It was a bright Monday morning.
I had planned for a movie afternoon with my friend where we both brought along our moms. We both were the single child, with our mom’s always complaining to us that we hardly ever spent time with them. It was our hectic schedule as students to be blamed with. We singled out on the movie, Kaatru Veliyidai( Amidst the Breeze), the title inspired by a famous Tamil poet, Bhartiyaar’s poetry. We decided upon this movie on a rush, for on the last day of our semester during our outing with our gang of friends at KFC, we asked our friends for a movie outing, for others were too intended to study, and thus, me and my other friend decided we better watch the movies by ourselves and also involve our moms, for more the merrier.
We knew right from the start that watching this movie with our overprotective moms was not the best option, but watching it with friends in the first place was something only we, single ladies could think of. My other friends either in love or married looked at us like we committed blasphemy when we suggested them this movie for our class movie gets together. Well, they had booked this movie out with their loved ones, and we( me and my friend) decided to pull our loved ones along with us to watch this movie.
Not wanting to get side-tracked, I go back to the theater where I was seated with mom waiting for my friend and her mom stuck in traffic to arrive and staring at the screens, while the reviews I had read keep running in my head filling the back story. From this post, you could’ve guessed my love for back story and this story is in no way, did justice to that love. Also, note that this post isn’t a full blown review of that movie.
For it has been over weeks since I last saw this movie and after a countless conversation with mom and other friends, who watched this movie, reading countless movies, I am still lost upon this movie. Being a literature graduate and a writer by choice, I no longer can see a movie for the heck of it. I like finding themes, analyzing character growth and finding out why the writer or the storyteller thought out the story the way he did! During the course of the movie, all I could think was, “Oh, boy! How hard has the legendary Maniratnam tried to decode us, the millennials and Gen-Y’s and still couldn’t get the formula right down to the slates.”
When I was in the second year of college as a literature student, I was forced to attend a scriptwriting class by good-willed teachers who thought it could help me more in my pursuit of being a writer. I never was interested in script-writing, but the workshop did teach me a lesson or two about how Kollywood (Tamil industry) work. They adopt this technique of therukootu (street play) where you combine nava-rasa(9 flavors of expression such as happiness, sadness and so on) to give the audience a filling of completeness— a feeling that was missing even weeks after watching this movie. I am left questioning what the hell happened in the last three hours.
The industry also works on some interesting concepts called formulas. No, I am not talking about math or even chemistry class, but actual techniques that filmmakers and writers in the industry have worked out after constant trial and error method to decode the typical audience. It’s good to know your audience and give them what they want and sometimes, it just becomes too monotone. That’s exactly what has happened with this movie.
Maniratnam, the film’s director choose to play by his strengths and usual themes such as darkness, light, hope and kind, yet strong hearted female, Leela protagonist showing hope and light to a male protagonist, VC. But, this has back-bitted him for the entire movie looked to our audience, especially to the critical ones like me, my friend and my mom a glimpse of some repetitive imageries and a memory down the lane of all the movies that he has directed so on. As one reviewer pointed out, the film just lacked the train imagery, for which was weaved into the plotline when Leela tells VC of her plan to travel by train to somewhere where he can never find her.
Also, the non-linear fashion of narration didn’t work on this plotline, for this was a much simpler plotline of a battle of wits and heart set against the backdrop of Kargil War. A linear plotline could’ve done maybe going by the original of VC just reminiscing his past fully without a break and then with that renewed energy planning for an escape. That could have done much better job, for otherwise the movie felt quite rushed as if the writer wasn’t at his/her best.
Now, this all said and done, let’s go back to the Monday afternoon where I made up for my missed breakfast with a crème donut that mom brought for me, and saw the title of the movie going up on the screen, eagerly waiting for my friend to join us soon.
Kargil War, 1999
The screen read and suddenly it took me and my mom to days when uncle was a part of that war and the tales he told us about. Introduced as fighter pilot, Kaarthi, the actor who acted as VC, the protagonist soon took us both to the time when I mock flied a fighter plane in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) during our time in Bengaluru. Before we could actually reminisce our times and connection with armies and wars, things roll by and VC is captured. Like the plight of a true warrior caught at war, we’re soon taken to Rawalpindi prison where he is tortured and prisoned. Here’s where VC takes off in a poetic style of reminisce his time about Leela, the only light in his dark life as he recalls.
Like the nature of the hot, passionate romance time flies back and VC first meets Leela when she first nurses him to health after his accident. VC soon dumps his girlfriend who happens to be his superior’s daughter and follows Leela to capture her heart. Leela who is smitten by VC, the mate of her dead brother, is smitten by the image of VC that she had carried in her heart as a teen. This pair was doomed to fail right from the start. VC like the typical chauvinist that he is, and you can’t blame it on him, for the defense in its crude ways instills patriarchal ideas and behavior on men which I’ve noticed first hand. Formed by the British, the men in defense filled with ideas of chivalry are often left to feel that the true duty of a woman is to be domesticated.
VC in a way tries to domesticate the free-spirited Leela who chooses a career to be with the last memories of her brother, choose a man for the image she had in her mind and left him when she realized the reality. Leela and VC both in their own ways are way too immature like they were never ready for this intensity of love. Like they say the right love and people brought together at the wrong time.
Leela seemed to be a woman struck in her past, grieving her brother’s death and finding solace in VC and the lifestyle he provided her with, while, VC was smitten by her beauty and warmth that seemed to be missing from his life right from childhood to then. We’re shown glimpse to the character’s childhood either through dialogues or actually visiting their families and as Freud puts the base of their characters did form from the experience they had in childhood. The director quite cleverly showed us VC’s family when he takes Leela to his brother’s wedding as his girlfriend. He had grown up with a patronizing father making him feel that patronizing others was his only way to feel in control.
Much of Leela and her growth as a character was lost in translation for most of her life is only shown through the present moment and dialogues. Maybe also because since VC was the narrator, the prime focus was on his character than others as such and as emphasized VC was a self-centred person who put himself first and when you put him as a narrator, you’ve to bear with such risks.
What could’ve helped the story was a little experimentation and inclusion of other characters and their back stories. I would like to know if Dr. Nidhi did get RJ Balaji’s character, why she did like him and why he liked Leela in the first place. Maybe a little more emphasize on the backdrop of Kargil war, life pre and post-Kargil war and what actually was the environment for those posted in Kashmir be like? A little focuses on army families and lifestyle, for when else would a civilian get to live and know of such life?
When I saw the teasers, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was definitely expecting some real period movie feels. Like now, 1999 isn’t too far off, just two decades away and when I was 3 then, yet, life did change in a great deal, so did the character and personality of the people. As far as, the visuals, I could see a glimpse of life as it used to when I was 3, but as far as people, I couldn’t see Gen-Y’s but millennial. I couldn’t see the young neighbor of mine who was of Leela’s age when I was 3, but maybe of myself or a glimpse of my friend on Leela. My mom, who though wasn’t of Leela’s age in 99, was still close to the age group and still can’t digest the blatant display of lust on-screen. It was as much as of a cultural shock as it was when she saw Alia swiping on Tinder in “Love you, Zindagi”. Maybe, they should’ve just met on Tinder in real time than in 98, in an army party, now that’d have made a good story. (Note my dripping sarcasm)
VC was all that I read and saw on novels, tall, handsome, arrogant, brooding man in need of an angelic love interest to save his life. She did save him, not in person, but as a memory. She was that symbol of his mistakes and she maybe was the gift he won when he reformed and forgiven. Until, the end she was an object that only cried to be a human being, set her rights, let her voice be heard. Amidst VC really using her as a trophy wife or GF, she was losing herself and sanity. She needed the much-needed break. But, this quest for self-identity and standing against domestication was a character of 2017’s rather than 1999’s. Maybe, he wanted Leela to be relatable, but Tara was more relatable and realistic.
Both VC and Leela looked fresh out of amateur romance novels that I read online and offline written by amateur writers who take references from legends and classic. On the whole, it lacked originality, the understanding of characters of the time it represented and of relationships of that time.
The ending was forced in itself and dramatic, yet again. I concluded with it that I did read something like this on Wattpad or come up with such dramatic tale when I was a teen. A Happy ending is not when the original pairs bond together, but really when they find happiness either together or on their own. What Leela and VC had was an obsession and unhealthy relationship of dependency. In a way, Leela did create a world of her own, following her passion for serving the needy, but when VC returns she gives into her pangs of loneliness and hope. She takes him in, shows her daughter (who she earlier hinted to have dropped, when VC refuses marriage) and they’re shown in a reunion o the happy family.
If that was all she wanted, she could’ve stayed back and VC would’ve escaped the prison even then for Leela. There was no point in her running away, the entire capture would’ve changed him anyway, and their reunion was unrealistic.
On the whole, when the film ended I was feeling all over the place and that could be quite reflected in this post. I was feeling like the story was rushed without giving the characters time to show their destiny. As a writer I believe in letting my characters guide me through their story, for each character is different. Once again another established writer did fall prey to comfort zones. He could’ve experimented and this could have been a timeless tale of love that overcame ego and war, the internal and external battles of our time.
The end verdict is it could’ve been an excellent tale if executed well; still there were certain places where the film shone bright despite flaws. It could’ve made an excellent movie to screen in some script-writing workshop or How to review a movie or story 101 or even Critical Analysis of a story techniques, where this could’ve acted as a great reference to show how to use symbols such as weather, breeze and characters to guide the story to its time- love is blind and all is fair in love and war. The visuals blinded me, despite it being OOty or Kashmiri, the period setting taking me back in time; it indeed was a visual treat. I learnt so much about techniques and symbols, when I actually wanted to learn more about plot and characters.
To end with, it’s a movie that has lost its beauty for its themes and plotline has been a well abused one and we’re left to wistfully wish, “If only they’d executed it differently, it could have been the most beautiful and fulfilling movie I had ever seen!”
Despite regrets, we had our fun commenting and singing along to Soulful A. R. Rahman’s music, me and my friend singing Alagizhae aloud and annoying couples around, gushing over Nalai Allai’s singer and reviewing the film over a heavy lunch and way back home. “What let us down,” as we all agreed, “was the music though awesome, never actually fit the plotline and to be frank, felt quite forcefully placed into the movie.”
As all memories of the movie, faded away all remain was the lovely time we spent with our mom and as friends. You can watch it once or even twice to be lost in beautiful visuals, trying decoding simple characters presented in complicated way, and getting drunk on ARR’s music.
That was my perspective on the movie, now what was yours? I would so like to listen to yours, do comment on the comment box below and like, share and follow my blog for more awesome posts like these 😉