*Spoiler Alert (Pulp Fiction)*
Subtle visual motifs make any film interesting to watch, especially for avid film buffs with a keen eye for detail. For the uninitiated, visual motifs are recurring patterns seen across the film through the use of props, set design, costumes, symbols and events to support the theme of the film. For example, an ‘X’ appears somewhere on the screen every single time a character dies in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. That is a visual motif. John Travolta’s character Vincent Vega being in the bathroom every single time something bad happens to him(including his own death. Oops, spoiler!) in Pulp Fiction, is a visual motif.
Film makers use motifs to set the mood or the tone of the film. One such probable motif is seen in Kaatru Veliyidai through the use of costumes - VC’s (played by Karthi) sunglasses. Throughout the flashback scenes, he wears Aviators, a model designed originally for pilots in 1936, very appropriate for an Air Force pilot - VC’s profession.
In the film, VC is a toxic, abusive boyfriend who has baggage related to being brought up by a chauvinistic, toxic father. This is where the other side of the coin comes in - Leela, played by Aditi Rao Hydari who is a Doctor deputed to Kashmir and treats VC after a near-fatal accident on her very first day. The motif used with Leela is light. She’s engulfed by sunlight when she’s introduced to VC and quite literally brings light into his life by shining a torch into his eyes while checking his pupils.
VC woes Leela and then starts giving mixed signals. Pushing her away and letting her in constantly. He is unstable, emotionally unavailable and is complicated, a puzzle Leela can’t solve. The film follows his journey from being this man to him becoming a better man because of the hardships he faces without her.
The film opens in a dark prison cell in Pakistan, where VC is imprisoned after a crash-landing across the border. He talks about surviving the darkness and how his passion for his work, love for his country and love for Leela helped him withstand the darkness of his world. He desperately tries to hide from the rays of the sun as the jailer opens his cell. In the flashback we see Leela, the bringer of light.
Ravi Varman's work his magic by showing the gorgeous Aditi illuminated in all her glory by the sun, and her being a medium for the light to reach VC, a man who is still in the dark. He keeps himself there, and he is used to it and it's perfectly symbolized with his obsession for sunglasses. He wears them all the time. Indoors and outdoors. Including when he’s inside the hospital recovering from the near fatal accident. It becomes more apparent in the plot when he goes to the extent of bribing a jailer in the prison for it, just before breaking out.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then VC does a great job at hiding it. He doesn't know how to love, he doesn't know how to change, he is a man jailed in his own mind. He chooses to stay in the darkness, and his survival of the harrowing experience in and out of prison changes him(Or so he says). The visual motif comes to a close in the climax, where he tries to redeem himself, in a beautiful, naturally sun-lit shot, and this time, his sunglasses are missing. He meets her after ages, and for the first time, he is vulnerable and lets her in. Or rather, asks to be let in and it’s a happy ending.
- Guru G Nicketan