A few minutes into Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai (Breezy Expanse), an IAF pilot named VC (Karthi) drives his jeep across a hideously twisted mountain road in Srinagar. Beside him is a girl he’s probably interested in. She asks if he’ll marry her. He says – in that smile-inducing, Mani Ratnam-esque way – he will, but after the birth of their first child.
This is the textbook example of a character introduction scene. We see that VC is a flamboyant, reckless stud. He’s a show-off. He’s a bit of a cad as well. He doesn’t take love seriously (or maybe he isn’t ready for it). He isn’t too bothered about endangering someone else’s life (or maybe he’s super-sure there’s no possibility of danger with him at the wheel). At the end, we see, through the rear-view, a truck approaching. So much has happened, and yet this is all the person seated behind me had to say about the scene: “Mirror shot.”
Every auteur keeps revisiting –and more importantly, reshaping – pet themes, tropes, obsessions. Their films are, in a sense, a kaleidoscope. Each time, the pieces yield a new pattern. Many of the pieces in Kaatru Veliyidai are recognisable. For instance, that mirror shot. The fall from great heights. The fuck-you to a father figure. The back-and-forth, Alaipaayuthey-like search for love. (Like that film’s heroine, this one, named Leela and played beautifully by Aditi Rao Hydari, is a doctor.) That unique cultural landscape that embraces Ghantasala as well as tango, meen kuzhambu (fish stew) as well as chopsticks. Kaatri veliyidai kannamma by Subramanya Bharathi as well as Bol re papihara by Gulzar.
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