Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa: Tracing the enduring legacy Of Gautham Menon’s classic love story, starring STR, Trisha
Gautham Menon's 2010 classic Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa is not a battle of the sexes. It's a reminder that in the world, you don't always get what you want.
In 2010 when Gautham Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa introduced us to Karthik and Jessie, the two protagonists in the film, something strange happened. It made a lot of us stop and re-evaluate our notions of an romantic film in the modern era.
There’s magic in the air, right from the moment Karthik sees Jessie, dressed in a blue sari in the middle of the road, to the moment where both of them meet each other years later in New York and contemplate their relationship. Simbu and Trisha played the two roles in the Tamil version, whereas in Telugu, where it was titled Ye Maya Chesave, Naga Chaitanya and Samantha played these roles. Although the story was the same, Ye Maya Chesave had a different climax, but the ending of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa has, since, sparked intense debate on if it was the right thing to do and what happens to the two characters after that.
Truth be told, there are only a handful of filmmakers who have defined the idea of romance, beyond what Mani Ratnam has been doing for more than 30 years now, in Tamil or Telugu cinema. And Gautham Menon is one of the prominent filmmakers who has captured the zeitgeist of the 21st century, especially when it comes to portraying romance on screen. Whether it was Minnale or Kaakha Kaakha, the moments of serendipity between characters are turned into a strong expression of love, intimacy, and conflict. In an era where most romantic films barely spend time in developing characters of the two protagonists, what Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, perhaps Gautham Menon’s best work yet, achieves is nothing short of remarkable. It turns a simple boy-meets-girl trope into a deeper exploration of their fears, desires, faults, strengths. It’s a more humane form of a quintessential cinematic love story.
This is the story of Karthik and Jessie, who fall in love with each other, but they realise that neither their relationship nor their life is going to be a smooth ride. Karthik, a mechanical engineering graduate and an aspiring filmmaker, moves to a new house along with his family and on the first day, he falls in love with Jessie, who lives upstairs. It doesn’t take too long for Karthik to confess his love for Jessie, but she isn’t the kind of woman who’ll respond immediately. She walks away, and without telling him, goes off to Alleppey. He follows her all the way to her hometown, much to her surprise, and apologises to her. We are told that at this moment, Jessie has begun liking him. And when she’s about to return to Chennai, she’s thrilled that Karthik too is going to accompany her.
Much later, she tells Karthik that she was angry and upset because she, too, realised she was in love with him when Karthik first confessed his feelings to her. eventually, they fall in love, they fight with each other, they get frustrated that their relationship isn’t going anywhere, they try to reconcile while understanding that their love isn’t enough to make others happy. And then, when they dig into their memories, life happens.
There’s something very fascinating about the women in Menon’s films. It’s not just about how they look or dress up, but the duality of their persona, which makes them both strong and also vulnerable when it comes to matters of the heart, the conflict within between their desires and battles they’ve to fight to win in the end, are just some of the things that stand out. Jessie in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa is all that and more. Her mood-swings, while trying to convince herself and her family about Karthik, set the tone for the film. One time, Karthik nearly convinces her to elope with him, but she asks him to leave because she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents. “I’ll convince them, somehow,” she tells Karthik. The two kiss each other on a moonlit night and if you thought this couldn’t get any more romantic, AR Rahman surprises you with the stunning score of 'Mannipayya'. It might very well be the most intimate love story in the past couple of decades.
Filmmakers often turn love stories into a battle of sexes, where the conflict is resolved when the characters set aside their egos or when their misunderstandings about each other are cleared. This is precisely where Gautham Menon takes a different route. In Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, Karthik almost worships Jessie, so much that even when she pushes him away from his life, he doesn’t hold a major grudge against her. On the other hand, Jessie is forced to come to terms with what she really wants in life — does she want to be with Karthik? Or should she make her parents happy? — Because, she can’t have both without being a rebel. There are layers to her character and the more Menon nudges us to understand Jessie, it feels like he’s guiding us to also understand why it’s so hard to take such decisions. In his world, people don’t always get what they want.
Eight years after the release of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, in a recent interview with Baradwaj Rangan, when Gautham Menon revealed that his next film is going to be a sequel to Vinnaithaandi Varuvayaa (VTV), where Karthik and his friends go on a road trip and reflect on their life, it made me wonder if VTV was Menon’s version of the Before Sunrise trilogy. It’s love at first sight for Karthik and Jessie, but soon, both of them are engulfed by the pain that their budding relationship brings into their life. After all
these years, even though they might have gotten busy with their respective lives, would Karthik and Jessie come to terms with what they could have done differently when they were young? Or do they see a future together now?
Couple of years ago, when this writer interviewed Menon, he said, “You know what...I don’t rewrite my scripts. There’s no second draft of my story. Whatever I put on paper the first time is the film I want to make.” He has already showed us what it feels like to fall in love and the pain that comes along with it. Now, as he gears up to make the sequel, Gautham Menon is unlocking a treasure chest which has been buried deep in our memories. Who knows what else is going to tumble out of it and more importantly,
I wonder, if our idea of what love feels like will change once again. It’s a pity that the original film didn’t lead to more Jessies being introduced in the cinematic universe. For now, she’s pretty in a league of her own. After all, it’s not every time you get to say — “When there are so many women in this world, why did I fall in love with only Jessie?” Some memories are worth living for.
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