When Maya tells Anbuchelvan “I want to make love to you...” the so-called moral police in the Tamil-speaking world didn’t quite know whether they heard those words right. (Must be just another way of saying ‘I love you’? No machaan ...she really said what we think she did!) And with that was born the heroine who would profess her love first, who would propose to a guy first and who would travel all the way to his army camp to spend time with him before marriage!
The hero, on the other hand, would take a plane to the US of A with a guitar strapped to his back, suffering the loss of love deeply. He would also choose an MBA over his girlfriend, repent later and he would pine for Jessy, and marry a single mom — all in the name of love.
Different films, different couples, but the idea of love in the time of Gautham Vasudev Menon has never been the same since Minnale (2001). Even Menon’s cop stories had strong women who, despite their confusion and impulsive actions, stood out from their male counterparts.
Aaradhana was an essential part of the story in Kamal Haasan-starrer Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006). In Vettaiyaadu…, Haasan’s character Raghavan loses his wife (played by Kamalini Mukherjee — and her character is no pushover either!) to gang violence.
Men and women are real in Gautham Menon’s films. We seem almost to know them, from our own lives. “Hey...that’s me there!” is a constant refrain among viewers when the interactions between his protagonists play out on screen, like conversations over cups of coffee (let’s make that green tea — the director’s favourite).
Rajesh (R Madhavan) and Reena (Reema Sen) of Minnale were a bit awkward when they conversed, mainly because the former is a silent, macho type fighting a rival for Reena’s affection. But Maya (Jyothika) and Anbuchelvan (Suriya) of Kaakha Kaakha nailed these conversations to perfection! Amid acid-throwing local goons to a villain who kidnaps Maya lies a touching love story.
Upfront and in touch with their feelings, love turned another page in Vettaiyaadu... where the police officer Raghavan knows early on that he’s falling hard for Aaradhana, whose failed marriage has left her with a baby girl our hero promises to embrace in his life. Aaradhana makes Raghavan wait as she needs to be sure that his feelings are not fleeting or motivated by pity. The film has a heady climax as Kamal Haasan searches for his love amid the rubble.
Gautham Menon’s films promised instant box-office gratification, new stories, and characters that were larger-than-life (and yet, contained within life).
By the time Jyothika took on a negative role in Pachaikili Muthucharam (2007), the trademark monosyllable dialogues shifted from Mani Ratnam’s domain to Gautham Menon’s. So did the urban hero and heroine, whose mannerisms and attire were drawn from everyday life.
Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) was a milestone in Suriya’s career. It had him convincingly play both father and son in a double role. Then there’s the music from Menon’s films — be it by Harris Jayaraj, Ilaiyaraaja or AR Rahman, the albums are as big a hit as the movies, with each song looked forward to on screen.
The songs, styling and ambience go hand-in-hand with the emotions. The dialogues convey a lot of thought. Neethaane En Ponvasantham (2012) followed a cult classic like Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (2010) and was not met with the same euphoria. VTV, on the other hand, re-launched Simbu and Trisha’s careers as the two of them played out an on-off love saga, where the hero deals with unrequited love and the heroine sets the terms of their relationship!
VTV’s dialogues have now attained iconic status, such as this line: “Inga enna solludhu? Jessy, Jessy solludha!” [Pointing to the heart: “What does it say here? Jessy, Jessy!”] And the Casablanca take-off: “Of all the women in the world, why did I have to fall in love with Jessy?”
A day before VTV released, the single point of contention was “will people sit through this long conversational film?” Love in most Tamil films consisted of a ‘song at first sight’, ‘duet at second’ and ‘happy family number at third’! And here was Gautham Menon rewriting those rules! If Kaakha Kaakha set a precedent, with a woman proposing to a man, VTV set one for a woman to reject her paramour.
This year marks Gautham Menon’s 15th, as a filmmaker, and his Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (Tamil) and its Telugu language version, Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo, release on 11 November. Simbu and Naga Chaitanya (who reprised the former’s role in the Telugu version of VTV as well) are paired with Majima Mohan in this romance-action tale, and the music by AR Rahman is already a chartbuster in both languages.
Menon’s films have certain typical motifs — bikes, families, friends, guitars and a humour that blends with the narrative. Then there are the good-looking leading men (Madhavan, Suriya, Kamal Haasan, Simbu and Ajith) and gorgeous, natural heroines (Jyothika, Asin, Trisha, Samantha, Anushka, Manjima) — also the USP of a Gautham Menon film.
And then of course, there’s the emotion of love, which in a Gautham Menon film, is for keeps.