There are two types of Mani Ratnam films, one is when he half steps into our world and tackles issues that we can relate to read ‘Idhayathai Thirudathey’, ‘Nayagan’, ‘Agni Natchathiram’ and more recently ‘Ok Kanmani’. The other is when he invites us into his universe where the romances are of the Mills and Boons variety and his characters are one dimensional reflecting different versions of himself like in ‘Kadal’, ‘Uyire’ and ‘Ravanan’. ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ finds an automatic place in the second category.
The film opens during the Kargil War 1999, where Varun (Karthi) a brash fighter pilot, lands in Pakistan territory after being hit. As he suffers torture at the hands of the enemy, he reminiscences about the love of his life. In the flashback, he is lucky to be alive after a deadly accident caused by his flamboyance and is nursed back to health by rookie doctor Leela Abraharam (Aditi Rao Hydari) for whom he falls head over heals in love. The scenes, alternate between Varun’s plight as a prisoner and his growing love with Leela which is threatened by his male chauvinism. The screenplay sleepwalks till the pre-climax when some astounding action and emotions explode.
The theme that Mani Ratnam explores is relevant at all times about how the inborn nature of a man could ruin true love and how physical and mental trauma actually could help one heal himself.
Mani Ratnam’s heroines always have memorable characters and Aditi Rao Hydari is the lucky one this time. She has given an exemplary performance as the strong woman caught in a hopeless love. Every time Karthi’s character belittles her, with minute expressions she brilliantly brings forth the embarrassment and hurt that she suffers. In another scene in tight closeup when Karthi is feeling her body, Aditi with slight twitches of her eyelashes and the gradual blush conveys all there is to about what's happening. Simply Brilliant! Karthi has the right look of the fighter pilot and is in his elements in the action sequences and the emotional breakdown in the climax. One scene that stands out is when he tricks Aditi into coming with him only to reveal that he had done it to show off to his friends. However, he is completely unnatural in the romantic scenes and the clean shaven get up and badly written lines in those portions don’t help him either. An unusually muted R.J. Balaji comes as a huge relief and Rukmini is another actress who deserves praise for some natural performance.
Ravi Varman is the real hero of ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ and he has touched the pinnacle of his career. The panoramic shots of the sprawling mountains and the rough border terrains are breathtaking while some intricately shot interior frames refuse to dissolve from sight. A. R. Rahman’s songs set to different beats have been picturized nicely. Only the background score seems intrusive as every time Ravi Varman’s visuals gradually suck us into them the music prod us into a rude awakening. Sharmishta Roy's art direction and Sreekar Prasad’s editing are top notch to say the least.
As said earlier, it is Mani Ratnam’s universe and either you like it or don’t but what is jarring in ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ is Karthi’s characterization that is so fake has never happened to a Mani Ratnam hero before. The badly written dialogues makes one wonder if they are coming from the master and a connection with the proceedings takes too long to happen.
Verdict : Strictly for Mani Ratnam fans and those who love stunning visuals that only he can conjure up