Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya

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?

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7 thoughts on “Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya

  1. Beautifully-written review- I much enjoyed reading it. Makes me wish I had caught the film when it was in my local theater. I find it so interesting that the bittersweet ending was changed in the Telugu version, Ye Maya Chesave. Perhaps suits the Tamil versus Telugu sensibilities?

  2. LN>> I found Summer to be a beautiful movie, and that last conversation with Summer was really well done. Didn’t try too hard, didn’t try to explain everything… it was a sort of closure, but the not the kind that involved banging the door shut.

    MinaiMinai>> I think it might have to do with the language and audience that the director is most comfortable with. My guess is, had Gautam Menon been a Telugu film director and made this as a bilingual, then Ye Maya Chesave might be the one with the bittersweet ending and VTV the one with the happy ending 🙂

  3. JC says:

    I really like the acronym JC. Jefferson City. Why, that’s the capital of Missouri — the state that borders 8 other states (as does neighbor Tennessee)…

    So too, I like how you parse this Jessie character in para 6. I haven’t seen VTV yet (nor its “sister” movie, Summer), but of the write-ups I’ve read on it, yours is by far the most heartfelt.

    And one thing. I’d wondered about this when reading discussion threads declaiming against the use of the Mustafa song during (possibly) one of the “mini break-ups” you mention — why is it that folks tend to think of friendship and love in either/or terms? I’m hardpressed to believe a filmmaker as sophisticated as Gautham (is, in handling sentiments like love) would resort to stupid Tamil-movie stereotypes (such as heroine calling hero “anna” in the n-th hour).

    My hunch is (solidified now, after reading your character analysis of the leads) that perhaps Gautham was going for something deeper… more along the lines of how James Thurber beautifully plots Friendship on the graph of Love when he comments on a ruined relationship… “Our love never ripened into friendship.” Of course, I’ll only know after watching the movie, if this is a hunch or a hoax! 🙂

  4. Harry says:

    VTV struck me as a lot of artificiality thrown in. For instance , the scene where karthik and his pal come out of the church, in the scene where Jessie rejects the marriage, the characters seem to mumble dialogues that do not even make an iota of sense. You can talk nonsense with your pals , but the extent of it seemed ridiculous.For me gowtham has turned into a lot of stuff that are either – larger than life (considering the characters are your day to day types).

  5. JC says:

    Jumpin’ Chickpeas! What is Harry saying here? (Apparently, he is yet to meet Sally.) The mumbled dialogues outside the church were, in my book, all kinds awesomes! “Crossroads la irukkom”, “bus varadhu, yerikko”, “(Iron = Fe) kambiya nanna pidichukko”… something like this thaaney? What’s not to love??

    Yup, finally saw the movie this Thu (same story as Tamil Padam DVD — serendipitous stumbling on store shelf, illenna ippo sadhiki kidaichurkaadhu kaikku, DVD, given it just came out and all).

    Agree with you in that the leads were portrayed a tad too young in age for my balk-free buy in. Simbu didn’t work for me at all until post interval, where he hijacks the heck out of the movie, taking it to a whole new level.

    I’d have loved it more had Gautham opened the movie differently. The whole love-at-first sight thingee seemed a trifle too immature for the themes treated. He could have/should have kicked things off at the preview… Simbu in the front, Trisha seated all the way at the back… when the movie ends, they walk out and that’s when Simbu catches a glimpse of Trisha and realizes that she has somehow tracked him down, snuck into the preview… then all the flashbacks. Something like that. Then loop to this in the end. But then don’t we always see the movie we want to see, sigh.

    I loved that they left things off in a “to be contd.” note though.

  6. JC says:

    p.s: And oh, I recall reading elsewhere that folks felt “Trisha” was not the right choice for Jessie’s role, but she totally worked for me, not the least because of the fact that she *is* eventually “his Art” — and how he shows it off too!

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