Saturday, November 22, 2008
Movie Review: Vaaranam Aayiram
Gautham Menon recites a fantastic ballad in "Vaaranam Aayiram". It is unlike anything he has done before. This movie wastes no time in showing us that it is straight from his heart. The honesty of the emotion and the singular purpose of bringing out the value of a father in a person's life is immediately evident. The movie has several flaws. They poke you and force you to notice them even if you don't want to. But I didn't mind them. There was no flaw that diminished the movie's appeal. The overarching emotional force field that Gautham lays out (and reinforces several times over) around the movie is so strong that I was willingly sucked into the moment. The larger picture that this movie paints is wonderful even if some of the finer details of the painting has smudges and crinkles in them. Ultimately, given the subject matter handled I suspect this movie will appeal more to male audience who resonate with the theme of the movie.
Vaaranam Aayiram tells us a simple and age-old story - about the the valuable influence of Krishnan in his son Surya's life. Surya, an army major, is on his way to execute a rescue mission in Jammu. His helicopter receives a call from base letting him know that his father just passed away. During the long helicopter journey, he sits in the helicopter peers pensively into the clear blue sky and remembers his father's presence during the defining moments of his life. The entire movie is told in slices of flashback almost reminiscent of Alaipayuthey's . Both father and Son are played by actor Surya. The movie opens with a sequence that leads to Krishnan's death. The first time you see Krishnan (A 70'ish old man played by Surya) - the affected gruff voice and the exaggerated old-man walk makes you wonder if it is anyway reflective of the quality of the movie. Thankfully it is not. As we are pulled into Surya's story - we quickly forget the fact that Krishnan is also played by the same actor.
Although the movie claims that Krishnan is struggling finance-wise to make both ends meet, Surya's story is that of any upper-middle-class kid brought up in Madras. Gautham brings out all the finer aspects and emotions that people my age experienced while growing up. The influence of MJ, Arnold, pop music, Ilayaraja, Manirathnam, Godfather, Robert Frost are all brought out very nicely. This in a way includes only a small subsection of the audience and alienates a large section of the audience. However, Gautham goes overboard by making most of the dialogs play out in English. Gautham belongs to a generation, which was taught to ignore Thamizh and express most thoughts and emotions in English. So - to him - it is a language that appears to be a honest vehicle that brings out the subtle emotions that he wants to convey.
Krishnan's role as a parent is again very urban-middle-class. Few fathers and sons who belong to that category should be able to relate to him. Many might not. Krishnan loves his wife openly and unabashedly ( a very positive attitude for his generation - because people who were like him were traditionally ridiculed). He indulges his son like a friend and appears to play the role of an influencer rather than an autocrat. It might be hard for many to believe that such relationship is possible in India (especially in Thamizh Nadu). But as counter-intuitive as it sounds - it does happen. My father still can't stop talking about this movie. I know many father-son types who can relate to this. However, I am sure many in my extended family would dismiss this movie as an "english kaaran padam". Many scenes had a stamp of class in it. When Krishnan drops his son off at the hostel and makes that comment about letters (I wrote several letters to my parents and cried every time they dropped me and left) was fantastic. He lets his son know that he is no longer a boy but a man in his own right. What a nice way to motivate a boy! Simply remarkable. There are many more such moments. This is just a tip of the iceberg.
I did not find this movie too long (I can see why some thought a few scenes were scene unnecessary). I wasn't looking for quick entertainment and was quite prepared to sit back and let the movie flow into me. It could take however long it wanted to pause, linger and create its own moments. I was in no hurry. Gautham does not hold himself back. He goes ahead and expresses every single thought of his in his own terms. Reminded me of Manirathnam's Iruvar (although VA is not in Iruvar's class). Surya's story is that of a young, fearless (and quite reckless) boy who follows his instincts and "lives life in his own terms". Surya falls in love with Meghna and pursues her to the end of the world. He lives through life's great disappointments and grows up to be the man who has seen it all.
This might not be Gautham's own story but may have certain elements of his life incorporated into it. Sameera Reddy looks really beautiful. Divya Spandana isn't bad looking either. Surya impresses with his eye movements and his body language. I couldn't believe the scene where he played a 15 year old school boy. In May 2007 when Karthi told me about this with great surprise, I didn't quite get it. Now I do. The scene where Surya expresses surprise when Sameera reciprocates his love was remniscent of Jyotika's surprise when Surya agrees to marry her in "Kaakha Kaakha". Divya's proposal to Surya was also very similar to Jyothika's proposal to Surya in the same movie. I liked the emotion in both the movies. Among songs, I liked "Adiye Kolluthey", "Nenjikkul Peithidum", "Mundhinam paarthene". The rest were poor.
Gautham needn't have made the movie's flaws this noticeable. Nobody gets 99% in B.E. That too in REC, Trichy. Forget about that ridiculous visa interview - what visa did Surya get to go to the US? How is he in valid visa status? His business that he starts as a vendor for TVS and TI is confusing. The dappan-kuthu song, the Delhi adventure and the montages of army Surya were unnecessary and could have been edited. Usage of words like "kiddo" and "honey" shows needless hollywood influence and sounds out-of-place in this movie. From a commercial POV, I couldn't help but feel that this movie is too sophisticated and too self-indulgent for the mass audience. The audience is not known to be a patient and Gautham Menon, switches modes from ganster-cop type movies, and really tests the patience of this audience. I was happy he brought Annanagar Tower back into movie focus again. It is a location of many memorable movie scenes and it is a welcome return.
What particularly disappointed me towards the end was the recitation of the first two lines of Andal's "Vaaranam Aayiram" and the explanation of its meeting. While the movie's name and story might have made a lot of sense in Gautham's head and script - its translation into the movie medium may not have been that effective. The mention of the title in the last scene actually reminded me of S. Ve. Sekhar's "Kaatula Mazhai" ending dialogs where the actors deliberately say the title of the drama just to ridicule the habit. Another thing - When I saw Prithvi Raj, I really thought "dei namma Babloo da" (just the way the actor feared in his interview).
When Ayitha Ezhuthu was released and Karthi got me tickets for First Day show - we had an interesting post-movie discussion on engaging the audience that I find relevant to VA. He asked me if I experienced "high-points" during this movie?. Apparently these "high points" are considered important for a movie. Directors aim for scenes that take the audience emotions to a high. They try to wow them every now and then. Convetional wisom holds that the number of "high points" is proportional to the movie's success. Vaaranam Aayiram does not have that many high points. It does not have many twists or turns. So if this theory is right, this movie will not click. But its a damn good movie.