Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa was one of the few non-Ratman Tamil movies recommended to me and, more importantly, was available through my library, so I watched it last weekend. And then the first song started and I went “Hey! I know this soundtrack!” Ever since Ekk Deewana Tha started being promoted 4 years ago, I have listened to the Ekk Deewana Tha/Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya/Ye Maaye Chaseve at least once a week, if not once a day. It is really really good. So that was an odd point of familiarity/unfamiliarity from which to start.
The thing about this movie, I think, is that it presents a romance as it would be seen by a horny 20 year old. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of obsession, a lot of sexual frustration. But it’s still a romance, a real love story with real love there. Just without the softening of maturity, or innocence of youth, that we usually see. For the most part, it doesn’t even have the more complex emotional intelligence that is usually brought in through the female perspective. He loves her because he loves her and he doesn’t see anything past that.
With that as a baseline, there were a few things I found really interesting in how the heroine was presented. First, there were definitely times when our hero was frustrated because he felt “Jessie” had all the power over him. That he was completely controlled by his desires and her refusal to allow physical contact was a form of torture. Not to mention her constant back and forth on her willingness to marry him, to date him, to spend time with him at all. This is not the perspective on romance we usually see! And they even put in a whole song about it:
Really two songs:
Besides the male perspective, it also has the very specific perspective of someone who is physically mature enough to be in love, but trapped in a situation where they aren’t able to have a relationship. This is the other song that kept going through my head the whole time:
It’s a really interesting idea for a love story, no big problems or complex conflicts, just the push and pull of this overwhelming emotion as it runs up against the realities of age, finances, family, all the things you have to think about when you are in love and only 22/23. It actually felt really familiar to me from the things people in my friends group have struggled with. Not the specifics, of course, I don’t think I know anyone who had an arranged marriage. But the idea of being in love and ready to commit, but not able to find a job or afford an apartment or any of the other things that need to happen before a young couple can start a life together.
The timeline was another way in which it felt familiar. This wasn’t a love at first sight kind of thing, or at least not the normal filmi love at first sight. The backing and forthing and breaking up and making up, and getting a little closer each time, that all felt very real to the dating world. It’s not the kind of relationship you usually see in Indian film where it goes from first meeting to married within weeks.
The only other times I can remember hearing references to relationships like this in films is when they are the “bad” relationships, the ex-boyfriend the heroine will mention who she dated in college and it didn’t go anywhere. The hero’s first love who he thinks of fondly but is now ready to marry someone else. To have the main couple of the film be the one that is a little hesitant about the commitment, a little cautious about getting together, that is radical.
One thing I kept thinking of while watching it was “oh, this is the nightmare situation for an Indian father!” It’s not that she fell in love at first sight so much, it’s that there was a boy who kept talking to her, who became her friend, who held her hand, who slowly wore her down into being willing to consider having sex before marriage, eloping, doing things which would horribly embarrass her family. This is why there is all that concern about boys and girls being alone together and talking to each other and stuff! Because even if a girl doesn’t fall in love at first sight, if you give him an inch, he will take a mile!
By about half way, I was actually getting a little worried about our hero, because he was beginning to cross the line from cute and in love to harassment. I think what did it for me was when he tried to argue that since she allowed him to touch her a few times, she was clearly in love with him and, more over, he had the right to date her. But right as he tip-toed up to the line, she finally admitted that she had feelings for him as well, and the previous scenes got changed back from creepy harassment, to him sensing her feelings and trying to bring them out.
The heroine did a really good job, by the way. I didn’t realize how good until I watched Varsham later the same day and almost didn’t recognize her! In this, her face is constantly moving, she is always worrying at her mouth or making little movements with her eyes. But her body is fairly still, and she always kind of holds herself quietly and makes herself small. She projects what she is supposed to project, a woman who is self-contained and confident, but very private, revealing her internal conflicts only in small movements. She also makes herself appear less strikingly beautiful. In Varsham, she is supposed to be so beautiful that a director might notice her in a crowd and cast her in his next film. In this, she is supposed to be beautiful once you notice her. But not someone you would necessarily notice right away. Our hero is in love with her, her father is easily able to find her a husband, but you don’t get a sense that she is constantly being followed by boys hitting on her, that she is even used to thinking of herself as particularly desirable.
By about half way through the movie, I started to get really irritated and on edge every time she showed up onscreen, but again, I think that is actually a testament to her acting. Because by that point, the heroine was so conflicted, with guilt and shame and worry tearing her apart, that even watching her became stressful. Well, except for one thing that surely wasn’t on purpose, her hair was terrible! It looked like she was recovering from a bad perm maybe, the ends were really fried, all crimped up and faded and blech! If they couldn’t do a new perm or similar (because the character was supposed to have such a natural look), at least they should have looked into a wig!
The hero did a good job as well, very different kind of energy from her. He was all fire and confidence and certainty, constantly primed towards his goal. He was believable in the early earnest scenes, and also in the few ending scenes, when we saw her removed from his life, and how he kind of faded a little, became less, once she was no longer there to inspire him. We also saw that maturity kick in, where suddenly everything wasn’t life or death and now or never.
I also really liked how film was woven into the plot. The ending, of course, which was brilliant. But even before then, their romance is mentored and nurtured by the film crew our hero works with, even to the point of using a location shoot to first reunite and later separate them. At their first magical meeting after a separation, our hero’s mentor starts singing a love song from Bombay. And eventually, our hero takes their whole love story and turns it into his first movie. I like the idea that film serves as a reference point and a support for all romances like this.
(I think it’s this Bombay song)
But, let’s talk about that ending! Back when the Hindi version came out, I remember looking up the original, and then the Telugu remake, and seeing that all three versions had a slightly different ending. I didn’t remember which way this one was going to go, but I knew no matter what there was going to be a moment when it switched from the “real” story to the story as our hero tried to re-create it on screen. I thought either it would be really obvious, or not noticeable at all, but actually it was beautifully done right in between the two.
After a whole movie of awkward start and stop conversations and difficulty expressing exactly how they really feel, our hero is finally able to give a really beautiful speech. Still a realistic and natural one, but definitely a monologue, delivered in a meditative and calm way, instead of in his angry bursts like before. Okay, maybe that is just a sign of maturity, since it is now a few years later. But then she responds with a bigger smile and greater eagerness and comfort than every before, and that also seems odd. Again, maybe just a sign of maturity, of being comfortable in herself. And then the song starts and it is really obvious. I love this song, by the way. It may be my favorite on the album, even more than Hosanna. It is just pure joy, straight through. Which is when I knew we had to be in the “movie” part. Because their romance hasn’t been pure joy, hasn’t been singing to each other and spinning around and everything working out, it’s been a lot of work and pain and adjustments, and there is no way they would magically work it all out this well in the last five minutes.
And, they didn’t. I knew there was a 1 in 3 chance the wouldn’t, because I remembered that one of the three versions had a downer ending, but not which one. But by the time it happens, I am actually kind of okay with that ending. I like it better than the happy ones that were apparently grafted onto the other versions. Because this wasn’t a happy or healthy or good romance, start to finish. He pushed and pushed and pushed, and she resisted and resisted and resisted, they had moments of pure happiness, but a lot more moments of agony and missed connections. And she is completely right that he should move on and find someone better, someone easier.
Apparently the director is working on a sequel right now, and I am really curious about that. I could see it going one of two ways. Either, they will meet up again and this time really be able to connect, he will be more settled in his life and desires, she will be more independent and brave, everything will work out. Maybe there will be drama with more familial/societal objections, but they themselves will be more sure of what they want and able to stand up to it now.
Or, it will be the story of him letting go of her, finally. He will listen to her advice at the end of this film and find someone who makes him happy, someone who loves him and is able to be with him without all this pain. And we will see how she has been able to move on as well, and has a happy life with her husband.
I would actually be fine with either way. So long as the director lets them both grow up a little, and lets them come together in a new way, instead of trying to sell their original romance as perfect and flawless and destined. Because I think it is a lot more interesting to look at it as something that was inherently doomed, because of their personalities and life situations at that exact moment in time.
Actually, what it reminded me of a lot in terms of themes (not plot or anything like that) was Lamhe. It even has the same repeated term, “moments”. Both movies are about a barely grown boy falling in love with an older and more settled woman. And how the boy just refuses to let go of his love, holding on to it to an almost unhealthy degree.
In Lamhe, while the first half shows our hero feeding his obsession and passion, and how his love is almost a noble thing, forcing him to make mature sacrificial decisions and grow up in a lot of ways, the second half shows the importance of learning how to just let it go. That’s why the title loosely translates to “moments.” He is holding on to those past moments so hard that he is unable to see and appreciate and experience the present moments.
In this film, they kept talking about “moments” as well, but not moments of happiness, rather moments when it all went wrong, when they could have made a different choice. Our hero can’t move forward, because he keeps thinking about how it could have happened differently. Our heroine won’t let herself look back, because she can’t afford to wonder what might have been. That’s what the sequel needs to deal with, letting her finally acknowledge her regret, and letting him stop acknowledging it.
Also, more awesome songs.
(Maybe I like “Hosanna” best after all?)