Monday, May 16, 2011

What happens when a journalist dissects a love story?

If marriages are made in heaven, then the events preceding it must definitely be made in Kollywood’s studios, whose insistence on replicating the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” on screen is so strong that anything contrary has been (and will) strongly be looked down upon. As Paulo Coelho would have said, the entire universe would have conspired to ensure that the lead pair, be it the newcomer or the reigning star, stand united, no matter how adverse situations may turn out to be. P Vasu’s Chinna Thambi and Mani Ratnam’s Roja are movies that instantly come to my mind when I think of this. Did not the actor Amitabh Bachchan once say that he is intent on providing entertainment to the common man who is burdened with the complexities of life? Which is why the ending in Gowtham Menon’s not-so-recent movie, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (Will you cross the stars for me), where the lead pair – Silambarasan and Trisha – despite falling in love, decide to part ways, intrigues me to no end.

Not that Indian movies are averse to what the hoi-polloi of the audience would describe as a different, unconventional or offbeat movie. We have Devdas, where the hero drowns himself in alcohol when he is unable to come to the fact that his sweetheart has married someone else, despite another woman pining for him. Heck, even its modern-day adaptation, Dev-D, had a blistering run at the BO, coining terms such as ‘emotional atyaachaar’ along the way. As our discussion returns to Kodambakkam, one firmly needs to bear in mind that save for some of Balachander’s flicks, in which the norm was the hero and heroine are not meant to live together (Cases in point Apoorva Raagangal, where the heroine marries the hero’s father in a gush of revenge, and Avargal, where three persons – the ex husband, the former and the incumbent lover – pine for the same lady), it was an injunction laid down literally from heaven that the the lead pair greet the audience with garlands around their necks when the words “Shubham” or “Vanakkam”, which signify the end of the movie, are shown to us.

First the facts. Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (Ye Maaya Chesave in Telugu) is about the tumultous love between its lead pair, Karthik (Silambarasan) and Jessie (Trisha). Religion, as expected, becomes a contentious issue, as Jessie is torn between her lover and her father, who strictly disapproves of the union. Jessie’s parents pressurise her to get married at a time when Karthik’s cinematic career is on an upswing, when she decides to cut off all contact with him. A rendezvous takes place between the two much later, when the director reveals to us in a graded manner that Jessie is married to the boy of her father’s choice, and Karthik’s debut movie is about their jilted love sans the suffering.

In software terminology, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VV from now on), in my opinion, is Minnale (RHTDM in Hindi) v2.0, the reasons for which I will be stating below. Karthik is a mechanical engineer struggling to make it big in films as a director; Rajesh (Madhavan) from Minnale, too, is a mechanical engineer; the two are weak in academics. Both love Christian women who are employed in MNCs – Reena Joseph (Reema Sen) of Minnale is an employee at Ford, while Jessie (Trisha) is a software architect at Polaris Systems; both the movies have a scene inside the altar of a church, where the two women refuse to get married, that too when the pastor asks them for their consent, prior to the exchanging of the rings. Both suffer contrasting changes of heart, with Reena initally hating her lover, only to unite with him later, and Jessie doing the converse (when represented diagrammatically, their emotions may depict a sinusoidal wave). In fact, Minnale was VV minus the “realistic” ending: Karthik and Rajesh, who get spurned despite their repeated overtures, decide to focus on their respective careers.

The undulating trajectory of Jessie’s emotions towards her love, is, in my opinion, unique to VV. She loves Karthik, allows him to kiss her inside a train, but later questions him angrily for having the gumption to do so. She later suffers a change of heart, asks him to take her to a movie, but afterwards suggests that they be friends. When her father in a fit of desperation asks whether she has anyone else in her heart at the church altar when she refuses to get married, she replies whether he would accept such a person. However, when Karthik comes to meet her in the midst of a filming schedule, she refuses to speak to him. (Sudha Murthy prior to her marriage with Infosys founder Narayana Murthy had once written that she was torn between her father and her to-be husband, when the latter did not create a good impression about himself during their first meeting. Am I seeing any similarities?) Save for the odd movie or two (see above), Indian movie heroines:

  • Are usually the villain’s daughter
  • Fall head-over-heels in love with the hero in a flash, or
  • Get drawn to the hero at an intensity much greater than that she would have hated him
  • Are clad in bikinis/two-piece during courtship and sarees/churidars post her marriage to the hero

Therefore, the portrayal of Jessie as intelligent, suave and pragmatic, even to the extent of sacrificing her love, comes as a gale of fresh air to the discerning viewer.

Unfulfilled love has probably been a fetish with Menon. The damsel in distress in Kakkha Kakkha (Jyothika) dies an ignominous death; the director probably offered us an upgrade in Vettayadu Vilayadu, with the heroine (Jyothika again) surviving the villain’s malevolent attempts to murder her.

The beauty of the pristine backwaters of Alappuzha captured on camera, as if in an Incredible India video, apart, there were certain aspects in the movie that interested me. The voiceovers dripping with humour, during the opening scene and the scenes where Jessie walks off in a huff after Karthik says what they are experiencing is not friendship but love, and when Jessie’s brother tries to bully him, evoke a smile. And what’s it with the lead characters in Menon’s movies converting expressions of love into style statements? The statement, “I wanna make love to you,” which Karhik says in VV, and Maya (Jyothika) in Kaakha Kaakha, to their respective lovers, look like they have been inserted to appease the A-class audience. The pyramid-like structured dialogues, running from the apex to the base, akin to that in a Mani Ratnam movie, lend an heightened feel of anticipation. Jessie terming Karthik’s first movie, named after her, as feel-good, when their romance failed to materialise smacks of irony (I am reminded of the multiple ending short stories of Jeffrey Archer). The director, who makes an K S Ravikumar-like appearance in all his movies, fails to turn up in VV. Observe and you would find that the video clip which director K S Ravikumar is shown editing is actually that of Menon’s then upcoming movie, Nadunisi Naaigal.

Last but not the least, does the director feel the Telugu-speaking audience are frail hearted not to accept rejection? The endings in his Telugu remakes seem to suggest so. Kaakha Kaakha ends with Maya dying due to a bullet wound; the final scene in its Telugu remake, Gharshana, shows her (Asin) recuperating; Jessie in the closing scene of VV advises Karthik to fall in love with another girl and get married; however, in Ye Maaya Chesave, they are shown to have united. This is one question that I would love to confront the director with if I were to ever meet him.

Also, kindly proffer your thoughts on the movie...