There is a moment somewhere around the halfway point in Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya that encapsulates both its strengths and weaknesses. It involves the two major characters — Karthik and Jessie — in an intimate conversation. The conversation involves the sort of truth-telling that characterizes much of Gautam Vasudev Menon’s writing. When his characters fall in love, they don’t pine in silence. A declaration like “I want to make love to you“, while not made lightly, is not swaddled in layers of coy eyelash batting, lower lip biting and flowers colliding.
The entire conversation is framed in a long corridor in a manner that underscores the intimacy between the characters. And they are intimate, although not in the hurried, desperate manner that characterizes displays of physical intimacy between most Tamil film characters in situations like this. They seem to enjoy their physical contact, savour it. But there is nothing showy about it all. If one were to look up the word sensual in a dictionary, a picture of these two might be found alongside the definition.
My wife and I watched this scene and said, “Wow, this is how something like this ought to be shot.” A moment later, we also said, “Are you sure they’re in their early twenties?” This is the sort of maturity one might expect to see in a couple in their late twenties, with perhaps a past relationship or two under their belts and a few less hormones to rein in.
That is, I think, they key flaw in VTV. Much mention is made in the dialogues of how Jessie is a year older than Karthik, but the real age difference is the one between the characters and the ones they behave like. Look past that, and there is enough and more to like.
The relationship between Karthik and his mentor, for instance. How often has a hero’s best friend and mentor been a decade older than him? This may not occur commonly in real life, yet it seems perfectly plausible that the experienced DP would take the greenhorn AD under his wing.
Jessie’s character, for another. This is what a lot of people seem to have trouble with. The woman swings like a yo-yo, and Karthik is left bruised and battered by her declarations of love and mini-breakups a moment later. But here’s the thing: this is not inconsistent writing, but consistent writing about an inconsistent character who does not know her own mind. She loves Karthik, of that there is no doubt. But she is not sure if it would be enough if following through on that emotion requires her to alienate her family. In a way, our doubts about the writing are an oblique testament to how good it really is.
The lone fight sequence. Unnecessary it may be, but by eschewing the sort of overblown smash-’em-up sequences that is all the rage in action films today, while not compromising on the controlled aggression, Menon gives us an adrenaline rush that fight sequences rarely manage anymore.
The ending, which brings to mind the bittersweet aftertaste of (500) Days of Summer and Chasing Amy, both of which contain much wisdom about about love and creativity.
The performances from the leads. Trisha has never been more appealing than here — you understand why Karthik falls for Jessie despite the fact that she makes him tear his hair out in frustration. As for Simbhu, I wonder if my admiration of this performance stems more from the good work he does here or from the stylized-to-death crap he dishes out in most of his other outings. Three decades from now, if one were to do a retrospective of his career, this one may be the only film from this period that they can show any scene from without cringing. And if I were to single out one moment for said retrospective, it would be the one on the park bench towards the end. Simbhu lowers the walls around his grief so carefully through the course of that monologue that by the time he is done, there is nary a dry eye in the house.
And finally, the plaintive question in the title. Think back to the moment when you told a boy/girl how you felt about them, and held your breath for an answer. That little, barely noticed yet clearly felt space between the prefix un- and the word requited. How often does an entire movie manage to live in that space, and so beautifully at that?