This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Karthik Shankar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Mani Ratnam’s ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ Attempts To Slam Misogyny But Ends Up Endorsing It

More from Karthik Shankar

Boy meets girl. Boy behaves in horribly toxic manner. Boy gets girl. The truth is most of our cinematic romances end with the hero riding into the sunset with a woman who deserves better. The petulant man-child who still ends up with the gorgeous, level-headed heroine is practically a movie genre by itself. Yet, “Kaatru Veliyadai” (Breezy Expanse), Mani Ratnam’s latest, stings harder because it sets itself up to subvert the expectations of a romantic drama. Before it flies off the rails in its abominable third act, the movie does something audacious. It puts us on the side of its female lead who calls out the male protagonist’s toxic behaviour. It also does something that I think is a deliberate choice – the hero’s misogyny is quite closely linked to his army background.

When it starts, “Kaatru Veliyidai” sets itself up as an epic romance. Indian Air Force pilot Varun Chakrapani aka VC (Karthi) is captured by Pakistani soldiers during the Kargil War. As a prisoner of war, he is forced to endure foot whipping and the dreadful singing of his prison mate. So his memories whisk him off to his time in Srinagar where he met and fell in love with the beautiful and sensitive Dr Leela Abraham (Aditi Rao Hydari), the sister of a deceased colleague. All the classic Mani Ratnam elements come into play – stunning cinematography by Ravi Varman with a focus on panoramic vistas of snow-capped mountains, soul-stirring earworms by AR Rahman, and finally, a pair of attractive leads. Aditi Rao Hydari has never looked more ethereal, like a cold desert mirage that could melt away any moment.

The meet-cute happens like an act of destiny. After a car accident, Leela Abraham, in a case of ‘Florence Nightingale effect’, is smitten with her foolhardy patient. Soon they start dating. After a wonderful first date in the skies, the relationship starts crashing down to earth.

It becomes apparent that VC isn’t interested in a relationship of equals. Leela first becomes aware of his controlling ways when she visits to pay tribute to her dead brother. Their relationship gets progressively worse. VC insists that men and women aren’t equal. He, in the words of Leela herself, treats her like a queen one day and kicks her down the next. He displays all the signs of an abuser and a narcissist. He insists her love for him won’t match up to his. He gets emotional anytime she questions the relationship. VC is cruel and controlling. Yet, like a fly, Leela is drawn deeper into the web of this toxic relationship.

“Is VC’s toxic masculinity driven by a kind of parochial army mindset? The movie definitely throws breadcrumbs in that direction.”

The movie tantalisingly seems to suggest that army culture has a role in VC’s misogyny. In one scene, Leela playfully dons an army officer’s cap and asks VC if he dismisses her opinion because of her womanhood or her civilian status. VC yells at her to take off the cap. In another, after having stood her up at the marriage registrar’s office, he is instead seen instructing a junior officer how to dehumanise the enemy in battle. It’s also notable that VC’s awful behaviour seems to be enabled by his army colleagues. He twists her arm in front of his colleagues, all of whom proceed to ignore the scene in front of them. Later, he makes amends with an upset Leela, only, we eventually find out, to actually win a bet with his Air Force buddies. Early on in the movie, his superior, a brigadier, jokes with him that another air commander can’t lead a battalion because he can’t even control his own daughter. Is VC’s toxic masculinity driven by a kind of parochial army mindset? The movie definitely throws breadcrumbs in that direction.

In Mani Ratnam’s cinema, the collision of the personal and the political is inevitable. In “Bombay”, an interreligious couple and their children get caught up in the violence of the Bombay riots. In “Iruvar”, two close friends become political rivals. In “Dil Se”, the hero pursues a relationship with a separatist. In “Kannathil Muthamittal“, the child protagonist’s birth mother is a Tamil Tiger. The first two-thirds of “Kaatru Veliyidai” offers a lot to chew on, about the links between the violent fault lines of war and love.

Of course, that’s not the movie that “Kaatru Veliyidai” eventually chooses to become. By its third act, Kaatru Veliyidai aerial ambitions catch fire. It goes from examining the façade of a would be military hero into becoming a paean to him. After a preposterous escape across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan (a truck even rams into a border post and rather unsubtly brings down a Pakistani flag), VC comes back to India as a celebrated war hero. A few years pass and he finally meets Leela, who as it turns out gave birth to their daughter. Now reunited with his lady love and their cherubic kid, VC now has the love of country and family. What a load of bullshit.

What a load of bullshit.

There’s no denying that the real world is replete with examples of the beauty and the beast dynamic represented by Leela and VC. Many women are magnetically drawn to men who use and abuse them. Yet, if the aim was to capture a slice of real life, then Kaatru Veliyidai fails miserably. After all, what reality does the movie exist in? Its painterly frames belong to the heavens but its disturbing relationship moments are recognisably human. Abuse has never been this beautifully filmed, always bathed in warm amber hues.

“We don’t see a side of Leela outside of these flights of fancy – which is an impediment to a movie that tries to have its feet firmly planted on the ground.”

The movie also undercuts its character building in the songs it chooses to foreground. The way characters behave in songs are usually seamless in Ratnam’s movies because they are integral to the narrative. Contrast the way Manisha Koirala shimmies while still remaining an enigmatic vision in “Dil Se” or how Madhoo reveals her childlike ebullience in many of the songs in “Roja”. In “Kaatru Veliyidai”, Leela is frequently depicted as careful and reserved around people, including VC (on their first date she dutifully asks him if she can scream with glee while they are mid-air). Yet, she dances with abandon at VC’s brother’s wedding in one song and flails dramatically while cooing to him in another. We don’t see a side of Leela outside of these flights of fancy – which is an impediment to a movie that tries to have its feet firmly planted on the ground. Moreover, if realism is the goal, as an interview with a member of the creative team seems to suggest, what’s with the absurd number of main characters speaking Tamil in Kashmir or the fact that Rao Hydari with her light eyes and porcelain skin scarcely resembles a typical Tamil woman?

For “Kaatru Veliyidai” to pass off Leela and VC’s dramatic reunion as a happy ending is preposterous and reprehensible. Even the women in Mani Ratnam’s movies who don’t have agency are multifaceted. Yet, despite Aditi Rao Hydari’s excellent performance, Leela is more lovingly caressed by the camera than the screenplay. In the moments where we are left alone with her, the movie isn’t interested in capturing who she is outside the confines of her toxic relationship. The camera always lovingly deifies the heroine but never lets us inside her head.

The film ending the way it does is equivalent to “The Shining” ending breezily after its first act, with Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and their adorable tot in a tight embrace. All you can do is grimace in horror and wonder why the heroine has reconciled with this narcissist, who in all likelihood, will turn out to be an axe murderer. For this, “Kaatru Veliyidai” only has only one answer. This is true love. Welp.

You must be to comment.
  1. Ram JEE

    Maniratnam nowhere said or preached to you in the film kaatru veliyidai that it is true love.
    If you imagine it like an true love what can a director do for that.
    The reaity is most of our mens will behave like a VC and most of womens would also like a DR. LEELA. So they are representing an ordinary men and women.They cannot live without together. Within an ordinary mind, he had shown some extraordinary.
    Anyway some of ur points are really eye-opening.

  2. dandy

    Misogyny is not in army culture rather chivalry is. Trying to brainwash people into believing army culture is full of misogyny coming from movie makers who are actually epitome of misogyny and casting couch and objectifying women is nothing more than hypocritical. Indian filmmakers are still B-grade in comparison to world cinema considering they have zero creativity shamelessly plagiarize everything from foreign cinema and literally no filmmaker is an exception.
    Had they actually done some hard work and research like western movie makers they plagiarize blatantly they would actually would have found what Army culture is Actually like.

More from Karthik Shankar

Similar Posts

By jayesh acharya

By Rakesh Nagdeo | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

By Sunita Sandilya | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below