Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya has been showered with praises aplenty since the movie hit screens almost one year ago. The film particularly had a personal impact on me, just like how it did on thousands of other Indians who have watched this film the world over.
So I was pretty much unable to pass any in-depth comments when I first watched the film last year when it was fresh in theatres. It wasn’t until a television rerun recently that I chanced upon the movie and managed to watch it fully for a second time, and this time in a more detached manner.
But there was one thing that I agreed with a friend of mine (who is also a cinema connoisseur) when the film was fresh off the oven, and that is VTV (the abbreviation it goes by) is not a better film than Gautham’s previous film Vaaranam Aayiram.
It seemed though that for being more politically correct, VTV earned more approval from elite critics rather than Vaaranam. My friend somewhat unfavorably pointed out that the Indian audiences are so used to larger than life sentiments that they basically never find it appealing when a film tries to glorifies the subdued contribution of a father towards a son’s life. Both Abhiyum Naanum (though this film has a great problem of its own that I’m very critical of) and Vaaranam shared a similar fate in terms of its response from the audiences.
Believe it or not, many people’s grudge with Varanam is one major loophole in the film’s narration, whereby Surya travels to United States to meet his love even though it was well-documented prior that his family is struggling for complete financial liberty.
Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya is, in its own right, a well-intentioned, perfectly suave, elegant movie that celebrated the beauty of love, even if the relationship couldn’t have a happy ending. In an industry where our audiences are so used either the fairytale triumph against all odds and barriers, or a rather morbid, blood shed, heartache ending, VTV treads in between both, it’s simply en ending that resonates life’s natural law and beauty.
It’s the kind of attempt that would please any Tamil cinema lover and critic like me, and be embraced with both hands by the same. The film also related greatly to many of the lovers outside there, and thus attained a cult film status.
This is probably owing to the fact that the film is a true story (according to some sources, it is the true story of one of Gautham’s assistants). It related greatly to real life situations, and it beautifully narrated how life sometimes doesn’t let two lovers unite. It is also arguable that Gautham drew inspiration from the cult Hollywood flick 500 days of Summer, which had a similar undertone and capacity of looking at life’s bad endings in beautiful way.
The film’s positives have been waxed lyrical about in the past, so I would not go there for a first. VTV has many positives, but also has its shares of shortcomings.
I have in the past championed the cause of more matured female portrayals in the film, and apart from VTV, no other film had the capacity of portraying a very real, next-door female character. But yet while Gautham was consciously trying to break those grounds in this film, he also seems to consciously have some convenient aspects of characterization.
In 500 days of Summer for example, the female character isn’t your conventional one. She is deeply flawed, uncertain to a certain extent, very independent, and has been with men before prior to our hero here. In VTV, Trisha is yet another in the long line of heroines in the ‘naan entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ stereotype. We had had this kind of characterization countless of times in Tamil films, so much that it tires me.
We need to note that most ‘good’ films in this industry are set in rural backdrops, so it’s not often we get gems like VTV. In fact, like some point out, it’s probably the first film since Alaipayuthey to genuinely act as a story about two people. When some films charter the urban territory, filmmakers seem somewhat afraid of portraying the complexity of urban women and the history comes with it.
You have to admit that in the current urbane climate, even in Chennai, the ‘entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ types are hard to come by. Mani Ratnam’s Meera character from Aayitha Ezhuttu is probably the most in-depth female character in Tamil cinema, and yet it was short-lived.
And of course there is the whole love at first sight aspect. While the film presents itself as being so realistic, the way the two characters fall in love looks a tad out of place, though it can be forgiven thanks to a great song (Hosanna) and subsequent tempo.
Real love hardly happens in a similar way, and there is an element of disconnectedness about the movie there.
Probably I’m setting the bar too high, but it has been some ten years since Alaipayuthey hit the theatres, and we are somewhat at crossroads in terms of developing maturity in our films, and thus it is also a crucial time when our filmmakers can attempt to be a tad more bold. It’s time to push envelopes and test waters. If such hesitancy remains, it might take ten more years before we can take one more step forward, and thus wait ten more years for another genuine love story.
One of the best illustrations of female portrayal in regular Tamil films can be viewed through the films of one of the industry’s most recognized hit directors- Hari.
I had the chance of watching both Vel and Aaru in recent days and it dawned on me pretty quickly that the director’s perception of the female gender and his interpretation of ‘good’ to be as shallow as any.
In both films, one can witness countless of innuendos towards ‘skimpy dresses’ and interpretations that only girls who cover up as considered as ‘good’.
Vel flaunts most of this shallowness, where Surya’s character will charade with ‘pass marks’ for well-clad women while doing his supposedly ‘detective’ job. If that is the requirement in order to evaluate a girl’s ‘goodness’, one doesn’t need to be a detective in order to diagnose that fact. This mentality has already consumed our Indian culture like a vulture and any man with a half-baked brain would tend to make similar judgements when judging which is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ girl.
It certainly doesn’t help that our film condone rather than trying to clamp down on this dangerously consuming mentality.
I don’t need to go very far aback in order to name two films that best epitomize the mentality that clearly exists within the film industry itself when it comes to the male-female dynamism.
As recent as last year, we saw Vishal play a Casanova in Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai. Only in our industry will we witness films desperately trying to glorify a Casanova act as being forgivable, and at the same time the heroine who gets the guy at the end of the film will be well-clad, well-covered homely girl who will forgive and accept because of the genuineness of the Casanova.
If this bias doesn’t convince you, then Manmadhan will. The 2004 film was a runaway hit. The film tries so hard to justify a man’s Casanova murder acts because the girls whom he beds and subsequently kills are ‘bad’ girls who ‘cheat’ on guys.
Let me ask this question- what about the very lead character? He too beds multiple women in order to murder them, what makes his supposed goal and ambition more ‘pure’ than the woman who cheats?
What then about the countless amount of guys (and obviously larger amount) who cheat on their women?
Could a female Casanova a-la Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct come on the screen, strip, bed, kiss them and later kill this men. Would she be celebrated a-la a hero and have a guy genuinely love her because she is contributing to a pure cause?
Would our audiences make such a film as big a hit a Manmadhan-, which is an immature, shallow, one-sided film, made by a 21-year-old young adult (Simbhu’s age back in 2004) who is probably just bitter about one past failed relationship?
Unless a day comes when we have the maturity to reject an entertaining film because of its blatant chauvinistic attitude, our industry will linger with the same biasness that has haunted us for years.