Why Jessie matters, be it ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’ or ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’

Trisha/ Jessie 10 years apart: ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’ and ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’  

“Only you can fix me,” Karthik tells Jessie on the other end of the call, as the rest of us smile when the strains of Aaromale play in the background.

Ten years after they broke up in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, the return of one of Tamil cinema’s most referenced fictional couples in Gautham Menon’s lockdown short Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn has been met with a gamut of emotions. “Why does he still have her number?” “He talks like that to a married woman with kids?” And the most popular of them all: “Jessie baby-zoned Karthik! Best meme content ever.”

Why Jessie matters, be it ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’ or ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’

Many viewers seem almost enraged that the closure (or lack of it) they got from the movie, has been disturbed, even tainted, with the image of Karthik still fawning over Jessie — despite her being married — and the fact that she lets him.

Except that it shouldn’t.

Before we get to the why, let’s first establish that a quarantine rewatch of Gautham Menon’s modern classic from 2010 —that holds up incredibly well even today — brings into focus the complex characterisation of Jessie more than ever, as well as Trisha’s fascinating interpretation of it.

Think of all the Manic Pixie Dream Girls seen in movies over the years that shaped your idea of the perfect film heroine; from the archetypal ‘loosu penne’ to the classic girl-next-door who gives up her dreams to be a sidekick to the hero’s mission. Jessie, in every way, is the very antithesis to the MPDG; she doesn’t need anyone, she doesn’t even want anyone — but if you persist, she might just tolerate you.

We all know a Jessie in our lives. She’s the girl you first fell for without even realising it, the one who awakened your teenage spirit, she who rewrote every idea and calculation you had about infatuation, love, lust, whatever you may.

For most of us, she’s also the one that ultimately got away.

Now, imagine for a moment, that she didn’t go away after all. Somehow, inexplicably, unbelievably, against every truth you knew and law of nature you trusted, she chooses you and it’s the greatest moment of your life.

Why Jessie matters, be it ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’ or ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’

She’s the one you compose songs and poems about, write movie scripts on and cross continents for. Jessie’s your muse, your best friend and the greatest lover you’ll ever have: and that is terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure.

And then one day, just like that, it’s over. You don’t understand why or how it happened — part of you may still think it’s a dream that went on well after you woke up on the right side of the bed — but Jessie is gone, and everything is worse now.

Six months. Six months is all it took for Karthik to have his life turned upside down by the cataclysmic phenomenon that Jessie was; an event that will take him a lifetime to never recover from.

“I don’t know myself, I don’t know what I want... I like this pain. There are so many girls out there Karthik, why did you love me?” she asks him, in their final confrontation before he realises what he should have known: he was always just one mistake away from getting dumped. After all, with the magic, comes the madness.

Why Jessie matters, be it ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’ or ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’

In one of the best scenes, Jessie, running out of reasons to make him leave, tells him it wasn’t meant to be, as she doesn’t like going to the cinema at all. “It’s so dark and loud, and the crowds… whereas, you want to be a filmmaker!”

It’s at this point that Karthik, going from confused and frustrated, to pure rage, asks her incredulously, “Are you serious? You don’t like films? What *&%!** logic is that?”

There’s so much meta-genius packed into those two lines, and surely, can be empathised best if you’re from Chennai where being a movie-lover, getting FDFS tickets, date nights at Sathyam and fan wars with friends are all part of the very fabric of growing up in the city. Karthik, who represents every post-2000s engineer’s dream of becoming a movie director, cannot quite believe that this girl — as perfect as she may be — doesn’t like the movies, and even worse, is using it as an excuse (one of many) to break up with him.

It’s impossible to define the Jessie-Karthik relationship completely (on the recent 10th anniversary of VTV, this fantastic article explains why Aaromale possibly could), but we choose instead to look at the title track — Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa — that plays out right before Karthik leaves on a work trip to Goa, which precedes the turning point of their story.

The song, set to a haunting tune by Rahman, is the most underrated track in the entire album, brought magically to life by Thamarai’s lyrics and Gautham Menon’s perfect visual depiction of their relationship.

Karthik, who will not get to see Jessie for the next 45 days, wants to get intimate. They are all alone in a gorgeous beach house together, before he bids farewell to her. Anything could happen — and they have been dating for six months — but Jessie ensures that their level of physicality does not get past a few kisses while they hug each other. When Karthik tells her these the most cherished moments in his life, she replies, “Maybe because it’s the last time we are together.”

Did she already know?

Uyire neeyum naanum,

Pirinthadhu puvi eerpu maiyathil thaaney

Iru dhuruvam serum antha orr-idam,

Angge thaan naam sernthomey

Inimel naanum neeyum pirivathillai, anbeyy

(You and me were separated at the centre of gravity

But we were united at the place where the two poles meet

We will never part again, my love)

Nothing can split at the center of gravity nor can anything meet where the poles unite, implying that they were doomed from the beginning.

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In many ways, Samantha’s character of Nithya from Neethaane En Ponvasantham (that came just two years after VTV) is adapted from Jessie — but what if Jessie were less indecisive, what if she was ready to give in, what if she really, really wanted that happy ending? Nithya is what everyone wanted Jessie to be; more fantasy, less reality.

But going back to Karthik Dial.. we see that Jessie isn’t really that Jessie anymore in her day-to-day life. She still possesses that flamboyance and the drop-dead gorgeous looks of yore, but there’s something missing... that quixotic spark.

However, a minute into the call, it’s reignited again, which is when we realise it: Jessie doesn’t just tolerate Karthik, she needs him — just not in the way he needs her.

Karthik can still make Jessie feel special; the original yin to her yang, an adrenaline to her tempestuous persona that has mellowed over the years. In those fleeting moments that occur via email, phone calls or letters, she possibly lets herself go a bit, to the rare intoxication of being wooed, being loved truly, madly, deeply for the first time all over again — thronged by the occasional guilt of leaving him a decade ago.

Reminiscent of a scene in VTV (the quasi-imaginary one that plays out in Central Park, but is later revealed to have never happened), Jessie expresses her concern that he hasn’t moved on from her — she’s curious, anxious even to know if there’s someone else in his life — but deep down, does she really want him to?

Why Jessie matters, be it ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’ or ‘Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn’

Nee ennamo onnu panra, Jessie,” Karthik sighs, thanking her towards the end of the call — in the knowledge that she’s a muse for creating something bigger than either of them — and not an easy vice to resist.

None of this is to distract from the fact that Karthik is being problematic, lost in the echoes of his forbidden romance, completely oblivious to Jessie’s present and future: a man-child stuck in time.

But Jessie’s also mindful of their lives away from each other, so much in fact, that she terms the love she has for him today, akin to that she has for her children. You expect Karthik to resent this, but he has no choice but to accept it. He’ll take what he gets. And always will.

Eventually, Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn is a fascinating, if not entirely necessary footnote in the lives of these two troubled, complex characters that every one of us can relate on some level to. The Karthiks of the world will always fall for the Jessies; after all, he loves movies so much, he isn’t passing up on the chance for his life to be one.

And what about the Jessies? She will continue to confound, exasperate, inspire, make or break anyone who steps in her shade... but it’s not so much that she wants to or needs to.

It’s because she can.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 9:07:06 AM |

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