Director: Rohin Venkatesan
Writers: GR Surendarnath and Rohin Venkatesan
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Jai, Sshivada
Be it a short vacation or work trip, there is something about moving to a different city that lets us loosen our guards and be more carefree. So what happens if you bump into your ex-lover during one such trip? When Gautham (Jai) and Aaranya (Aishwarya Rajesh) meet in Managalore eight years after their college, their old romance gets a second chance, even if it is only for a short period.
They meet for dinners, skip the office to hang out and go out of their way to spend time with each other — which often leaves them longing for their past. But both are well aware that all these catching up and lovey-dovey exchanges will stop as soon as they get back to Chennai. Though mostly filled with montages of Gautham and Aaranya roaming the streets, director Rohin Venkatesan includes some cliched yet beautiful details that leave you smiling — like how they both still remember each other’s favourite food or a scene where Gautham gives a birthday surprise even though Aaranya’s birthday is months away because they might never meet again. And this is one of the most pleasant parts of the film which kindles our nostalgia and the beautiful memories of unfulfilled love we always carry. If you buy into their lives by this point, Theera Kaadhal would make for an engaging ride.
Think of post-breakup meetings and films like Sillunu Oru Kaadhal (2006) or 96 (2018) immediately pop up; they have already portrayed such emotions tenderly. But in place of those flashbacks, where we get to understand their journey and why they had to separate, Theera Kaadhal has Aaranya summing it up in one dialogue. She asks Gautham if he is angry that she didn’t elope with him when her parents did not agree to their relationship. Similarly, it is in their casual conversations that they re-live their memories, and that’s how we learn about their love story. Later, Gautham leaves for Chennai and joins his wife Vandhana (Sshivada) and their six-year-old daughter, while Aaranya returns to her husband and they go back to leading their normal lives.
But what if that brief exchange in Sillunu Oru Kaadhal or 96 led one of the characters to believe they have a real chance at love again? That they could let go of their present lives and get married? This is what Theera Kaadhal explores. While this unexpected meeting fills the vacuum in Gautham’s life and helps him get closer to his family, Aaranya realises what she has been missing in her life all along.
However, the film seems to sometimes struggle with portraying the sudden change in Aaranya. A few weeks after she returns to Chennai, we can all see how her life turns upside down and she turns to Gautham for solace. But when she says to him, “You are all that I have,” a tense background score plays. Aaranya, with a sly smile, locks eyes with a shocked and scared Gautham. It is as if she clearly knows that her moves are wrong but she wants Gautham no matter what. But in another sequence, we see a more innocent side of her, while she still yearns to get back with him, her acts aren’t guileful. Instead, she is desperate and vulnerable. Maybe the makers wanted to villainise her character but not so much that we might hate her. But this indecisiveness ends up reminding us this is a film, while what otherwise makes Theera Kaadhal special is its realistic portrayal.
For instance, when a woman returns to her parent’s home after fighting with her husband, they would want her to go back, no matter what the issue is. The same happens to both leading women in this film, while one of them suffers because of domestic abuse. “Serndhu vaazhavendiyavangala pirichu vaikuraanga. Pirinju vaazhavendiyavangala sethu vaikuraanga,” (Parents separate people who should live together, and unite people who should separate) says a frustrated Aaranya. Similarly, when Vandhana leaves Gautham after a fight, her mother too suggests she forgives her husband.
Aaranya is the one who constantly pesters Gautham. But the film humanises both of their actions. Take the scene set in a beach where Aaranya and Gautham reminisce about their past, for instance. Gautham who used to constantly reject her, stumbles and embraces her; which in turn gives hope to Aaranya. But the very next morning, Gautham goes back to avoiding her. These mixed signals confuse Aaranya. Besides their fractured relationship, these little flaws each character has and the mistakes they do add a layer to the story, giving the film its life-like quality. But like life, things move at a slower pace in this film. In retrospect, Theera Kaadhal has a wafer-thin storyline yet it manages to keep us hooked for the most part, except for a few redundant sequences, props to some twists and beautiful performances.
Jai, like in Raja Rani (2013), beautifully adds a tinge of innocence to Gautham, whose clear-headed thoughts always contradict his ambiguous actions. On the other hand, Aishwarya Rajesh carries the character’s transformation effortlessly, rendering authenticity to Aaranya and her actions. If films like 96 romanticised the idea of meeting your ex, Theera Kaadhal presents a rather practical and not-so-ideal version of it.