THERE IS a certain familiarity about Yennai Arindhaal. In fact, the degree of familiarity is quite high. You’ve seen this before. It’s not original. The only difference is, this is not a remake of any Hollywood flick. This is, in fact, a remake of Gautham Vasudev Menon’s own previous movies, all rolled into one.
YA is all about the “missing” factors. Vaaranam Aayiram is seven years old. Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu, the last good cop-caper Gautham came up with, is ten years old now. While YA brings us to familiar territories, it’s like watching a familiar play that we have not watched for a long time. It’s like going back to watch one of your favourite movies of the past- only that this time, it’s in the theatres, freshly repackaged instead of being relegated to your old DVD copy.
It has also been more than a decade since Ajith Kumar last showed a full range of emotions in his performance. We probably need to turn time around all the way back to Mugavari, back when he was a skinny, boy next door, romantic hero, to have seen him perform with this range and depth. Everything that had come after that, almost everything, was a celebration of his deep, gruff voice, coupled with his machismo factor and his salt and pepper look.
This is all familiar territory- but yet, YA stays with you and wins you over, simply because, Gautham Vasudev Menon is pretty unique. His flair, his style, and his signature is unlike a host of other filmmakers out there. It’s so distinct that one single frame can tell you that you are watching a Gautham film. Because it is only in Gautham’s films that you find this cross-breeder middle class Tamil hero.
Gautham’s heroes are never the lunghi-donning, brash, machete swinging, village ruffian. They are also not the exclusively romantic, I’d do anything for you kind of heroes. His heroes are a marriage of that antiquated Tamil machismo, added with some urban, middle-class treatment, people who are good at what they do- and almost always, grow up through their emotional scars rather than climbing up some corporate ladder.
His heroes never become the most successful people. They are perfectly middle class- like you, me and the person who sits next to us in that cinema. Instead, they strife for the simplicities, to keep a woman happy, to keep a child happy. All that machismo and guns add flavour to the viewing, but it is the distinct handling of human emotions- from the advice of a father to his son to the affection of a father to his daughter, where Gautham thrives.
Because probably there is no other filmmaker who understands the pulse and the emotions of the 70s and 80s babies, many who belong to the urban middle class category. He does it perfectly as he puts a parchment of himself in all those movies he makes. Sometimes, it sounds and feels repetitive. Sometimes, it comes across as a fresh breath of air. On rare occasions like this, it is repetitive but not one to be complained about. It’s that last hurrah for a highly engaging cop trilogy.
Having started with a police story about an officer’s efforts to redeem his kidnapped wife (Kaaka Kaaka), and then having gone to Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu, about an officer who hunts down a serial killer, it is only fitting that Gautham ends his police trilogy with a cop caper that has the narrative of Vaaranam Aayiram, which, in my opinion, was his best piece of work to date.
Telling the life story of a man in an engaging way is a challenge, and here Gautham passes with flying colours. The lack of hangover from his previous films, despite the familiarity, is all down to the leading man- Ajith Kumar. Here, Ajith brings a new level of machismo hitherto unseen of many of Gautham’s previous movies. Probably the only one who matched that level of machismo was Kamal Haasan in VV, but then again the range of Ajith’s performance and the ample space the script provides means that Ajith’s Sathyadev is arguably one of the most well-written singular character in Gautham’s films to date.
The film allows us to see Ajith the cop, Ajith the lover, Ajith the father, Ajith the criminal, and Ajith the man trying to overcome grief. All of them are compelling, and relatable. And like most of Gautham’s heroes, he too lives in a modest crib in an urban setting, trying to make his own sanctuary with the small space available.
And in this day and age when Tamil cinema is riddled with unending chauvinistic portrayal of women in its movies, a GVM movie at any point of time will always bring that freshness- the treatment of the female characters.
And for that to happen merely weeks after Amy Jackson’s body was objectified by every inch for Shankar to make I work, is a refreshing sight. Because, yet again, GVM didn’t need his heroines to don the sexiest of attires or flaunt their assets to make them look attractive.
The fact that Trisha could look so beautiful in just an elaborate saree and a distinctly Tamil look is a testament of how GVM sees his women and how he treats them. While watching all the other “sexy” actresses of South Indian cinema can make the men excited, it is in GVM’s movies that you find female characters that you can fall in love with. There always is an understanding, a reasoning, that you could so relate as to why the male characters in his movies fall in love with the female characters. In the character’s shoes, you’d probably have done the same.
YA’s biggest winning factor is probably its scorching dialogues. Immaculately timed, the dialogues are memorable for both the action sequences and also for the emotional sequences. The way Gautham’s characters always break the ice when it comes to emotions, is a classic expression of an auteur who has made it almost his trademark.
I normally do not rate Harris Jeyaraj highly as a music composer, but his reunion with GVM after seven years is something to savour. Because it is only through GVM’s movies that you see Harris bring his best range to the table- and I have to concede very few compositions this year can top “Unakkena Vennum Sollu”, one of the most poignant songs in recent times.
But, while YA is something we can savour- Gautham might need to thread carefully. Falling back into his regular trappings worked with YA, but it doesn’t always work that way.
When he tried to recreate the Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya effect with Neethane En Ponvasantham within two years of the first film’s release, the hangover was quite bad that a pretty well made film sounded and felt repetitive and didn’t induce a repeat viewing.
Gautham has an admirable touch as a filmmaker. Very few filmmakers are gifted with such touch. A distinct flavour of storytelling, a distinct colour, a distinct shade.
But sticking to the same story formula could also turn people away from the cinemas in the future. Maybe now, Gautham needs to re-discover himself. To keep his midas touch while taking bold risks to venture out and tell a wider range of stories.
GVM’s signature, in recent times, is probably second only to Maniratnam, but while Mani ventured out to experiment with films like Anjali, Kannathil Muthamittal, and Raavan, with one of them becoming a timeless masterpiece (Iruvar), Gautham risks sinking within his own comfort zone and not fulfilling his potential.