Now what the man does after coming out is the story. His wife and the child within her are killed by the bad guys before packing Kabali off to prison. So now in addition to the existing plot thread of protection and upliftment of Tamils, we have a familial thread for Kabali to hang onto. The initial scenes after his release where he reminisces his beautiful past with his wife (Radhika Apte in a grippingly emotional role) are superbly conceived and shot. Next, he learns of the growth and spread of a rival gang called ‘43’, and then goes to one of its top members to talk him out of selling drugs. It is here that he learns of the possibility that his wife could still be breathing, and thus starts Kabali’s search for Kumudhavalli. And this is what could have been pursued till the end. The flashbacks that tell the story of his life with  Kumudhavalli, and how she mentors the rough and sartorially mindless Kabali to transform him into a figure that the masses could come to respect are neat, but lacking. How the simple hothead Kabali becomes ‘The Kabali’ could have included his revolutionary story too, so that we could at least understand the people’s care for the man, and also wish him to win in the war against the dogmatic Malaysian businessmen. But we are only shown Kabali’s love for his wife, not of his fight for the Tamils. So that makes us wish for Kabali to find his wife soon, it makes our eyes well up with happy tears when the duo finally meet (oh yes, his wife is alive!), but it does not make us cry our heart out when he destroys the business of his rival. And that too is done in the climax in a way that could have been executed anytime during his stay in Malaysia, even after coming out of prison, but we are asked to wait till the climax for the Tarantino-style execution.

What really stands throughout the film is Kabali’s love for Kumudhavalli, and the powerful acting of Apte. The many backstabbings within and across gangs, the heavy but vain attempts of the villain to kill Kabali and his family, and even the bullets-flying denouement fail to attract any sincere attention. The screenplay is a rollercoaster with slow-paced scenes unapologetically coupled with racy action that play no part in the progress of the story.

Kabali, in all, merits our 120 rupees only for the sake of Rajini’s first major on-screen change (to quote Mr Baradwaj Rangan, ‘Rajinikanth does more for the movie than the movie does for him’); okay, let’s be good enough and include the excellent acting of Apte also. But at the end, every serious filmgoer would be left wondering how better the film could have been.

 

12 Angry Men

“Life is in their hands and death is in their minds”. Thus states a poster of the film I was recommended to watch by my movie-maniac friend. I heard it’s a black and white movie and had been shot entirely inside one room. Well, quite out of the way right, so I decided to give it a try and thus went on for the one hour thirty six minute ride. At the end of it I was left with questions like how come I missed this movie all these years and why hadn’t I heard of Henry Fonda before.

12 angry men starts with a worm’s eye view shot of the United States courthouse, giving us a false sense that it is going to deal with law related subjects. We are then taken to a courtroom where the fate of a boy who had allegedly killed his father is been given to the hands of a jury, consisting of only men. Among these men is one juror, Henry Fonda. The jury retires to their room and we are shown that the weather is very hot and that the only fan in the room is out of order. These may preliminarily seem to be insignificant observations, but as the movie progresses we understand that they play an important role in mentally aggravating the already chaotic situation and provoking heated conversations. While all men are convinced that the boy is guilty of murder charge it is Fonda who opposes them single-handedly saying he doesn’t know if the boy is guilty or otherwise but that it is their responsibility to give him a fair discussion and enough thought before coming to an unanimous  verdict. Thus begins a series of heated discussions sprinkled with slapstick comedy here and there without meaning to destroy the crux of the plot. Also beautifully shown is the mental instability of the jurors as new interpretations are drawn from already presented facts. They are equally spaced for them to sink in the minds of the audience and the changing mindset of the jurors is well synchronized with that of the audience. After all, what is a film if you can’t relate yourself to it?

Coming to the technical aspects of the film, my first appreciation goes to the cinematographer. I am sure he would have had a tough time setting up the frame and composition for each and every shot in a small room filled with 12 men and a couple of light sources. Even though the screenplay cannot be altered much from its linear course, the writers have amazingly built it to suit the mood of both the jurors and the surrounding. The direction unit is effective as can be seen from the coordination of the twelve men, though I wonder how many takes the director would have gone for before approving a shot. The music drawn suits the mood well, we are tensed and surprised when and where we are supposed to be (a special mention goes to a piece made of violin which comes as an emotional supplement when the boy in question is shown).

When the English department of my college decided to screen the film I was more than happy to take the ride a second time. In all, the film is a must-watch and certainly deserves critical appreciation.