I'm not a big fan of Gautham Vasudevan Menon. I have watched his Minnale, Kaakka Kaakka and Varanam Aayiram. But I've enjoyed some moments in the movies, some characters, Harris Jeyaraj's music and Thamarai's lyrics. So, when Menon decides to make a movie with 'Jack-in-the-box' Silambarasan and Trisha, I sat up and took notice. My friends warned me about Silambarasan's tendency to break into a jig every few minutes but their fears on that account were unfounded. Silambarasan delivers well.
The last time a casting of this kind happened, was when Mani Rathnam picked Mohan to play the Delhi-based executive, Chandrakumar who marries Revathy's Divya in Mouna Ragam. Ironically, like Vinnaithaandi Varuvaasya's Jessie, Divya also exasperates the people around her. Chandrakumar is heroic, not for his boxing abilities (or his singing), but for his stoic regard for his wife. And I must say, Divya had some immensely redeemable characteristics. compared to VTV's Jessie. I suppose that's as much comparison I'm willing to make.
Another change in the the Gautham Vasudevan Menon camp is the use of A.R.Rahman to score the music instead of Harris Jeyaraj who delivered stupendously well as recently as in Menon's own Vaaranam Aayiram. VTV has some catchy music, and some snatches leap out at you, some you hum unconsciously, but overall, I simply didn't take to it. Sure, some music you grow fond of, but this one, I am not so sure about. Thamarai , the lyricist, writes in Thamizh, not Tamil, so some of the words, phrases and imagery she uses are not familiar to those of us whose second language is not Tamil. I must confess I haven't been a big lyrics buff in Tamil cinema, but I was so looking forward to see how they would be in this movie. I did feel that the lyrics felt disconnected from the music.
I would tend to agree with Bharadwaj Rangan's observations on the movie and wholeheartedly back him on referring in one instance to the female protagonist as Messy Jessie. But I'm much less skilled a film critic than he is, much less passionate about cinema than he is, and am going to stick my neck out on this one and say it - I disliked Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya.
Karthik (Silambarasan) narrates his tale of falling madly in love with Jessie (Trisha), his neighbour. The challenges are many. She is a year older than him. She has seen all of 5 movies in her life and Karthik just so happens to be an aspiring film director. Jessie also belongs to a staunch Kerala Christian family and believes that her family will not agree to her marrying Karthik. Her fears are not unfounded.
(But here's what foxes me. Karthik lies to his parents that he is not in love with her, and Jessie lies to her parents that she is not in love with him. However, if you thought this lying was intended to nobly protect a love that is fragile in the midst of so much external opposition, wait till you get to the second half. )
Jessie dilly-dallies right through the movie by first spurning Karthik's advances citing external differences, then she gets close to him. Then again, she gets engaged as per her dad's wishes, then changes her mind. At the interval point, Jessie comes across as gutsy and Karthik implies as much to Ganesh. Maybe they should have ended the movie at the interval instead of subjecting us to Jessie's fickleness in the second half. Jessie swears to her family never to meet Karthik again, but breaks the promise. Then she gets engaged again to someone else and so on. Karthik, in the midst of Jessie's indecision, enters the film industry. His being on location in Goa and being inaccessible to Jessie only messes her up further. She is convinced the relationship will not work. This leaves hapless exasperated Karthik wondering why of all the women in the world, he had to fall for this one. And trust me, he comes up with this line time and again in varying degrees of both affection and exasperation so often, you begin to wonder too.
Ganesh, a DOP (Director of Photography) who has worked with Menon in the past, plays himself and gets the best lines in the movie. He is a mentor, friend and confidante to Karthik, helping him ease into the film world where he is trying to carve a niche for himself. Ganesh also supports Karthik's wooing of Jessie. I personally liked the equation they share.
There were a lot of nifty story-telling techniques used in VTV especially the end (I can't reveal more) and the inside jokes about the industry were pretty good. My favourite scene was the night Jessie confesses her love for Karthik in the garden of her ancestral home in Kerala and he leaves by boat, elated in the knowledge that his love is reciprocated. One of the most memorably shot night scenes in in recent times.
Audiences may have empathised with this experience of first love but speaking for myself, I simply couldn't muster up any enjoyment for it. VTV is touted to be realistic, perhaps in the portrayal of Jessie and in the way the story shifts in the last few scenes. On the other hand, Karthik turns out to be conveniently trained in boxing so he could thulp Jessie's brother in self-defence. Where's the realism in that? I understand the filmmaker's challenge of portraying internal shifts within the protagonists as conflict. But would doing a different, much better job even be a possibility with Messy Jessie as a protagonist?
If this is unconventional, I'll take formula any day.