While Hindi cinema has been churning out naturalistic and modern romantic comedies, we have mostly got clichés from Tamil cinema. Once in a while, we get a genuinely modern Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi.

Which is why Atlee’s promising debut Raja Rani merits a watch in spite of its fundamentally flawed structure.

In form, this is one of those rare good-looking romantic comedies (cinematography by George Williams) which is crafted with great taste, aesthetics and a fairly modern urban sensibility. But in terms of content, Raja Rani is let down by a few contrivances in scene detailing, characterisation and the leisurely paced three-love-stories-in-one narrative (edited by Antony L Ruben).

While it begins promisingly with nuanced drama that’s treated with refreshing lightheartedness, the entire first half soon departs into a flashback all the way to the interval. And a major chunk of the second half is also dedicated to another flashback.

With two flashbacks accounting for two-thirds of the film, the central love story itself is limited to the first act, interval block and the climax, and this affects the overall pace.

Think of it as a modern-day Mouna Raagam-as-romantic comedy, treated as a matter-of-fact, slice-of-life drama with considerable restraint barring a few instances of larger-than-life theatrics (a heart attack, two epileptic attacks and an accident) all slapped on an otherwise light-hearted film.

But thankfully, there’s enough to like. While Jai and Nayantara bring in the laughs in the first half, the Arya-Santhanam duo once again makes sure there’s enough feel-good bromance to keep you entertained till the rather predictable and stretched-out climax.

Atlee deserves credit for subverting Tamil cinema gender types here, at least in two out of three stories. If Regina (Nayantara) who wears the pants in the relationship and makes fun of Surya (Jai) the boy who cries all the time in one story, the alpha male hero John (Arya) too cries in another, and so does his friend Sarathy (Santhanam) in the other.

Satyaraj as the uber-cool dad who is more of a friend than father is another modern touch.

Yet there are remnants of old-school cinema in this film. While it can be argued that old-school fathers who object to inter-caste/religious marriages still exist in our society, how do you explain Nazriya who plays yet another child-like Tamil film heroine who likes the hero but pretends like she doesn’t? Stalker behaviour is justified once again.

Also, it would have been a lot more exciting if the flashbacks weren’t resolved conveniently because “love failure” (as the film calls it) in real life is mostly about unresolved, messy, dysfunctional relationships that end with break-ups and not the tragic route taken by old-fashioned love stories.

Unfortunately, Raja Rani, in spite of its slick look, is not THAT modern.

But don’t let that put you off. Do give it a shot because it is still two steps forward from the kind of fare we get in the name of romance. It has a strong woman in the lead who is not afraid to slap her man. And that’s reason enough to cheer!

Genre: Romance

Director: Atlee

Cast: Arya, Nayantara, Jai, Nazriya, Satyaraj and Satyen

Storyline: Newly weds who hate each other come to terms with each other and their past

Bottomline: Three love stories for the price of one