Nostalghia Movies

10 Years of ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya’: Breaking down the greatness of ‘Aaromale’ in words

A still from ‘VTV’

A still from ‘VTV’   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

On the 10th anniversary of Gautham Menon's 'VTV', we argue why ‘Aaromale’ is the single most defining moment in Karthik-Jessie’s relationship

There was a moment. She was ready to take the leap, leaving everything, everyone behind for him, perhaps for the first time. But that moment drifted away — like the long, fable-like night in Alappuzha, where they shared their first real kiss. “This is over. Please forget,” she texts him, on the pretext of walking out of his life. But he’s here. He’s come all the way. For her. It’s always been her. That’s the problem.

There’s pleasure in suffering, she knows. In fact, she treasures it. They talk it out. They argue. They debate, endlessly. And they part ways. He’s naturally perplexed. Because one day she smiles and the next day, she glares. She pushes him out of her life. While at it, she asks him a question that he himself had been trying to find an answer for, for the longest time: “There are a thousand women out there, why did you fall for me?”

His world just collapsed in front of his eyes. Nobody except her can hurt him, he knows. Maybe that’s why her seemingly innocent question pierces his heart, like a dagger. But he doesn’t show that. He’s a tough guy, boxer to be precise. A faint smirk escapes his face, as she closes the gate.

Karthik. Jessie.

It’s been 10 years since they broke up. Theirs isn’t the story about two marvellously messed up characters from the now-classic, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. It’s as much your story as it’s mine.

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (VTV), the movie that prompted every engineer to contemplate a future in filmmaking; the movie that gave us fake hopes about train journeys; the movie that contributed to the sales of striped, blue cotton saris; the movie that made Christian weddings mainstream, has completed 10 years. But this article has less to do with the timeless nature of VTV and more to do with ‘Aaromale’ and the emotional depth that runs through the song.

The scene preceding ‘Aaromale’ is a crucial episode in Karthik’s life, that forms the backbone of the latter part of VTV. It’s when Nandini expresses her interest in him and plants an unplanned kiss on his cheek. It’s a clear violation of consensual borders, yes. But Karthik says/does nothing. Perhaps he’s clouded by the thoughts of the time he made a similar move on Jessie, on their train journey together. Perhaps that’s when it hits him that...she is still inside him. Perhaps that’s why, in the next scene, he says, “I’ve finally got an idea. I am going to write,” with a gentle guitar string, whose vibrations send a jolt through our hearts. This is where the wonderfully-worded, beautifully-composed and brilliantly-cut ‘Aaromale’ begins.

Let’s get this out of the way: no other filmmaker seizes the opportunity to capitalise on the filming location, the way Gautham Menon does. His frames effuse grace and elegance in equal proportion, even if it oft-comes at the expense of a lingering sense of deja vu for the audience. And let’s admit, he’s bloody-good at tricking us into buying his deceptively-simple world. By now, you must be aware that he holds a PhD in Montage Songs. But ‘Aaromale’, unlike ™ GVM songs, has a nested, meta structure in its broader scheme of things. What we see, essentially, is a song about a filmmaker with a writer’s block, struggling to write a movie about his life.

The first line that comes to Karthik’s mind

The first line that comes to Karthik’s mind   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Four and a half minutes. That’s all Gautham could afford. In that timeframe, he has to show the gradual, almost parallel progression of Karthik, the protagonist of VTV and the director of Jessie. They say art that births out of personal (tragedy?) marks the beginning of an artiste. In that sense, Karthik is a true artiste. He unearths his most personal story in ‘Aaromale’. And where does he begin? With this: “I think I’ll start with this line — Why Jessie?” Little nuggets of memories that he holds dear begin to unfold on a piece of paper. There’s a sketch of the house where he lived. There’s a sketch of the boat house and the church in Alappuzha. Of course, there’s Jessie. He revives and relives whatever life he has lived so far on the screen — like the bunch of VTV fanboys (this writer included) and girls who revisited the movie, when it had a re-release recently.

‘Aaromale’ is a visual exposition of Karthik’s internal struggle with the exterior world. The song dedicates most of its time to show his transformation as a filmmaker. Therefore, the real-life Karthik takes a back seat to ensure that the filmmaker wins. Only towards the end comes the definitive yet soul-crushing scene of the entire movie. Karthik is occupied with work, momentarily. He is shooting a song sequence somewhere in the US. Something is bothering him. Time hasn’t healed him unlike a Raghavan. Perhaps he feels a little alienated from the place, the people and the setting. He takes a quiet stroll and begins to see life as it is. Flashes of faces appear before him, only to be juxtaposed with his own facial expressions. He finds a familiar face amidst them.

When Karthik meets Jessie in the US

When Karthik meets Jessie in the US   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It’s her, Jessie. He takes a pause, to breathe. You take a pause, to breathe. What are the odds, you wonder. But the worst happens; she spots him too. Their eyes meet, with Alphonse Joseph letting out a shriek, extending the ‘Aaromaleee’ bit. Alphonse does a fantastic job in this portion of the song — as if it’s the voice of the Universe and it wants Karthik and Jessie to be together. She walks towards him, for the first time. His heartbeat touches a million — trust me, I carried BP tablets just for the sake of this scene. The song, that was projected as a time lapse video, gets a closure towards the end.

But that’s not the beauty of it. You realise it’s a clever ploy. Jessie never met Karthik on Brooklyn Bridge. If you come to think of the plausibility of events, it might even come across as absurd and unrealistic. Life doesn’t give you second chances. But, for a second, Gautham Menon convinced us that it does. He made us believe that they live happily ever after.

Jessie walks away from Karthik for one last time

Jessie walks away from Karthik for one last time   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There are very few filmmakers who have the capacity to a) write and pull off a wholesome moment such as the Brooklyn Bridge sequence and b) pass on the emotional heft on to the audience. Gautham Menon, the quasi-Kodambakkam guy who makes ‘classy’ movies, is one.

Jessie walks away from Karthik in that scene, like the way she does throughout the movie. There’s a great chance that they might have moved on. But those of us, who queued up outside Thyagaraja Theatre on a bright day to watch the first-day, first-show in 2010 and later when it got a re-release, haven’t.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 10:27:30 PM |

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