It’s Tamil cinema tradition to signify time period or setting with film posters. In Vignesh Shivan’s Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal, when Rambo (Vijay Sethupathi) runs away from home and village as a child, we see a poster of Rajavin Parvayile (1995), a forgettable film memorialized for remaining the only one to feature Ajith and Vijay. He runs away because his family is cursed. If anyone in their family gets married, life has a stock full of lemons for them. His father tried to prove that it’s all unfounded, only for Rambo to be jinxed beyond measure. Rain stops when he steps under it, he never gets his favourite ice cream and then his ailing mother begins to take a turn for the worse as soon as he steps near her. So, he runs. Far away from a bedridden mother, an unmarried aunt and several uncles.
Vignesh Shivan is not one to show a serious hand, we know that much about him. He subjects his themes to the kind of levity reserved for toddlers holding a lollipop. He makes Rambo’s family a bunch of cartoons, even a fully grown sister played by Kala Master sports pigtails, and starched men appear in equally starched foreheads and traditional wear. No surprise that he chose former cricketer Sreesanth to play Khatija’s (Samantha) boyfriend. Sreesanth can neither act nor lip sync passable Tamil lines.
Rambo’s run of bad luck changes when he meets two women: Khatija at the club where he is a bouncer and Kanmani (Nayanthara)—with a younger sister and a brother with Down syndrome—whom he drives around in his day job as a cab driver. It’s convenient to write both the characters played by big stars as damsels in distress (the film runs counter to their stature as stars and their pulchritude). One comes from a rich but broken family with an ailing father and abusive boyfriend. The other is the sole breadwinner with two children under her care and a house in litigation. It makes things easy for Vignesh. He can summon Vijay Sethupathi to beat some goons and save some trouble for Kanmani and throwback to the Vijay Sethupathi of his own film—Naanum Rowdy Dhan—and that charm to impress Khatija. Giving Sreesanth a good beating helps too but that’s something every audience member wants anyway.
A reality show with Prabhu as host anchors the first half where experts and make-believe audience try to convince us that Rambo suffers from dissociative identity disorder. After all it’s always been Kanmani by day and Khatija by night. Once this is resolved, isn’t it time for Vignesh to get his hands dirty? That’s where one would be wrong.
Nothing could shake the writer-director from getting on with the diminution of his own premise. Even the costume designers try harder—Vijay Sethupathi wears these double-coloured shirts, his torso divided in colour as are his sleeves. Polyamory? What is that! The film is timid to a fault to even discuss sex. A painful scene glosses over sex and marriage using pista and badam as euphemistic semaphores. Two grown women—star actors—cannot say the word in a Vignesh Shivan film. Maybe the choice of the vulval pistachio is as far as the director can go. The same pun of “I love you two” is repeated, the plot mechanics going around in circles to form a 160-minute film.
There is one single take, however, that deploys some playfulness with the merry-go-round vibe. Rambo tries to convince Kanmani and Khatija about his seemingly amoral predicament. The camera roves around the three actors covering every space available (the scene is built up from Kanmani and Khatija climbing stairs that are mirror images of each other), much like the scene in Gunaa where Kamal Haasan goes around a room in a single take in manic energy. The scene works like only few do in Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal.
When Kanmani declares her love finally—we see her after sunset for the first time—it is pouring, and she is on the phone. Rambo and Khatija are in the middle of the road, but it is dark and dry. Anirudh’s music is once again the saviour. These are the only organic bits of romance in a film that talks about love in excess. But what’s really grating is the sexless nature of the film. A humungous crime with the names involved.