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When you have been treated to black forest cake and tiramisu all along, how do you deal with vanilla cake next?

Those were my initial reactions after watching Kaatru Veliyidai (Breezy Expanse).

Kaatru Veliyidai opens with breathtaking visuals of Kashmir’s icy terrains. Explosions soon shatter the pristine landscape and coming into view are Indian Air Force fighter planes. Our expectations also soar now with the planes among the clouds. Suddenly one plane is shot down. The pilot escapes on a parachute but unfortunately lands in the hands of Pakistanis and is taken to Rawalpindi jail.

From then, the narration oscillates between Rawalpindi and Kashmir, taking viewers into the life of the protagonist, VC (Karthi), who pines for his love Leela, left behind in India. He must meet her again and make amends and that love drives this prisoner of war to plan his escape back to India.

Will VC and Leela reunite?

Mani Ratnam’s characters are well layered always. VC is a flamboyant air force officer who wears his masculinity proudly and is a playboy.

He takes the brigadier’s daughter for a drive in his jeep and when the young lady asks him if he was keen on marrying her, VC replies, “Yes, after our first child.” She retorts, “And when do you want the first one?” VC takes no time in answering, “Now.”

Keeping in tune with today’s times, Ratnam’s characters are contemporary and their love lives too. VC’s brother gets married when his bride is in the final term of pregnancy.

Karthi’s portrayal of VC is pitch perfect. VC’s male chauvinist streak annoys you now and then, more so when Leela with her angelic face is taken for granted.

I couldn’t help comparing VC with Chandrakumar of Mouna Raagam, another beloved Ratnam love story. Patient and understanding, Chandrakumar waited for his wife, Divya, still living with her past, to come to terms with their new relationship. In that, Ratnam beautifully let love grow in an arranged marriage.

Can one forget the lovely moments of Roja where Rishi and Roja, strangers initially, discover love post marriage? These scenes had such an intensity that they spilt over from the screens to your very being. Even decades later, the scenes stay with you.

With Kaatru Veliyidai similar moments are few and far between. VC does profess his love for Leela several times but it does not make the same impact as did Rishi’s one liner, “Ae Pattikkadu, I love you,” in Roja.

Or the moment when Chandrakumar looks into the mirror and tells Divya, “Let me apply the bindi for you.”

Their eyes screamed love innumerable times in the silence.

Even Ratnam’s last film, OK Kanmani, had soft moments, those between Adi and Tara as well as the senior couple, Ganapathy and Bhavani. You wanted to fall in love again.

Aditi Rao Hydari is Leela in every way the young doctor who on her first posting finds herself falling in love with her first patient. Her eyes bring out her fragility in love and her vulnerability.

But then Leela also has a mind of her own.

Supporting characters RJ Balaji and Rukmini play Leela’s friends, Dr Illyas and Dr Nidhi. Balaji impresses in a never before seen role. Rukmini looks as fresh and full of life as always.

VC’s north Indian family seems out of place when the dialogues delivered are in Tamil. Making VC a Tamilian living in the north, like Chandrakumar of Mouna Raagam, could have probably been better.

The story, set in the times of the Kargil war, speaks little on the topic. Neither does VC’s patriotism come through fully. Apart from shouting against the enemy, VC displays little by way of emotions.

And that’s the frustrating part. The emotional nuances and intimate character observations that Ratnam excels in is missing.

So what makes Kaatru Veliyidai a good watch?

The terrific performances of Karthi and Hydari, coupled with the excellent cinematography of Ravi Varman. Each frame is sheer poetry.

Loved the scene where Leela’s images appear in VC’s eyes when he is recovering in the hospital. Also the mirror shots and rainy scenes, an integral part of Ratnam’s films.

My favourite is the one where Leela visits VC and leads him to the mirror. She asks him if he noticed any change in her. VC finds out the truth in a most beautiful way.

And, Rahman’s songs elevate them further.