Valentine’s Thursday Tamil: 96! A Romance in Two Eras

This is a very well-made movie. And confirms my feeling that Trisha is secretly a brilliant actress, as good as Parvathy, but less likely to be given really good roles (partly because the Tamil industry just isn’t as good for female characters as the Malayalam). And also confirms my feeling that Vijay Sethupathi was put on this earth for women who like big natural bodies and sensitive souls. Oh, and this is a very VERY long review, once I get into the SPOILERS section. Watch out!

This is a very beautiful movie. That is, the visuals are beautiful. Everything from a children’s bouncy house to a hotel room is filmed just so, making it pleasing to the eye. This a talent to this kind of filmmaking, the visuals don’t distract from the story by being more beautiful than the characters within them, but at the same time they add just that right touch of magic to make the story truly flow. Totally unsurprised to learn that the director started as a cinematographer.

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The music is the same, Govind Vasantha is the composer, someone on his way up in the Tamil film world, with a classical music background, and his sound is just right for this film. It’s achingly beautiful without dominating. You don’t remember the songs, you remember the mood they created.

All of this subtlety is there, this kind of quietness, so that the audience can focus purely on the two central performances. Well, really 4, because the flashback teen actors are as important as the present day Trisha and Vijay. Gauri G Kishan and Adithya Bhaskar don’t have much dialogue, but they have a fresh look to them, and a naked emotional openness in their faces that makes you feel protective of their emotions, worried over what they are going through.

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This is a remarkable movie for how strictly focused it is on the two leads. The biggest flaw of the film, I think, is the opening which keeps the attention on Vijay’s character. It allows for a build to the reveal of Trisha, but it does the film a disservice because it makes the audience assume this will be the story of one man, when in fact it is the story of two people, man and woman, and what they share. A more honest opening would have shown them both in their current separate lives, before bringing them together in the past flashbacks and the present day. That’s what it is really about, these two people who have grown apart finding each other again.

It’s also one of those movies that kind or works best if you work from the end back. You have to know where they are going, and all the ways they got there, before you can appreciate fully where they start at the beginning. And where the film starts and how it builds. Which also means that I can’t really talk about the film in detail without getting into SPOILERS.

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We start with Vijay Sethupathi as a gentle giant landscape photographer. We see him touching and loving animals, and guiding his large class of young students, and then asking one of his student/assistants to drive him back to his home town. We know him from this, he is very good at his job and respected by his students, he is also lonely and yet happy with his loneliness, would rather stand apart and observe the world through his camera than participate. And then he stops by his old elementary school and spontaneously reaches out to his friend from school, and then joins the school WhatsApp group and suggests a reunion. At this point, from what we know of him, this reunion idea seems like nothing more than nostalgia for school days and friendship from a lonely man who has nothing in his life. But then he looks at an old photo from school days and flashes back.

The flash back is built carefully too, it doesn’t start like a great love story. There was a girl who liked to sing in his class. Somehow she always asked him to open her lunchbox for her or otherwise help her when she needed something, out of all the other boys. But that’s all it was. And then she didn’t come to school for two days and he was in agony all of a sudden. She came on Monday, still with a high fever, and then turned and smiled at him, and everything was different. He was in love. He couldn’t talk to her any more, or look at her, his heart would beat fast and he would sweat if she talked to him.

The first flashback feels like a little kid story. He is in love without fully knowing what it was about, barely moving on from friendship too love. The sort of coming of age experience most people have, the crush on a classmate that blows over. It’s nostalgic and dreamy and a bit silly, it makes the audience smile at the youth of it all. And at the confusion, they have grown up together (Indian schools have the same batch ages 4 to 18) and see each other every day. And yet he doesn’t even know where she lives, all these kids just see each other at school and don’t think beyond that. They have little childish lives with little barriers around them.

We return to the present to find the class buzzing with arranging a reunion, Vijay is talking to everyone, his “sister” (the girl who leaved near him and his closest female friend in the class), his best friend, the class gossip, it’s all very cheerful and happy. And real and practical, not poetic sweeping romance, just everyday life. Makes the flashback sequence feel everyday too, having it paired together.

And then we come back to the flashback and slowly their story deepens. The whole class was buzzing with the romance of it and helping them to talk alone, but he could never say anything to her. She just smiled at him and was hard to read. But she started giving him half her lunch, and looking for him in school. And on the last day of school, they rode their bikes together and said good-bye for the summer. And then she came back and splashed ink on his shirt and told him to never forget her.

It’s sweet, and touching, and feels a little more painful and serious than when it started, when he just liked the girl that smiled at him and was his friend. And we can feel something terrible must be coming, some reason that they separated. Which is when the film pulls a switch on us and shows things from her side.

But first we go back to the present day, for the joking to turn a bit serious. All of Vijay’s friends are whispering together about having arranged for Trisha to come to the reunion, she confirmed last minute. But before she arrives, Vijay starts hiding and pacing. It isn’t quite the silly nostalgic childhood teasing the rest of the group is expecting, it’s something a little more painful and real even now. And it becomes even more real when Trisha shows up and looks around, clearly looking for Vijay. Trisha’s face immediately makes it real, she isn’t laughing and joking either, she is stressed and hopeful and naked in her emotions. I know Trisha is dubbed in this film, but that doesn’t matter, because 90% of her character is conveyed just in her expressions and gestures.

And then Trisha learns Vijay is there, and the sound drops away and her heartbeat starts up (great soundmixing in this film) and everything goes slow and we get her flashback. She was happy and excited to return to school after summer break. She got to the classroom early and looked for Vijay. She waited and waited, and he didn’t come. And then he wasn’t on the list when the teacher called the role. One of the other students asked and found out he hadn’t registered. The boys went after school to his address and learned from a neighbor that his father was in debt, had to sell the house, and was so ashamed that he had kept it from his own family until the very night they had to leave for Madras (instead of the suburban area where they were living). And that was it, young Trisha was cut off from him. She went through the next two years in a daze, feeling nothing and speaking to no one, not even singing any more. Until on graduation day she went and sat at his desk and embraced the table where he used to sit. And then we are back in the present to see modern Trisha looking as emotional and scared as she did back then, not having grown up or away from this romance after all. It started when they were children, but it wasn’t a childish love. And when she goes to talk to Vijay, he faints, just as he did as a teenager.

It is this moment that thrusts us into the “real” film, the one that is just about these two people and what is happening in their hearts. We need that casual opening, the jokes from the other reunion people, the flashback to their earlier moments of romance before it deepened as the school year went on, so we can see how different their connection is, how alone they are in it. Their families never knew (we hardly see their families in the past or present), only their schoolmates. And even their schoolmates didn’t fully understand the depth of their bond then, or now.

Trisha is married with a child, and all their friends are nervous seeing how she is aggressively going after Vijay, sharing her food with him, looking at him or for him all the time. And how Vijay has no control around her, sweating and nervous. This isn’t the light nostalgic slightly embarrassing reunion they were expecting, this is something far deeper.

And if it had been that nostalgic reunion, it would be something the film audience has already seen before. Everything from Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbo to Salt Mango Tree has had the plot of the middle aged couple who flirted in school being reunited. But it is treated as something that was in the past, that brings up happy feelings now but is nothing in the greater sea of life experience. That was part of growing up. That’s what the audience at first, and the school friends, are expecting. A love story that was in the past and can now be laughed about by everyone. But this film is showing something very different.

There are different kinds of romantic love in the world, and in the world of films. That first exciting crush, that can be something that slowly grows into a life long love. Akaash-Vani, for instance, did a wonderful job showing this kind of bond. They were attracted, they liked each other, and then they dated for 4 years and grew to really know each other and love each other for who they were. Or it can be just a crush that never really grows, Manmarziyaan did a great job of showing this, a passionate love that burns out. It’s one of my favorite things about Indian film, that they are willing to show those stories, the way a steady stable long term love can overshadow even the most passionate youthful connection. But this movie is dealing with something really special and really rare, the true soulmates, the halves of the same whole who cannot be if they are not together.

I believe in the concept of soulmates. I don’t believe they are always romantic. Your best friend can be your soulmate, or your parent, or your child. That person who makes you feel like you are fully you, in a way you are not when you are not with them. This movie is dealing with soulmates who spent 22 years apart, 22 years being never fully happy, never fully anything, just existing but not living.

It’s a lot for a film to argue, that a childish love story was in fact something these two people have never, and will never, get past. So the film builds to it slowly. Vijay is warned from spending time with Trisha by his friends, because they see it as a simple matter of marital infidelity. He leaves her at her hotel, but he can’t go beyond that, there is a wonderful touch that she rushes from the car without closing the door, and when she comes back out to him, the door is still open, he couldn’t even move enough to close it.

And so they start driving, no plan in place, the first place they go is a barber shop, and she insists on him shaving off his beard and getting his hair cut as it was when he was a teenager. They are trying to go back in time, to close the chapter that never finished. If she is a teenager again, they can confess their love and say good-bye. And she pushes for that conversation, once he is back to looking like a teen, she asks why he never married, looking for closure by learning more about his life. Only to learn that he didn’t marry because a girl proposed to him and he told her he was still in love with Trisha. And Trisha finds herself admitting that she looked for him all the time, straight through college, even at her wedding she was waiting for him to appear. They tried to make their romance something that was in the past, that was just about a haircut and nostalgia, but the truth came out, and their love crawled forward from high school to college, not just “96” of the title, not 22 years ago, but as recent as 16 years ago.

And then it comes all the way to the present when Vijay says he did come for her, and she turned him away and Trisha breaks down. She runs from his car into the hotel, he stumbles after her and picks up her shoes from the hallway carpet. Her emotions now, in this moment and not in the past, are so strong that she literally ran out of her shoes. He finds her sobbing hysterically in the realization that their love story did not end because of them, but because of fate. For years, they had both been stumbling through life, thinking the other did not care. He left school when she was 16 and never made an effort to reach out to her, an effort she could not make because she was watched and restricted by her family. She thought he stopped caring. And he had followed and watched her all those years, finally come to her school to propose, only to be turned away because she thought he was a different boy. He thought she had outgrown him, moved on. Until this moment, they had both been struggling all night to take what they needed, learn about the other but not connect, to keep living with their lonely broken hearts. But now it is all different, as they both discover that their hearts are not lonely after all, the love is still there, has been there all along, and all they had to do was reach out and take it. And there is no more denying that the love is still there, as strong as ever.

This is such a sad movie. Because it is two people who will never be fully happy or fully alive again after this one night. It is a beautiful movie, and a unique movie, for how it develops that truth. This isn’t a matter if simply mouthing “I love you”s, this is showing it, in every gesture and expression. In the music softly playing behind them, in the way they are shown traveling alone through a night time world. The last third is the two characters being fully aware that they love each other, and knowing that they have only a few hours left to be together. There is no more pretense that this is/was just a high school thing, that they will ever “get over” it. Their lives have forever gone wrong and will never come right. Trisha tells the “right” story, when they bump into Vijay’s students, she imagines what would have happened if she had gone down to him when she was in college instead of sending him away, and they married and were together until today. It is what should have happened, there is no other possible universe in which they could ever be happy, ever be healthy and whole. To put it in science fiction terms, they are living in a parallel universe, one where everything went wrong somehow and they are being given this glimpse of a world where it went right.

The saddest part of the film, to me, is that they still have a chance, they still could make the choices that would set things right, and they don’t. They go back to Vijay’s apartment and Trisha talks about finding him a wife, trying to retreat to the lie that things will work out. But it falls apart quickly, by the time they are at the airport, she is begging for just a few more minutes with him. He buys a ticket on the same flight, to Singapore, so he can be with her until the gate. It’s a nice small moment but, I think, it was also on purpose to show the audience how easy it would be for him to take that next step, to get on the plane with her, to go to Singapore and meet her daughter and her husband and see if they can somehow be together still. But, he doesn’t. They choose misery when happiness is still in their grasp.

I know that in India and the Indian film world marriages are hard to break. And in any world, a marriage is a serious thing when there is a child involved. But this is a movie that has already broken the rules, already shown that the connection between them goes beyond any simple social rules. And it is a movie that has already shown how the price of following those little restrictions instead of breaking through them was a lifetime of unhappiness. If Trisha hadn’t been stuck in a girl’s college where she couldn’t talk to boys, if Vijay hadn’t been shy about getting in touch with her for 5 years, if Trisha had tried harder to get in touch with him, they could have had their happy ending. The fear of simple small rule breaking kept them locked in place. And it is still keeping them locked, they say good-bye at the airport like it is a forever good-bye, no discussion of phone calls or emails, or of planning to meet again. They are accepting their fate, instead of fighting against it, even in the smallest degree.

To me, that is the tragedy of the film. That they are a couple that still feels locked in those childish roles, that they won’t make an effort to reach for happiness. That this night, in the end, will change nothing because they won’t let it change things.

I see that there were various accusations of “inspiration” for this film, including a Hollywood film Blue Jay (totally disagree with that, the only thing they seem to have in common is reunited high school sweethearts which is hardly an unusual concept). But to me what it reminds me of the most is the Before series. And I would love for it to continue the way that series did, with a great leap into the unknown for the romantic genre.

The Before series started with a small film Before Sunrise featuring two young actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy playing a young couple who meet and spend a long night together. They are in Europe, Ethan Hawke is an American student traveling through, Julie Delpy is French. It starts as a silly pick-up on a train between a young man and a pretty girl. But then they spend the night talking and it grows into something much deeper than any logic says it should be. At the end, they promise to meet again in 6 months. What made it special was this amazing bond that formed between the two characters, much more than the typical simple romantic film story. It’s the same bond that is built in the flashbacks in this film, starting like the usual high school romance and becoming so much more than that.

9 years later, the same cast and director returned to these characters in Before Sunset. It is supposed to be “too late”. He is married with children, lives in America, she has a life in France and a boyfriend. And they only have an hour before his plane home takes off. Their conversation slowly moves from the general and casual to something deeper and deeper and it becomes apparent that the same magical connection is there. The ending is open, they haven’t said anything, but he stays with her and misses his plane home. That was a bit of a change from how this “true love is the love you have to leave behind you” plot usually goes, to leave the ending open, that they aren’t just saying a wistful good-bye at the airport.

But what makes me really admire the series is the leap they took with the most recent film Before Midnight (I say “most recent” and not “last” because it is possible the team will continue checking in with these characters every 9 years for the next few decades). We come back 9 years later to find that they took the leap. Ethan left his wife and his marriage, he and Julie built a new life together, they didn’t just accept heartbreak and regret after that second meeting, they took it as a real second chance. Which doesn’t mean life is perfect, this film is about a couple’s getaway weekend that is really a chance for them to fight and air all their issues away from their children. But they still love each other, and they are still happy they took that leap.

Image result for before midnight poster

That’s the real groundbreaking decision of the series, to not give us the tidy UNhappy ending that these films usually offer, to not say “and then it became a memory that always haunted them” but instead to say “and then they made a decision to reach for happiness because that is the right of everyone, and yes it was messy, and yes it made people unhappy, but you can do it”. That’s what I want for this movie. I want a sequel called “16” which comes 5 years later and shows Trisha and Vijay living together, dealing with shared custody of her daughter, with the judgement of society, with all those challenges, but still happy that they didn’t let it go with that night, that they took a leap and reached for happiness instead of bending to the meaningless rules of society. And I feel like it is not impossible, we don’t end on a wistful return to real life, we end on continuing pain, Vijay still has his suitcase of memories and will not marry. And Trisha sobs on an airplane. This is not a story with a nice clean ending.

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29 thoughts on “Valentine’s Thursday Tamil: 96! A Romance in Two Eras

  1. As I said in the previous post, it really wasn’t believable for me that a crush in teenage would leave such a big impact. Both Trisha and Vijay Sethupathy were good.
    The scene where Trisha breaks down in the bathroom wasn’t believable at all for me. Is it possible to have such intense feelings for someone whom you have at the most exchanged smiles and glances? Holding hands or a peck, especially during adolescence would at least create the illusion of being in love. Here there was literally no communication at all. A grown man in his late 30s remained a virgin in memory of his 10th grade crush was too hard for me to digest.

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    • I can accept it if it is not supposed to be about true love so much as stunted growth. But I would have thought Trisha would be more stunted than Vijay, surely being forced to marry a man you don’t love while still feeling passionate love for someone else would cause more trauma than Vijay simply not being allowed to be married. And yet Trisha seems to have gotten to a much healthier place than him.

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      • She got to a better place before knowing that he attempted to meet her and was also at her wedding ( a little creepy if you ask me) But when she realizes that they could have actually been together, she falls apart.

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        • But then, was she really in a better place? If I think about the other movies that tell this story, like Kabhi Kabhi, if Raakhee had found out that Amitabh had been at her wedding, she would have said “oh, that’s nice” and gone back to having sex with her awesome husband. That she still really cared about all of this from so long ago makes me think that she never truly moved on and found a way to be in her marriage.

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  2. Aside from my objection to glorification of romantic martyrdom,I was also thinking why the makers made Ram as the loner and Jaanu as the settled married woman with a kid. Why couldn’t Ram be the married man with a kid and Jaanu be the loner? Most Telugu and Tamil romance movies have the hero as the noble lover who gets dumped by the girl. If it’s a bad girl,of course she’s all kinds of conniving(RX100) and if it’s a good girl(Padi Padi Leche Manasu,Arjun Reddy)then there would be some noble reason just enough not to blame her.The filmmakers have this inexplainable need to make the audience sympathise with the male lead,showing all his pain and loneliness while the girl’s suffering is mentioned in passing. In that respect I find Maayanadhi miles above all these love stories-there was no attempt to make hero a pining lover or justify his actions.In this movie,it feels ridiculous that there is all these moments to show how connected they are and yet they don’t even wonder about the possibilty of being together.It is also stupid that Ram is a 38 year old virgin and doesn’t allow his students to wear sleeveless. I dont know if they wanted to show him as some super virtuous guy cos sleeveless and sex with someone other than his first love is sin. I also don’t like the idea that it is counted as adultery only when there’s physical contact.Jaanu can have all these intimate moments with Ram which are considered platonic and harmless because they don’t touch each other.
    What I loved about the movie is the performances of leads(younger and older) and the music.The song Life of Ram is beautiful and gives so much insight into how Ram is. Also Jaanu imagining of what could have been is such a precious moment. Trisha & Vijay Sethupathy just killed that scene.

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    • Yes! The story is always “and then after doing all this for her, he returned and discovered she was married and he was so sad”. And I’m sitting there thinking “wait, she’s MARRIED??? He’s feeling sad, she’s off married forever to a man she doesn’t love? Her situation is SO MUCH worse??? Why are we watching him???” And he never tries to find her again or find out what happened, it’s just a “well, she’s married, she’s dead to me”.

      In this film I was sure she was divorced, or at least separated, until the moment her husband was explicitly mentioned. She is clearly confident and independent and calm in herself, and her friends ask about her daughter but not her husband. It just seemed reasonable for a character like this to end a loveless marriage instead of staying in it. The reveal that she stayed married to the man her parents picked for her, even though he doesn’t seem to love her either, almost doesn’t make sense with the character as we have come to know her. Especially as the depth of her love for Vijay keeps being revealed.

      Wouldn’t that have been a better movie? Not about painful impossible love, but about two people who could get together now but were worried it was too late. If she was divorced with a kid and living in Singapore and he is still single and by the end of the night they decide they aren’t too old and it isn’t too late to still be in love? And a better lesson, that middle-aged people can still be as romantic and in love as young folks.

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      • The ending that you mentioned which is more realistic and with a nice hopeful message wouldn’t have been heralded as poignant and pure.The makers correctly assessed that the audience will appreciate a pair of star crossed lovers who are destined to live in mysery than one who tries to reclaim their fair share of happiness after finding each other again.I thought only Malayalis liked such sad(for the sake of saddness) endings which are so overrated.
        I was happy that Trisha got such an good co-lead role at this stage of her career where she’s no longer the hot young thing. And it’s equally irking that they are remaking this in Telugu with a younger Samantha and Sharwanand and adjusting the story to suit their ages. One decent movie about past 30s romance and that too they have to ruin.

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        • The phrase that kept running through my head was “making a virtue out a necessity”. The idea that pure true love can never be within marriage, like it is a virtue to keep turning your back on happiness, seems like something that was invented in order to perpetuate a system in which unhappy marriages are the norm. And in this film, you can just barely see the edges of the fiction that this is. The fiction even that it is “necessary” for them to be separated as young people, her parents didn’t have to force her into marriage, he didn’t have to give up after one try to see her. And even now, he is successful and living alone, she is living away from her parents, there is no “necessity” for them not to be together. But if the film sells the idea of this beautiful tragedy, it keeps more people in unhappy marriages and keeps the whole world spinning along as it is with no change.

          This is what I think was the true revolution of Arjun Reddy, not the drugs and sex and stuff but that SPOILERS they actually get to have a happy ending, the resolution is a slap in the face of everyone who told them to just give up and get over it, and in fact if they had stopped listening to those people sooner, they could have been happy all along END SPOILERS

          On Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 10:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • South Indian Cinema’s common trope is how the male lead had “true love” towards the female lead. And after this movie everybody were like this is true love, they don’t even touch blah blah blah. I’m like can’t you love someone and be physical with them as well? I’m not saying they should sleep together and all that but not even a parting hug at the airport? Too far fetched.

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  3. First – sorry for my mawkish comment, but this movie is like a big romantic bag full of everything I love in the movies.

    I think this is one of those rare reviews when I found difficult seeing actors names instead of character’s. For me it’s only Ram and Janu, I don’t see them as Vijay and Trisha.

    I love every minute of this movie and wouldn’t change (almost) anything. The first song about Ram and his life is perfect, and I’ve seen it some many times I can’t imagine Janu’s life being added too.
    The ending is so sad, but I didn’t want her to leave her husband. I admit, I was hoping almost till the last scene that they will have sex. This was the only thing I would change. But contrary to Niviblog and MPK I don’t mind Ram being virgin. He ,and you said it too, has some kind of stunted growth, and is not like other men, so it wasn’t strange that he may be virgin.

    MPK doesn’t agree with me, but 96 reminds me so much of The Bridges of Madison County. The same longing, the same pain when they must separate.

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    • For me, Ram being a virgin made far more sense than Trisha having made her peace with her marriage. He’s a man, no one can force him to get married, why should he marry? And, why should be pursue relationships outside of marriage if he doesn’t want to? I was surprised she was surprised, knowing that he was single, why would she assume he was sexual experienced? But from her side, I would have expected far more dysfunction in her ability to relate, some indication that she hates it when her husband touches her.

      I liked that they didn’t have sex, hardly touched. If they had, it would have made it harder for me to sympathize with them. Not that I would have judged them exactly, more that the lack of physical contact sold me on the special bond they had, something that you couldn’t recover from even in 22 years.

      I still think she should leave her husband though, she says he “understands” and she is “peaceful” in her life which doesn’t sound like he is getting the best out of this deal either. Let them both be free instead of trapped in a marriage where one partner is miserable and the other partner knows it.

      On Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 11:48 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Maybe her husband is not the best guy for her, but if I remember well, he is very good dad, and I understand why Janu doesn’t leave him.

        I had the problem with other part of the movie – when Ram confessed he was present at Janu’s wedding. OMG i wanted to kill him!

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        • For me her staying with her husband and Ram’s virginity conflict with each other. If their connection was so powerful that he never wanted to be with another woman, than how can she be contented in her marriage? And if she is able to stay with her husband for practical reasons without being completely miserable, than why would Ram not feel able to marry himself? They wrote themselves into a bit of a dead end, I think, because you can’t have this powerful of a bond without bringing into question why she stayed married.

          Have you seen Ramente Edenthottan? It really digs into the question of “if a guy isn’t the best, but is a really good dad, is that enough to stay with him? Can you ever really feel happy and free if you kill part of yourself to keep your marriage going?”

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          • Oh yeah,Ramante Edanthottam is a good antithesis to this. And it wasn’t even motivated by this kind of strong affection for another person. The woman simply wanted to be respected and valued for who she is. And Jaanu seems to be okay in that regard-shes admittedly peaceful and fine to continue that way.So that begs the question as to what’s the real deal in marriages-true, passionate love or being comfortable enough to live without that love. As you mentioned,kids are not really the deciding factor.im having all kinds of convoluted thoughts at this point.

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          • I actually prefer the movies that say “passion fades, simple love lasts”. Manmarziyaan, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, even Jab We Met. Where there is a different, better, kind of love that grows up through marriage and makes the earlier passionate love fade away into meaninglessness.

            The ones I don’t like are the ones which seem to say “passionate love is true love, marriage love is always a compromise”. I just don’t think it is true, for one thing, after ten years whether you were passionately desperately in love at first sight, or slowly came to love each other, it’s gonna be the same kind of relationship. You end up with something a lot more stable and everyday and less passionate. That is, assuming it isn’t a terrible marriage where it is less about the couple coming together and more about the wife making constant sacrifices and adjustments.

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          • For me it’s not strange that Janu is married and decides to stay with her husband. She was the active one. It all began because she smiled, she tried to talk to him, sprayed ink etc. He did nothing. So I can believe he remained the passive one, all his live, while she learnt to live with what she got.

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          • Interesting commentary on gender roles there, if she hadn’t been trapped as a woman (unable to leave home without notice, at a woman’s college with no boys allowed, forced into a marriage), she could have pushed for them to be together. But instead she had to wait on Ram to make all the moves, something he was not designed to do.

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  4. I think I can understand why Ram never got married. He had no mother, family – forcing function for most Indian men to get married. He’s also like M says, emotionally stunted so doesn’t know how to go about falling in love.
    But I don’t understand how Jaanu’s love for Ram is this intense after so many years when all they did was exchange a few glances and spray ink! They don’t even have a proper conversation. I could’ve understood if this happened in college, when she was older. Jaanu’s love intensifies after the reunion., before that, she at least thought he had gone away from her life voluntarily. But I still don’t know if I would want her to leave her husband – she mentions he is a very nice man and a great father. In Ramante Edenthottam, he was a terrible person (at least towards her). He didn’t respect her or care for her feelings. Jaanu comes off for her reunion alone, and her husband is presumably taking care of the kid alone which implies he probably gives her enough freedom. Anyway, in Indian moviedom, marriage always means the end of magic, so they probably went this route so that the love remained pure and un-attainable. Cos if it is attainable, it aint magical.

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    • If I were the husband, I’d want her to leave me at this point! I am a nice person, I have been kind to her for 16 years, and I have had 16 years of knowing she isn’t really happy with me. And now she’s gonna come back and be even more obviously unhappy forever and ever. Wouldn’t that wear away at you? Knowing your wife is constantly thinking about someone else, never really “here” with you?

      In Silsila, that’s where Sanjeev Kumar is at the beginning, and he kind of pushes at Rekha to try to break through her reserve and can’t manage it. She needed the actually affair with Amitabh, and then turning away from him, before she could be fully “there” in her marriage.

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      • Does her husband knew about Janu love for Ram? I don’t think so because there was no mention of that in the movie. He probably wouldn’t have realized that Janu is unhappy. Also I don’t think Janu is unhappy in her marriage because when Ram asks her if she is happy she replies that at first she is sad but is peaceful now. If she had missed the reunion she would have stayed that way because she didn’t meet or have any clue about Ram since he left the high school. Only after meeting ram at the reunion her deep feelings for him rushed back.

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        • Also I think Janu is not unhappy because when Ram asks her if she is happy she says At first she is not but she eventually is peaceful. If she had missed the reunion she would have stayed that way.

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  5. I didn’t realize that Trisha’s voice is dubbed. She is probably such a good actress, especially with facial expressions & body language, that it is not noticeable

    This raises the question, would dubbing in own voice be more authentic but not suitable for the romantic image of the heroine?

    Classic example of a romantic heroine who never dubbed in her own voice despite being a good actress, is, Aishwarya, daughter of Lakshmi who starred in Julie

    Aishwarya had good looks & good acting skills, but she unfortunately (for a romantic heroine), didn’t inherit the voice genes from her mother. It was noticeably low pitch unlike her mother’s squeaky high pitch

    Later, when she was older Aishwarya dubbed in her own voice when playing the mother to Trisha in the movie Abhiyum Naanum
    There is a scene where she confronts her husband/Trisha’s father Prakash Raj, that he cares more for daughter than her and puts daughter’s interest first
    The Angst in the voice was very noticeable because it was her own voice
    Made me wonder, what did we miss by her not dubbing in her own voice as a heroine, although it might have clashed heavily with the image of heroine fed to the audience

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    • This reminds me of Rani Mukherjee. Her voice is “too low”, so she was dubbed in her first movie, Ghulam, but not in any of her other films (I think). And her performances and line delivery are so unique, we would indeed have been missing out on a lot if she hadn’t used her real voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review and discussion, as always. I have to say Ram is right up there with Suri from RNBDJ for me. They are both precious cinnamon rolls who are too pure for this world (in Tumblr fandom speak). Ram’s passivity would get to me in real life, and I wish, as MKP said, that they didn’t bring up the “we can’t wear sleeveless” thing as a way to show his integrity and commitment to the “teacher” role with these young women. But those are the only flaws I can find. Mostly, I love that his “love language” is doing things for the person he loves. Many many people will say sweet nothings to you, but find that person who will put in the work to make your day to day better, and you have found a treasure.

    It’s so interesting that we love many of the same things about the movie, the story, the music, and the characters, but our interpretation of the ending is so different. I think because I believe there are many types of love, and many types of marriages. I don’t think Janu’s husband is getting the short end of the deal. We don’t know that without a separate movie about him and Janu together.

    First though, I love how different the movie is on first watch from re-watches. It was like a mystery the first time because Ram’s reactions at the reunion really don’t make sense at all. He’s hiding from her and possibly angry with her, then passes out, then runs to get food for her, and comfortably, even ecstatically (?) eats her leftovers. He doesn’t ask her anything about her life but is plainly dying to see the photo of her daughter. Janu is equally confused by his actions. They make sense to us and to her by the end of the movie. So upon re-watching, it feels like an entirely different movie. More of a romance and less of a mystery.

    I think at the beginning of the movie, Ram and Janu are both incomplete, with painful scars that they protect well. Janu’s are so painful that she could only bring herself to book a ticket at the last minute, for just one night, and with just a couple of carry ons. Yet she has come to a healthier place than Ram because she still doesn’t know what happened to Ram, while he thinks she actively rejected him. Also because she has grown into a wife and a mother with a full life in Singapore. I do wish we’d know more about her life there–does she work outside of the home, or is she a stay at home mom? What are her hobbies and friends there like?

    Overnight, they both experience, together, a complete shattering of the way they understand their lives and their relationship, then help each other to re-assemble into stronger, more complete selves. The sensualist in me really wishes they’d have had sex, but in a way, the emotional labor they were doing took too much energy. And, clearly, Ram didn’t want to, and Janu respects his wishes–a nice reminder that consent goes both ways.

    Ram tells her he came to college, she tells him she didn’t see him or get his name, they shatter.

    Janu tells the story of how their love should have worked out to his students (but really to Ram), Janu sees the love that his students (especially one) have for him, Ram says to Janu “Janu, I’m hungry.”–the first time he makes an active request, a statement of need directly to her, Janu cooks for him, sings for him, Ram shows Janu how carefully he has kept her in his heart over the years, Janu insists that he touch her in the car (I almost died when he put his hand over hers on the gear shift.), Ram buys the ticket to stay with her a bit longer. These are all moments of re-assembling, of healing, into people who know that they have been loved by the person that matters most in the world to them, for their whole lives. Yes it is still sad when Janu leaves, yes it still hurts both of them badly. But they’ve decided on that course together, not out of masochism or denial, but from a place of feeling so known and loved again.

    I think that Janu saying she wants to meet his wife, to see if his children look like him and to pamper them, is not a retreat or a lie. I think it is her presenting one option to go forward, together. As you say, soulmates don’t have to be physical, or spouses. And when he gets up on the bed and gives her his email address for the dating profile, he is saying he’s willing to open up to the possibility that he can fall in love again, even if it is with someone other than his soulmate Janu.

    By the way, in googling to find out the correct spelling of Janu’s name, I saw that someone has made Ram and Janu dolls! I’m so tempted to order them if still available:

    http://www.newindianexpress.com/entertainment/tamil/2018/oct/19/96-film-impact-ram-and-janu-dolls-to-enthral-vijay-sethupathi-trisha-fans-1887324.html

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    • I like your interpretation so much better than mine! Far more hopeful to see it as two broken people at the start who have to be re-broken before they can come together into a stronger whole. And maybe him learning she never got his note and her learning he was at her wedding is less about “OMG we could have been together all along life is not worth living!” and more about “you loved me all along, now I feel better about my life and can move on”.

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      • Glad you like it! I think the “OMG, life is not worth living” is Janu’s first reaction, hence beating her brow in the bathroom. But for Ram, he’s just learned that the love of his life didn’t reject him. It is still devastating that they missed each other that day, but for him it’s a better outcome, so he can help her weather that first storm of pain.

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