Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Nayanthara
Director: Vignesh Shivan
Just at the beginning of the third act, after the central conflict is resolved and Rambo (Vijay Sethupathi) has his epiphany, he goes to a tea shop and orders tea with salt — to give him some shame, apparently. He then walks over to an old man and asks him to take off his slippers. "Ammava vittuttu poviyanu kelunga," (ask me if I'll ever leave my mom again) he says. The old man obliges. "Adinga enna," (slap me) he urges. Phatak, phatak, phatak, Rambo comes to his senses. This is perhaps Vignesh Shivan's message to critics who come with expectations.
To be clear, dear reader, I did not expect anything unreasonable. Despite the trailers' warnings, I went expecting only a Vignesh Shivan-esque comedy — an irreverent, lighthanded, college boy-level take on semi-serious issues. For Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal, even that is too much. Because it is just an escapist male fantasy stretched on for too long.
Rambo, a child led to believe he's jinxed, grows up looking away from the world for fear of burning it down. Kanmani (Nayanthara) is an independent woman with two young siblings to care for. Khatija (Samantha) is a woman pushed to be with an abusive boyfriend. One fine Vinayaga Chaturti day, both these gorgeous, kind women with problems of their own, fall in love with Rambo.
Unable to choose between the two — more like wanting to have the cake and eat it too — he creates elaborate, convoluted, manipulative ploys to wriggle out of the situation, as a man is wont to do, I suppose. In the process, as one would have guessed, he puts them both, and the audience, through never ending misery. Yet, the ladies show up time and again to fix his life, as women are wont to do, I'm told.
As a shower thought, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal is a fantastic idea. A man who believes that he's so unlucky that he needs to run away from his mother to stay alive gets love and good fortune twice over. The possibilities are endless. But Vignesh Shivan doesn't show the skill or inclination to expand on that idea in any interesting way.
Instead, he relies on gimmicks. Casting Prabhu as a talk show host, dance master Kala as a longing spinster, Sreesanth as the loser abusive boyfriend etc. to overcompensate for shallow, underwritten characters. There is even a running gag about Rambo confusing the two ladies into something, so he never has to take responsibility for his actions.
He stages elaborate cons, not just by Rambo, but also by Kanmani and Khatija to move the narrative forward. He creates a story where nothing is what we're told it is. For instance, at one point, Kanmani claims to Khatija that Rambo has married her. In response, Khatija claims that Rambo slept with her. Turns out both of them were lying. Such things keep happening over and over. Instead of keeping us on the hook about what's true, this deception gets predictable and tiresome.
This also affects the tempo and nature of the film itself. The camaraderie between Kanmani and Khatija itself is suspect, for it's too easy. Redin Kingsley as the designated fool is hilarious. But, these jokes feel misplaced in a film that otherwise isn't heavy on jokes.
The only — two — good things about Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal are the leading ladies. Both of them are drop-dead gorgeous, someone give the costume designers a bonus, please! Who knew a koodai (wire basket) on Nayanthara's shoulder could look this good. It is also an absolute pleasure to watch Nayanthara dance in 'two two two,' even if there isn't as much skill as heart in it.
I worried, I must admit, that Khatija will end up being projected as somewhat of a loose cannon, given her wardrobe is modern, while Kanmani, by contrast, is traditional. Glad that didn't happen. And Samantha, for her share, carries her style unapologetically. But watching a two and a half hour long film for the wardrobes of the two stars is too much to ask of anyone.
Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal wants to be a lighthearted comedy, but the jokes barely land. It needs to have good romance for the conundrum to work, but the love story relies lazily on age-old Tamil cinema tropes — you know the beating villains who harass the heroine type. It aspires, like most of the director's works do, to pay homage to Tamil films, but the pastiche is sporadic and lukewarm. It is as if Vignesh Shivan, like Rambo, couldn't make up his mind either, making a bland hotchpotch.
Like Love Panna Uttarnum from Paava Kadhaigal, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal explores a social taboo — polyamory. But just like the previous endeavour, this film too has no sense or sensibility to handle any sort of complexity. Instead, it just sticks to clichés. Two women who are "motherly". Women sorting out men's emotional issues. Women resolving life-changing problems because a man couldn't be bothered taking responsibility. Women showing up and getting the man's entire family married. Women making K Balachander film-level sacrifices. Just women doing all the work for the man to look like the nice guy. Oh well!