Why ‘Varane Avashyamund’ needs to be celebrated, not berated

The Malayalam film finds itself in the middle of a social media debate, but should persist among viewers as a fantastic ode to the ethos of Chennai

April 27, 2020 04:14 pm | Updated April 28, 2020 01:00 pm IST

‘Varane Avashyamund’: An epic love letter to Chennai

‘Varane Avashyamund’: An epic love letter to Chennai

The Chennai skies are the clearest they’ve been in decades. They are so clear, that A.R Rahman was stunned into silence when he stepped outside last week, and took a picture of the city looking like this, to save for posterity.

How long will it last? Nobody knows for certain, as we continue to be in lockdown and wait for the government’s next announcement. But what we do know is that we miss the Chennai of yore with its not-so-clear skies, but magical in its everyday bustle.

It’s been more than a month since most of us stepped outside (save for the odd grocery or medical run) and there’s been much to yearn for, as we sit poker-faced facing our computer screens, searching for something to break the humdrum monotony, prickled with bouts of uncertainty.

Then, came Varane Avashyamund.

The Malayalam movie, directed by Anoop Sathyan in his debut, released on Netflix last week (it hit theatres in early February and had a decent run before falling prey to the pandemic’s lockdown like many of its peers) and has emerged as the perfect antidote to get over the blues of missing Chennai and its ethos.

Shot entirely in namma ooru (both the director and lead star Dulquer grew up in Chennai), Varane ... succeeds in capturing the city’s essence and vibe like no other movie, not even Tamil ones, in recent times. Granted, it’s set in a largely urbane environment, but it’s depiction of many Chennai staples — that we have forgone over the course of the lockdown — is so spot-on, that it’s easy to look past its minor flaws.

The movie screams colour, culture and charm in every frame — be it Shobana indulging in a spontaneous bit of classical dance at the beach, or the Brahmin uncle in Dulquer’s apartment asking to slip him a bit of non-veg without his wife noticing — and there’s much to smile at, that the slightly redundant plot and two-and-half hour duration doesn’t seem to matter.

One suspects that the movie could have worked even better as a mini-series (the plot about the various backstories and interactions amongst a group of residents in a Chennai apartment lends itself easily to this premise), with each of its primary characters played with beguiling simplicity by the actors, that you want to know more about them.

Dulquer, whose production the film is, steps back and lets his co-stars bask in the limelight (similar to his role in Tamil film Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal ); a class act of a modern-day star if ever there was one, fully in sync with the script’s requirements. Kalyani Priyadarshan aces her Malayalam debut, playing (literally) the girl-next-door of your dreams to the tee, caught between her mission to find the perfect groom and a whimsical single mother.

And then we have Shobana and Suresh Gopi of course, two veteran stars at the peak of their prowess, effortlessly adding dignity and empathy to their nuanced characters. Watching their blossoming (romance?) relationship is a delight to witness, though it is hampered by the other story arcs cutting in and the constraints of a feature film’s length. Gopi, in particular, after decades of playing cops and army men, brings an almost reassuring sense of grandeur to his ex-military Major persona, in equal amounts intimidating and helpless, trying to recover from the trauma of his war-stricken days, battling loneliness and never having experienced the joys of companionship.

But the scene-stealers are two other women who truly deserve their place in Indian cinema folklore: Urvashi and KPAC Lalitha (who is an absolute hoot). Both veteran actors are irrepressible in their limited screen time; the former, as a dentist hoping to hit it off with her potential daughter-in-law, and the latter, as an accidental Tamil serial star from Kerala who is now responsible for two orphaned brothers. Such roles remind you of their consummate gifts that keep on giving, and a further reminder to Tamil filmmakers and writers who keep casting Urvashi in comedic caricatures, when she is capable of so much more.

What binds all these disparate characters together though, is the essence and fabric of upper middle-class Chennai, well and truly hitting its nostalgic highs (yes, after just a month indoors) in scenes set at the gorgeous Alliance Francaise in Nungambakkam, several quintessentially-cozy apartment homes and other locations like the theatre, auditorium halls, start-up offices and the beach that all resonate with us and our pre-quarantine state of mind. Cinematographer Mukesh Muraleedharan and composer Alphons Joseph, in no small measure, contribute to this.

Maybe the film wouldn’t have hit home so much if it had come out earlier, but even otherwise works as a wonderfully feel-good watch — despite being overtly self-indulgent at times. On that note, what is it with Malayalam directors and their ability to pay such stunning odes to places, as opposed to people, like most other filmmakers think? Angamaly Diaries and Kumbalangi Nights come to mind as two such staggering recent examples.

Which is why it’s a shame that Dulquer Salmaan has had to come out and apologise for the usage of a joke in Varane ... that has raised hell among supporters of the Tamil LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on Twitter. At times like these, with films being but a rare escape into the world outside, the fact that one which celebrates Chennai be debated over for anything other than its actual purpose, is disappointing. The furore over the throwaway dialogue, which comes across as a harmless coincidence, has fiercely tried to take the sheen off a project that has once again given hope to south filmmakers, that movies can have a second coming on OTT platforms after their theatrical release, especially during these troubled times.

But Varane ... will continue to fight back, simply by virtue of existing, with its bright kaleidoscope of colours, delighting those who see it for what it actually is: a winsome love-letter to Chennai.

Varane Avashyamund is currently streaming on Netflix

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