Kaatru Veliyidai to Tamasha: The perils of love stories with conflicted, self-absorbed men

Some men are not fit for a stable relationship and when they do get into relationship, these relationships don't make for the best movies.

In Mani Ratnam's latest Kaatru Veliyidai, Varun (Karthi) is a self-absorbed, often-violent man who forgets to come to the marriage registrar's office on the day and time that he decided in the first place for himself and his lover Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) to get married. Varun has no space for Leela's feelings and concerns in his head and if Leela questions Varun's temperament at any point, he gets angry and pushes her around. Later, in another scene, Varun interrupts Leela's parents while they are having dinner and harasses them because they don't seem to like him and for good reason. Varun, however, is adamant in the belief that he is genuinely in love with Leela and begs for "one chance" from her after countless mistakes. In short, even as Leela might be blind in love, it gets clear to the audience that this is not the 'right guy'. With such an unsympathetic hero, making a love story, that at the end of the day needs the audience's sympathy to bloom as a love story worth telling on cinema, is a big risk, commercially and artistically.

But don't such characters deserve a space in storytelling? If art borrows from life and dysfunctional men and dysfunctional relationships do exist, then what is the harm in exploring the psyche of men like Kaatru Veliyidai's Varun? The problem arises when you are attempting to make a feel-good, commercial entertainer with characters such as these. Case in point: Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha Rockstar.

Like Kaatru Veliyidai's Varun, Ranbir Kapoor's Ved is also self-absorbed and has demons of his own that far outweigh and suppress any feelings he can possibly have for the woman of the story, Tara (Deepika Padukone). In Tamasha, Ved finds his calling in telling stories. Since his childhood, the ever-imaginative Ved would rather conjure characters and spin stories than do science or math. But his authoritative (and who some would call 'psychologically abusive') father ensured that Ved did engineering and took a garden variety corporate job as a career. Over the years, Ved lost touch with who he was until Tara enters his life and unlocks the beast that was hidden inside him, hurt, dominated, waiting to break out and wreck havoc. While Tara expects a normal relationship from Ved, Ved realises that he cannot give what Tara wants, because he is too scarred emotionally to be himself and love himself in the first place; accommodating another person in his life is, then, an afterthought.

To an extent, Ranbir Kapoor has played difficult men incapable of having stable, romantic relationships throughout his career. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which is a much friendlier film to the audience than what Kaatru Veliyidai or Tamasha is, Kabir (Ranbir Kapoor) has plans for himself and his career and those plans don't include his closest buddies or any kind of lady love. Kabir chooses straying away from his loved ones, traveling the globe and living his dream at the cost of not staying with his family. Even as love in the form of Naina (Deepika Padukone) makes an attempt at pulling him back to his roots, Kabir is unconvinced by other people's designs till the fag end of the film. Of course, Kabir realises the power of love and all is well by the time the credits roll because there's no other way to end a big-budget romantic entertainer with marquee stars. Ayan Mukerji, in contrast to Mani Ratnam and Imtiaz Ali, does a good job of normalising a man like Kabir. It, however, doesn't need to be said that Kabir's disposition and personality is more relatable to the average person watching movies than Varun's near-psychopathic narcissism or Ved's angst as a storyteller is.

Ranbir's naive and boyish Raj from his debut film Saawariya and the destructive, self-pitying rocker Jordan from Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar are also lost in their tunnel vision. For men such as these, either they crush and destroy love with their presence, or love crushes and destroys them a la Devdas.

For men like Varun and Ved and Kabir, it is not the love that is the story that needs to be told. The self-discovery and journey, irrespective of the love, is the real story. That which happened before the boy became the man who fell in love - that is the story. You need to show the audience that which could a make a fully-formed hero so peculiar that people would feel uncomfortable trying to empathise or sympathise with him. Between Kaatru Veliyidai, Tamasha and YJHD, the second film does the best job of giving precedence to the hero's origin tale which is of so fundamental importance to stories like these. As for Kaatru Veliyidai which released just this Friday, this was not the film Varun, the hero deserved. His real story was not told and hence the film could not live up to its ambitions.

(The writer tweets as @devarsighosh.)


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