Look Around: Cinema of the neighborhood - Kaatru Veliyidai
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1 September 2018

These are the times when telugu cinema has indeed started to spread its wings and soar above formulaic, assembly line offerings. The change is no less because of the increased exposure of the audience and the makers to movies beyond the geographical and conventional boundaries. In this age of open information, cinema cannot but open up. Keeping in step, presents a new series - Look Around - that aims to shine a light on the brilliant cinema made beyond our borders, and thanks to all the streaming platforms and subtitling options, should rarely be missed by film enthusiasts. Entertainment cannot be guaranteed here, but engagement, surely...

There is always one such in every group - the talented, charming, supremely confident, yet cocky, brash and insensitive - which makes him turn from extremely likable to utterly detestable at the drop of the hat. While everyone around can poinpoint the moment when his charm offensive starts becoming downright offensive, the said charmer remains obstinately oblivious of his venturing into the loathsome territory and pushes us on regardless. The simple act of kindness on the part of others wanting to spare his feelings, calling out on his obnoxious behavior, is often misconstrued by his self-absorbed superiority as being bewitched and beguiled by his behavior. It might come across well and tolerable even, for a little while, while wooing his lady love, where his egotism could be mistaken for confidence, but even then, once the relationship settles down and the charm washes off the behavior would start showing its true abrasive and grating colors, at which point even the tag 'hero' would become a malapropism. In all his features till now, Mani Ratnam had his leading men painted in different hues of heroism - reckless, ruthless, charming, disarming, pushy, sensitive et al, but underneath all their cosmopolitan and suave exteriors, are ones who are genuinely considerate toward others feelings. Not anymore. Like K.Viswanath's "Swathi Kiranam", where the institution of Guru is imbued with all the foibles and fault lines of human behavior including the two worst that a master can ever find himself gripped with - envy and jealousy -, Ratnam follows suit amping up on all the dials, that hitherto made his hero the quintessential 'Mani Ratnam hero', to disagreeable levels, where casual becomes callous, outgoing becomes overbearing, charm becomes cruel, and above all, hero becomes human. "Kaatru Veliyidai" is Ratnam's most mature till date, engaging this time not on the overbearance of circumstances on the relationship like his standard fare, but on the character flaws of the protagonist which can turn on or tick off people around him with the same intensity.

"Kaatru Veliyidai" is a character study, or more, a relationship study, even more, an examination of the inversion of the 'hero' character. He is brilliant, and therefore feels entitled. He is charming, and therefore condescends towards lesser beings. He is intense, but comes across as insensitive when pushing his intensity. His words, his feelings, his priorities, his passion bulldoze over everyone else's. In the end, he is all for, about, and full of, himself. And to cross his path with a diametrically opposite female, sweet, caring, sensitive kind (and a doctor, to boot), brings out his character in an ever sharper relief, when he casually/jokingly talks about slapping her in front of everyone, when he doesn't mind esclating a minor tiff into a full blown fight, again in front of everyone, ending up insulting and almost assaulting her, and the worst of all, parading her in full public glare as a conquest after the patch up, showing his sensitive and remorseful side just a few minutes before. Ratnam briefly touched upon such toxicity in relationships, often masquerading as masculinity, in Madhavan's segment in 'Yuva', but here he expands the character even more, the warts and all, and lets it run roughshod over everything in its path, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and the person in question, his love interest. By not wanting his protagonist to be loved, cared and identified with, Ratnam creates one of the most unsympathetic and self-destructive character in recent times and challenges the audience to keep up with him, in just the same way as he throws his heorine to the wolves. For a man who has delved the depths of the metropolitan hero, with his sweet, sophisticated and sensitive demeanor, Ratnam swings a wrecking ball at that construct and destroys the myth and the aura of it, moving as far away from his pet 'ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances' and wading into the more troubling, yet very interesting, 'extreme people in normal circumstances'.

Assaying this challenging character is Karthi, who pulls off this borderline personality with great naturality and ease. His scowling expression which oscillates between mischief and misogyny, his constantly locked eye brows switching between pensive and self-pity, Karti wears his character on his sleeve (face), creating the portrait of a true egotist. While great technical standards are a given in any General Issue Mani Ratnam product, "Kaatru Veliyidai" truly revels and shines in its cringe worthy, uncomfortable and shocking moments, creating a (broken) mirror image of the usual sugar coated romances. With the only quibble that he lets his 'hero' off the hook a little too conveniently and easily towards the end, instead of taking a more causal and a brave route for the character (a la, Gulzaar's "Ijaazat"), Ratnam steps out of his comfort zone and paints a starker version of love this time around, away from the picturesque setting of "pachai nirame" (Alai Payuthe) and a little closer to explsoive nature of "Satrangi Re" (Dil Se)

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