Did Kaatru Veliyidai glorify gender violence? TNM chats with Mani Ratnam's team
After the release of Kaatru Veliyidai, Director Mani Ratnam's latest, there was much debate on the portrayal of gender violence in the film. It has received both appreciation and criticism for its portrayal of violence against the woman lead. TNM spoke to the movie's Executive Producer Siva, on the relationship between Varun (male lead) and Leela (woman lead), the idea of abuse, and the jail escape sequence which has been called out for being too simplistic.
TNM: Was the scene where he escapes from jail, as many call it, a copycat sequence? You'd already addressed this in the press meet, but what is it based on?
Siva: It is based on the lives of three prisoners. Real life. The sequence is based on incidents from the book - 'Four Miles to Freedom', for which we had acquired the rights. When we translate fact into fiction on screen, we do take liberties by at least 5-10%.
Since it was only a part of the screenplay arc, and the film dealt with VCs (male lead played by Karthi) mind-space, the narrative dealt with his thoughts and the escape was dealt in just action. The actions were predominantly based on the book, including the route taken by the three. Only, in real life they were captured by the Tahsildar at Jamrud.
TNM: A lot of writers, in their think-pieces and reviews, bashed the tumultuous relationship between VC and Leela.
Siva: Relationships are complex. There is no logical explanation for everything that happens in a relationship. The film clearly follows Leela's mindset throughout. How VC changed as a person is also something that cannot be explained, it just happens.
In films, we expect life to be neatly tied up with the cause and motives and the repercussions. We want the reason for every act clearly pointed to certain points and the resolution after all the math is calculated and squared off. Life is not necessarily like that. When a man is faced with a near death experience and the prospect of not ever returning home, it can make quite an impact on his view of life and relationships.
TNM: Abusive, a lot of people used that word to describe their relationship.
Siva: We watch and perceive a movie with our own agendas and limitations, and some people see it from a different approach. The film was all about a not-so-perfect relationship. There is something else that binds them and that's why they stay together. We never glorified abuse. I would rather use the term ‘aggressive’.
It is better for us to have this discussion than pretending such relationships do not exist and refraining from talking about it in real life or fiction. It is so easy to push these under the carpet and pretend they don't exist.
TNM: Many called the visuals breath-taking, but distracting in terms of the audience trying to process VC and Leela's relationship. It was a piece of cinema, more than a story, so they say.
Siva: Well, then Ravi Varman did his job well. It's easy for an observer to say all this. The movie is in fact interpreted through all the visuals.
You don't have to write in bad handwriting to make sure people can focus on the content of the writing.
The visual is never more than the scene or the performance. In this film, the landscape and the soundscape are a part of the narrative. We pick the visual because it is too obvious, but the sound in the film also plays a dominant role. And all these together make the film.
I'm happy we've started a debate, a conversation.
TNM: The word "sorry" holds a certain power in the movie, even pacifying Leela sometimes. Could you tell me more about the use of that word in the film?
Siva: It was individually decided. To use the word. It wasn't something we particularly discussed.
All relationships have ‘’Sorry” and ‘’Thank you’’ built in. Some are expressed, some are implied and the rest are taken for granted.
In this case where the relationship is uneven, the reaching back, regret and acceptance happens more by the body language, sometimes tears and a few words. Sorry invariably is the first step which reveals the extent of the regret. It is not just the word, but the way it is said and the eyes which carry so many more words that are unsaid.
TNM: What are some insights that caused you to see relationships and love, particularly while filming Kaatru Veliyidai?
Siva: You don't need to justify a relationship. It may look wrong to us, but it can flourish. There can never be a perfect relationship. There is always hope.