Tuesday Tamil: Vaaranam Aayiram, the Son is the Mirror of the Father

I finally watched it!  After promising for ages and ages and ages.  And it was exhausting!  SO MUCH HAPPENED!!!!!  Also, proved what I thought after Arjun Reddy, that kind of hardcore plot was nothing new.

When Gautham’s films are promoted as “autobiographical”, they mean loosely, right?  I mean, he couldn’t possibly have had multiple unfulfilled love affairs, involving multiple instances of train travel, footplay, and women who never reveal how they feel until the last minute when they make a sudden advance, and then have sex with him.  Not to mention multiple exotic trips to find himself, multiple sudden career changes, and so on and so on.  This one in particular, I just can’t believe is ACTUALLY autobiographical.  So let’s say that it’s autobiographical in that it reflects his feelings towards his father.  But not all the other over the top stuff.

I don’t mind the over the top stuff in this film, because that feelings towards his father part of it really works.  That’s the purpose of all the over the top stuff, I think, to make sense of his relationship to his father.  To honor him by showing everything that his son survived thanks to him.  Only, in a filmi way so the audience will pay attention and feel it the way Gautham probably felt it.  Not like a small thing you could get past, but like huge horrible tragedies in which you had only your parents to hold on to.  And that’s how it feels when you fail a test or have a bad break up, or whatever other undramatic thing actually happens in your life.  But for the audience to relate to that feeling, it has to be something even more huge and dramatic, like to a degree that anyone would think it was terrible, and be relieved and happy when your father showed up to make it all better.

And because the film is a nice mixture of dramatic and undramatic.  Our hero’s life is ridiculously crazy.  But his parents had a super sweet simple college romance, and a happy simple life start to finish.  Every time he returns to their house, we can feel the weight of the world fall from his shoulders as everything becomes calm and still and simple.

As always when I review a Gautham Menon film, I feel the need to point out that our hero doesn’t really have an arch.  He starts perfect and continues that way.  Sure, lots of stuff happens to him, but there are no innate flaws.  And also as always when I review a Gautham Menon film, I feel the need to point out that there are justifiable narrative reasons for this lack of flaws.  A bunch of terrible stuff happens to our hero.  But he himself is good, which is a tribute to his parenting.  Part of honoring his father in this story is honoring his ability to raise a decent brave respectful caring honest young man.

And because of all of this, it is important that the father and son are played by the same actor.  Because the son is a reflection of the father, they are two sides of the same person.  And Suriya does a brilliant job showing that.  His son is a different man than his father, but in the little ways they are the same.  A little moment of turning the head, of looking away, and suddenly you can see one in the other.  But the rest of the time, not at all.  He creates two completely different people who happen to share a face and a few mannerisms, but have more different than the same.

And that’s on top of Suriya’s ability to play a character from teenage years through late 30s.  There’s stuff to help him, a truly unfortunate and therefore brilliant teenage wig and beard, a mustache at the end when he is a man, a stop at bearded crazy man in the middle, but a lot of it is just him.  The teenage years are especially impressive, he perfectly captures that kind of “uncomfortable with his own body” attitude of the teenage boy, trying to somehow be smaller and larger at the same time.  His “regular” years end up being the least interesting, when he is a carefree college student, no need to pretend to be younger, or to be tortured or tormented, just straight acting.  Made me miss the funky kid before and made me a little releaved when he got a bit complicated again later.

Suriya is brilliant, but there is another actor who almost steals the film from him.  Not the love interest (kind of bland, really), or his sister or his friends or anyone else, but his mother.  Simran is a different kind of mother than we see in other films.  Yes, she is loving and wise and all of that.  But she is also still passionately in love with her husband and vice versa (I am just not going to think about Suriya having to switch between giving her the sex eyes and the “I love you Mommy” eyes scene by scene).  And she also has doubts and fears and heartbreaks.  She isn’t the Goddess-like heroic mother, she is the confused and scared sometimes and sad sometimes and happy and laughing sometimes mother.  I can’t think of a mother like this on film except for, well, Simran’s other famous mother performance!  Kannathil Muthamittal , and now I have to take a moment to breath deeply and not cry.  Too much.

Okay, I am back!  Right, Simran is AMAZING.  Especially considering she has to spend most of her time acting opposite a camera.  It’s really clever how they took a problem and made it an opportunity.  Because Suriya is playing both father and son, they couldn’t easily film the two actors in the same frame. And so most of the scenes of Father Suriya are filmed strictly from his son’s perspective.  The camera moves forward, is embraced, a tika put on it, it gets a loving smile from both parents, and so on and so forth.  Amazingly impactful in making us feel like they are our parents, why they were such wonderful parents, what a loss it is to Suriya to no longer have that strong partnership to return to.

The next most wonderful actor is Ramya.  Who I felt like I had seen in something before, but so far as I can tell I have in fact not.  She also has to age up, from innocent teenager to mature woman.  And she has to do it in only a few impactful scenes.

And then there’s Samara Reddy.  Who is okay, but doesn’t have quite as much to do.  I appreciate that her heroine isn’t just a simple dream girl type, but on the other hand she kind of is?  Because she has to be, we are in our hero’s head, and he sees her that way, as magical and happy and perfect at all times.

One final thing before I get to SPOILERS section.  There is a reference to Oklahoma City in this film, which surprised me.  I didn’t find it tasteless or tactless.  It was treated as a tragedy, no more or less.  And I understand the need to use a tragedy like this at this point in the film, and also the decision to pick a non-Indian tragedy in order to avoid distraction for the audience.  But of course, it was a distraction for me.  The film lost me for 20 minutes, not because of any flaws or insults or anything in the content, but just because I got lost in my own head, remembering going to school the next day, the teacher talking to us, the church service after, and so on and so on.  So, if you have similar vivid kinds of memories, you may want to be aware that this section will be kind of a loss for you.

And now, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is yet another film that if you say the plot straight out, it is ridiculous.  So I am not going to say it straight out, I’m going to list the events as they serve to change our hero’s priorities and decisions, not just for the events that they are.  And, of course, it all starts with his parents.

Father Suriya and Simran have the perfect innocent college romance.  She has braids, he has glasses, he falls in love at first sight and woos her enthusiastically throughout college days, they get married at graduation with no money and no plans, and refuse to regret it.  They have children, and are delighted, and build a happy little family in their little home.  Father Suriya is never that successful, always in debt, but also always relaxed and reliable and wise for his kids.

And so they raise a simple good son from this simple good household.  Suriya grows up, makes friends and learns to play the guitar, gets into one fight with the encouragement of his father, goes off to college and plays cricket and fails his exams and goes from an underclassman being ragged on to an upperclassman ragging others.  And then he takes the train home and falls in love at first sight with the woman sitting opposite him.  Just like his father fell in love at first sight.  And he is scared, but remembers his parent’s love story and decides to tell her right away, and then sing her a song.  And he dreams of how it will all work out, they will meet again, he will charm her, she will ride behind him on his motorcycle, everything will be easy and perfect just like it was for his parents.

This is a really important break in the film that we only see in retrospect.  This is the moment when Son Suriya plans out his whole life thinking it will be perfect and happy just like his parents.  A last moment of childhood and idealism before he starts to see how things just aren’t going to work out like that for him, they don’t work out like that for anyone, life means changing plans.

And so he goes home, excited to admit his love to his parents, gets their encouragement like always, goes to her house to propose and tell her he really truly loves her.  And even when she turns him down, he still just sees it as part of his perfect happy life.  He will pursue her, she will give in, it will all be fine.

But then Father Suriya has a mild heart attack.  And priorities have to shift.  Son Suriya takes up a quick job using his engineering degree, he and his sister put the money aside to finally build his parents their dream home, Father Suriya takes early retirement and a pay out.  It’s a new plan, but it’s still a plan, and one that Suriya is able to make happen.  They raise the money, pay off the debts, build the house, get his parents settled.  This is one of those moments where our hero is unbelievably wonderful.  But also one of those moments when I don’t mind it.  Because the point isn’t that he is wonderful, the point is how he can convince himself that the plan is working, he is able to do what he sets out to do, life will still be fine.

And so he flies to California, confident that he will be able to first find, and then win over Samara Reddy (did I say that she was the girl on the train?  She was!).  And of course he does.  Because she is the perfect dream girl.

But not a fantasy girl.  Which is a very fine line.  She wears normal clothes, jeans and sweaters and shirts.  She is pretty, but not spectacular other people stop in their tracks kind of pretty.  And she isn’t there just to be what he wants.  She has her own dreams, she is an over-achiever studying overseas and planning an ambitious career.  She is his particular dream, but not a general fantasy.  And when she admits that she loves him too, that his determination in trying to win her over has worked, it doesn’t feel like he is her “fantasy” guy either, she has fallen for him in particular, after weeks of spending time together while he waited for her to be won over in California.

But it is still a dream, he has saved his parents, he has won over the girl, his life is falling in to place just as he planned.  Until it is all violently and wrongly ripped apart by the Oklahoma City bombing, which kills Samara Reddy.  And, not to sound too heartless, but it is the perfect way for her to die.

It has to be something just plain “wrong” that happens to her.  Not a disease, not even a car accident, but a huge terrible thing that should never have happened and rips Suriya’s life apart just because of the wrongness of it.  There is no explanation possible, no greater good, it is not fate or destiny, it is just terrible.

And so Suriya’s life permanently spins out of control.  The way lives do sometimes, even to the best people with the best parents.  That’s why it has to spin out of control, not for our hero’s journey, but as a tribute to their parenting.  They both succeeded in the dull day to day job of raising a good decent son.  And in the dramatic heartbreaking job of dealing with an out of control sick miserable son.  Suriya is depressed, can’t get out of it, turns to drugs for comfort, can’t get off of them, until finally his parents take a hand and help him.

And then trust him and give him the faith he needs, sending him off into the world to try to find peace, so long as he promises to come back home in the end.  His parents are nice normal people who have never been through what he is going through.  But they also love him and understand him enough to be able to help anyway.

Brief detour here for the second romance.  It is handled so well.  Ramya is first introduced when he has just returned from America, he doesn’t seem to be in as bad shape yet, he sees her downstairs and finally notices her as a girl, not just as his sister’s friend.  She smiles at him, gives him a book, invites him to her birthday.  And then he comes home and suddenly gets even worse, not able to get out of bed, drinking constantly, and finally doing drugs.  He leaves, but while he is gone there is a moment that we see one of the few things he carried with him was an old photo showing both his sister, and Ramya, in their school uniforms. Skipping ahead, later he is “cured”, back home, back to normal.  And Ramya is still just kind of there, his friend, in the background of moments.  Until she slowly comes to the foreground when she admits that she has been in love with him since she was a little girl, and has stayed in love all along.  And he doesn’t quite know what to do with that, and she doesn’t expect him to know.  Not for years, until just as he is thinking of maybe being ready to look her up again, wondering if she ever married anyone else, she shows up in his life.  And this time it is easy, everything is right, they get married and have a child and are happy together.

See, what I love is that it is so purposefully undramatic.  She is just kind of there, always, in his life.  And he is there, always, in her life.  It’s not the lightening bolt he was expecting, it’s something totally different.  And he doesn’t win her over with the perfect heroic gesture, she has been there all along and seen everything he had done and still loves him.  Loves him as a heartbroken drug addict, confused boy considering the army, and finally as the noble heroic officer.  And as her husband, who she shares a bedroom with and casually talks about plans for his father’s healthcare.  It’s not a filmi romance, it’s a real romance.

In fact, the filmi parts are almost purposefully unspoken.  It is noticing her which sends Suriya on his spiral, feeling something that he feels guilty for feeling.  When he leaves, he takes her photo with him.  He never thinks about another woman after Samara, or is it that he can’t think about a different woman than Ramya during that same time?  This could have been a dramatic fated childhood love story, it kind of is a dramatic fated childhood love story, but Gautham didn’t want us to see that part of it, he wanted to see that it was just one small part of a larger whole in which two people slowly grew to like each other and trust each other and finally be ready to be together.

Suriya comes out the other end, turns into a hero.  Finds within himself the strength to save a small child from kidnappers (once again, Gautham Menon manages to find the kind of violence that is completely justifiable and non-toxic masculinity-y).  And then comes home and announces a decision to join the army, finally coming out of his depression, finding a goal in life, turning into a successful respected hero of the army.

And again, it all turns back into a tribute to parenting.  They trusted him and he repaid their trust.  He really did have the ability to come out the other side and cure himself, just like they thought he did.

And so, when we reach the end (which is also the beginning since this whole thing is a flashback), we can fully grasp Suriya’s pain and guilt at having missed his father’s death.  His father gave him everything, gave him his life and then his life all over again every time it fell apart.  And now it is falling apart one last time and there is no one there to help him put it back together.

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13 thoughts on “Tuesday Tamil: Vaaranam Aayiram, the Son is the Mirror of the Father

  1. This is my least favorite Gautham Menon movie. I didn’t like the romance with Sameera in the train at all too cheesy for my tastes. I preferred the track with Ramya which was simple and sweet. Also I think that Surya tried too hard in the father’s role. It didn’t work for me at all.But he was great as the teenager and in the mid 30s . Btw Gautham wrote this movie just after his father’s death.
    Also I think Surya is one of the very few male actors that can cry really well, other than Ranbir.

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  2. This has got to be a transformative movie for me. It totally changed my perspective and I realized ” Your dad needn’t be super dad like others to be a hero. He is a hero if he is just there to catch you when you fall”.
    I absolutely love this movie so did my entire family.

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  3. Was really surprised to see a review of VA after so many years since the film released. And a very interesting review. Hence thought I’ll post a comment. Thank you. It kind of took me back to the days before I decided to make the film, my fathers death and how I had felt during those unforgettable moments. It also reminded me to go back and continue to make more films that are straight out of life and are about people, their values and emotions and about the spirt of life, the human element and triumph. So important not to lose that connect. With people and the audience.
    It’s never been about success and how big a blockbuster the film will turn out to be. It’s always been about the process and what I decide to put into a film and what I want the audience to take away. The film will never be disrespectful to the audience and can never be. And that’s why the risk has always been mine and of a few other people who believe in me. Vaaranam Aayiram was one such film. It was autobiographical to a large extent. And the parts that seem like too much to be in my own life are all derivatives. There is a bit of ‘what could have been’ in the film. The father and mother are mine. I just had to look into the past and stare at my mother a few seconds more and remember and realise before filming every scene. It was also a very emotional journey for me through the making of this film. And I loved it. I went through a myriad of emotions.
    And likewise here too after reading your review. I needed that. And hence ‘thank you’, again!

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  4. This movie turned me off to tamil films for years. I watched it just like I usually watch indian movies – without knowing much about plot, actors etc and it was a big mistake. When I finished it I was both exhausted and depressed and needed days to put all my thoughts in order.

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  5. Pingback: Watching Wednesday (on Thursday, Sorry Sorry! Very Late): What Are You Watching and Reading and Thinking This Week? | dontcallitbollywood

  6. This is my favourite gvm movie. And it is the most beautiful and impactful portrayal of father son relationship in films i have seen.Suriya was brilliant and deserved more recognition for this performance. And harris jayaraj music director deserved a mention. All the songs were Very Very beautiful .
    And congrats for gvms comment .He is one of my favourites 🙂

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