Vignesh Shivan’s ‘Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal’ needn’t have been Rambo’s story. It could have been Kanmani and Khatija’s story. But the dominant patriarchal culture prevalent in our film industry prevents it from being that.
“Are you okay, baby?” is what I had to ask my friend repeatedly while watching Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal (KRK), a film whose script is clearly still in the drafting stage. How did it even pass the first round of editing? ‘Kaathuvaakula Oru Script’ would have been a more suitable title for this insubstantial film. Many dialogues, though silly, that invoked loud laughter when uttered in Naanum Rowdy Dhan only received frustrated sights when featured in KRK. What could have been the saving grace of this snooze fest of a movie soaked in clichés and failed humor is if Kanmani or Khatija had asked each other “are you okay, baby?”
Kanmani (Nayanthara) and Khatija (Samantha) fall in love with Rambo (Vijay Sethupathi). Rambo is reluctant to choose one and let go of the other because he does not want to lose his Chocobar ice creams and his mother. Rambo believes that these two women loving him is the rain that his mother promised would pour and transform his jinxed life (pretty sure the mother was shown to be an English teacher just so she could use words like “jinx” and say “when it rains , it pours”). This absurd love triangle coupled with ridiculous family and mother sentiment forms the plot of the movie. While the first half shows the “tragic” history of Rambo’s family’s singledom and the budding romance between him and Kanmani and Khatija, the second half majorly deals with Kanmani vs Khatija.
The one (and only) refreshing aspect of the movie is that despite being pitted against each other, a friendship, though short-lived, is shown to form between Kanmani and Khatija. The actors too seem to share amazing chemistry to the extent that it felt like queerbaiting (thanks to Vignesh Shivan’s Love Panna Utturnam desde Paava Kadhaigal, we know the director is not unfamiliar with the concept). Maybe I took the bait, but let me offer a case for why Kanmani and Khatija didn’t need Rambo and would have made sense together.
Kanmani’s reason for wanting to get married is primarily just one – to reclaim her parents’ house. She is particular that her partner de ella must be someone who can look after her siblings with love and care. Khatija fits the bill perfectly. Khatija shares an affectionate bond with Kanmani’s siblings till the very end, regardless of her beef with Kanmani. Let’s not forget that it is with Khatija’s Rs 50 lakh that Kanmani is able to reclaim her de ella house – Rambo is a mere carrier of the money.
In the case of Khatija, her troubles are caused by the men in her world – her weak father and controlling boyfriend. What she doesn’t need is another boy trouble. A dishonest, indecisive, irresponsible and unreliable Rambo is not the presence that would have changed her life for the better. But the same cannot be said of Kanmani. It is Kanmani that Khatija relies on for emotional support when her father dies. It is Kanmani’s companionship that Khatija seeks during the time of healing from the loss.
Kanmani and Khatija could have provided each other the stability that was required in both their lives. Rambo, who was flaky and an emotional wreck, could not have been a viable option. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Rambo’s relationship with the two is exploitative – both materially and emotionally. He gets money from Khatija to help the woman he was cheating on her with her and stops taking her calls from her two days after. Rambo literally uses the two women to heal his childhood emotional scars from him, is inconsiderate and insensitive to their feelings from him, and is ready to spoil their futures for his own selfish needs from him. However, what he does seem to offer is physical protection, but that he again he could have been offered by any “rowdy” if only he was polite enough to take them to one. But the threat from the “rowdies” too turns out to be inconsequential. So in essence, Rambo offers them nothing. Pretty sure Kanmani even straight up paid for all her her Ola rides her, including the two-hour ‘Indian tour’ one.
Kanmani and Khatija would have been more suitable for each other, even their tastes seem to be similar – since both fell in love with Rambo for God knows what reason. Kanmani and Khatija seemed to suffice. Rambo was essential, an extra. Yes, it was Rambo’s story. It needn’t have been. It could have been Kanmani and Khatija’s story. But the dominant patriarchal culture prevalent in our film industry prevents it from being that.
Mainstream Tamil films are still reluctant to move away from the heteronormative idea of love and produce progressive and daring movies on LGBTQIA+ subjects. One of the fears could be that such a movie would alienate the unprepared Tamil audience. No conventional orthodox society would be completely prepared but that cannot be considered a valid excuse. Not anymore. We already have short films and independent songs dealing with this subject and it’s high time that mainstream movies also got on board.
In fact, among the many speculations about the movie after the trailer was released, a few even wondered whether it could be a queer love story. One of Samantha’s videos of her saying, “No Kanmani without Khatija, no Khatija without Kanmani” was used to support these fan claims. I, for one, really wished KRK was similar to Sairam Vishwa’s short film It Adhu But Aanaal, starring Malini Jeevarathnam.
Getting rid of the pervasive male gaze would open up a lot of avenues for filmmakers to explore. It’s due to the overwhelming presence of cis-hetero male directors that many movies invariably follow the Kanmani vs. Khatija narrative and prevent women characters from having any meaningful relationship on screen. If only Vignesh Shivan had refrained from coming in between these two women, they would have simply been Kanmani and Khatija, and it would have provided not just Kanmani and Khatija, but Mythili and Maggi, Tulsi and Radha, the chance to become friends or lovers . Or even enemies. Let the choice be theirs.
Aazhi is currently a research scholar in the Department of English at Stella Maris College, Chennai.