Kaatrin Mozhi: A risk-free, saccharine remake

Oh, how we love our overstatements! A shot of a heroine walking in contentment must always be punctuated by a loud track that overemphasises heroism. A pillow fight must always have cotton flying around. It isn’t just enough for a drunk husband to be tottering in the house; he must head to the bathroom and vomit loudly for the entire neighbourhood to hear his retching. It isn’t enough to suggest that video game hours be regulated for children; video games must themselves be vilified and replaced with Rubik’s cubes. All these exaggerations rankle, given Tumhari Sulu, the original film, remains fairly fresh, having released just a year ago. It’s rarely that a remake improves upon the original, and almost never when handled by a different director.

Kaatrin Mozhi
Director: Radha Mohan
Cast: Jyotika, Vidharth

Comparisons may be irksome, but inevitable, especially at a time when the advent of streaming services has made films of other languages quite accessible (the original’s available on Amazon Prime). At almost every step of the way, Kaatrin Mozhi’s eagerness to please you is its undoing. The film opens with Vijayalakshmi (Jyotika) competing in a lemon-spoon race. In the original, the race simply looks to establish how much winning means to her and how supportive her husband is. In this film though — perhaps because such things are deemed a tad too serious — we are also provided with desperate attempts at humour. As Balu (Vidharth) runs by the sideline, an obese, dark woman falls down, crushing him. Let it also not be lost on you that it’s another plump woman who’s shown to be Viji’s rival — naturally, someone you’re supposed to find unlikeable. Later in the film, Yogi Babu comes in yet another cameo in which the jokes are drawn less from his comic timing, and more from his supposedly outlandish appearance. On a call with Viji, who’s hosting a late night radio show, he says he’s part Aamir Khan and part Arvind Swami in appearance. The years roll by, but our jokes continue to target obesity, dark complexion, unattractiveness, homosexuality… Oh, and there’s one later about erectile dysfunction.

Curiously though, it’s a film that is dogged in its reluctance to step into complex areas where it really matters. Unlike in the original where Vidya Balan brings to the radio show a a certain inherent mischief, Viji here is an angel who can say and do no wrong. The problems mainly stem from her working a night-shift, and her ‘neglecting’ household duties. I wish Kaatrin Mozhi had explored the nature of her job a bit more, and how it affects Balu. Unlike in the original film, there’s no problematic call here that directly targets Viji or establishes the effect of her alluring voice on her late-night listeners, predominantly men. She’s more a counsellor and less the sensual host her “hellooo” seems to be hinting at. If she were in fact the latter, would it be a problem? Would our audiences judge her? After all, as Viji herself tells Balu, as long as he trusts her, it doesn’t really matter what other people think of her.

Make no mistake though, Jyotika is a sprightly presence. The subtleties may be lost, but the alternative is a vivacity that’s rather gripping. I wish a good balance had been struck though. For lack of it, the late night conversations between Viji and Balu, for instance, don’t always fill you up with the sort of warmth they should have. When Viji does her Saroja Devi impersonation and the couple laugh, it feels manufactured. You could say it’s a microcosm of the film’s constant exaggerations for effect. Take an early scene, for example, that shows Viji confronting a man who, just minutes ago, conned her out of her place in the elevator. In the original, Vidya Balan throws a momentary glance of accusation, but doesn’t get so consumed by her response that she loses sight of the place she’s in. Here, it’s seen as only an opportunity for humour. Many other situations are similrly milked for their respective sentimental value. Balu being asked to leave his cabin and forced into doing menial work, is milked as a tragedy. Only, it would have felt more poignant if the film weren’t so desperate in its pleas for audience engagement. Perhaps this is why, more than once, Viji looks at the camera directly.

The biggest problem of all is how little craft is on display. It’s almost like someone’s set up a camera on a tripod and simply captured a play. There are long stationary shots of characters engaged in conversation. Save for the overused top angle shot of the city — while Viji runs her show — the film makes for an unstimulating visual experience.

And yet, Kaatrin Mozhi is still an important story of a woman who discovers how to channel her innate competitiveness in a meaningful way. It’s a story about a confident housewife learning to live life in her own terms — and more importantly, the people around her learning to live with it too. I’m quite glad they are able to achieve this without vilifying the husband — Vidharth, who I really liked in the part — or destroying her marriage. I only wish it were less saccharine, and less padded with content meant to please the audience. Viji keeps saying, “Naan sutta poori buss nu dhaan varum.” Only problem is, taste has little to do with bloat.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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