Readers Write In #94: Vaaranam Aayiram – A Poetic Embrace

Posted on August 27, 2019


(by Mirra)

A rousing music interflowing with an overwhelming sense of melancholia pulls us closer and deeper into the being of VaaranamAayiram. The titles surface: bold white cursive in the background of vibrantly hued and beautiful patterns. Were they flowers, foliage or waves? Couldn’t exactly tell. They were just beauteous, random yet mesmerizingly profuse as the tale is going to be. Keen eyes pry closer, in a hope, a romantic hope to get more intimate and involved. One part of these wavy patterns is the reflection of the other. The music soars higher and into the heart, echoing within while a kind of vibration spreads across the title’s liquid seeming surface as if a drop of water has fallen on it. Clayton M Nolte, a researcher, inventor and physicist notes about vibrations of water that vibrations are memories. He adds: it is liquid sunshine. The context of his statement might be purely scientific yet his words are dreamy as they are stunningly exact in elucidating the implication of this Tamil film’s title. This is a film composed of reflection and memories. What brings about the reminiscence, that single drop of water is the demise of a dear man.

This lyrical and suggestive flow extends to the opening credits sequence: a series of three mellifluent songs, hummed by Gautham Menon himself. These aren’t casually placed numbers to mildly instil a ‘feel’ of the film. They are rather lovingly hand-picked to sew the mood, sense and spirit of the film in the fabric of our hearts and minds, embracing us into its doorsteps, welcoming us to enjoy the stay. Apna Dil To Awara, UravugalThodarkathai, KodaiKaalaKaatre. As these melodies go on to stand for the diverse phases of the film, the one that singularly represents the soul of the film and even its structure in four affecting lines is UravugalThodarkthai. The song goes on: UnarvugalSirukathai, OruKathaiendrummudiyalam, mudivilumondruthodaralam, iniellamsugame.

This film is a collection of stories- of endless relationships – of lovers, man and wife, parenthood, sisterhood, friendship and it chronicles short lived and lingering feelings of varied emotions ranging from high to low. The tale begins with the end of a man, takes its course yet it shall all conclude in the shine of peace and warmth.

There is something naturally and strongly poetic about VaaranamAayiram. The melodic and expressive opening is not the sole reason. There is a lot more. Maathevan, film critic and actor in a recent tweet says(confesses): “Ethavathuorupadathakatipudichikamudiyumna, naan VaaranamAayirampadathaeduthuvachipen!” Note the intimate and sensuous phrase he uses to describe his affection for the film. His tweet when translated with quite the same passion and love amounts elaborately to this: “If I could embrace a film, hug it tight, closer to the beats and being of my heart, I would take VaaranamAayiram!” Now, this sort of intimacy, solace and warmth, only poetries could offer. In its construct and grant, VaaranamAayiram carries an elemental poetic gaze and grace. The title is itself a derivate of a verse from an ancient Tamil verse compilation called NaalayiraThivyaPrabanthangal. “VaaranamAayiramSoolaValamSeithu….”, begins Aandaal as she narrates to her thozhi, her friend the dreams she had of marrying Lord Krishna. This classical Tamil poetry is set in a tuneful conversational style. So is Surya’s reminiscence about his dad, Krishnan.

To comprehend the very nature of ‘poetry’ which we are using to describe and decode the essence of this film, let us look at what is poetry in the first place. Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity says William Wordsworth. As Surya hears about his dad’s demise, the images, the memories of his father invade his heart. A montage set to a sombre tune reveals Krishnan in various phases of his life from mid adulthood to old age. Surya sheds tears, calms down a bit, as he tries to spiritually converse with his departed dad and mourning mother, the memories flow in order. There is hence both powerful overflow of feelings and a tranquil remembrance.

VaaranamAayiram is however neither a crisp three lined haiku nor a brief fourteen lined sonnet. It is an elegy – a lengthy elegy for Krishnan built in quietude by Surya as he flies close the sky in the buzzing helicopter.  An elegy, the lexicon says, is a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead (which VaaranamAayiram primarily is). The purpose of this kind of poems is to express feelings than to tell a story. While the presence of a moving poetic nature remains the lifeblood of this film, the vital fluids of prose also runthrough its veins. It is largely an elegy for Krishan but also in a very evident sense, the biography of Surya. This luring and fluid mix of poetry and prose sets the tale on its course, the nature of this pleasurably dazed mix is also the primary reason for certain unsatisfied responses to the film.

There are traditionally three elements in an elegy: 1.the lamentation 2. Praise, the admiration 3.a consolation that the presence of the departed still lingers. In VaaranamAayiram, the order of these elements is slightly altered since it is the adoration that precedes the lament, regrets and shattering sorrow. In specific points, they even merge as one.

Neenga than en hero Daddy.  Surya idolises his incredibly ideal father. Your handsome face, your body, your voice he goes about as he could see it all unchanged, vivid in the eye of his heart. Krishan is formally introduced to us as a devoted romantic, indeed a hopeless romantic by Malini, Surya’s mother. This is how we will later see adult Surya. It is only fitting that Malini mouths the VaaranamAayiram lines towards the end, summing up the eminence of Krishnan in her life and theirs. You are the reason for the music in me, Daddy. You taught it all to me- to bowl, to fight back, to be civil (veetukukootituvanthupesu), to love and that ‘America is just here’. Krishan inspires Surya and breaks it all down for him especially when he tells him that America, after all isn’t far but just within the hand’s reach.

In his shine and shade, Surya grows. We see him as a kid, a teen, a college boy, a man in love, as a broken man in the path of recovery and finally as an army official, Major.K. Surya. In all these stages he is spiritually inseparable from his dad and mother. Krishnan paves the path of self- discovery for Surya. “You let me live life on my own terms” in the words of Surya for which the son is greatly grateful. Before we move on to the next two elements of elegy in this tale, let us take a look at another intriguing aspect of this film.

VaaranamAayiram toys with the idea of romantic realism in the treatment of its people and their stories. The romantic notions and aspects of reality coexist in its universe adding a substantial layer to the predominantly poetic core. Now, what is romantic realism? Is it all there in the movie or am I just raving since am obviously heads over heels in love with the film like Krishan was with Malini and Surya with Meghna? Well, that I am but the film definitely allows us the scope to arrive validly at such interpretations.  Yes, so what is romantic realism?

According to Ayn Rand, the renowned novelist and philosopher, the method of romantic realism is to make life more beautiful and interesting than it actually is, yet give it all the reality and even a more convincing reality than our everyday existence.  This is quite precisely what Gautham Menon does in VaaranamAayiram. Primarily, the idealness of Krishnan as a father is in itself a romantic notion. He is a dad everyone of us desire to have but are not fortunate to. Tremendously lucky is Surya to find in his dad, an eternal friend, a mentor and a nearly divine energy. On the other hand, in the view of reality, there are real time limitations to Krishnan’s greatness. He is financially unstable; he borrows money for his son’s admissions (he is although honest about it to his son). He is a chain smoker who brings his doom upon himself.

Surya flies to America in pursuit of his love, something only a romantic motivated by another of the same breed could do. Reality has a different sort of impulsiveness and intensity but it actually hits harder than expected.  When Surya decides to join the army, Avannenjulakaiyavachutaan, avanathadukaathasays Krishnan to the reluctant Malini. Quite a fancy idea for a musician-cum- mechanical engineer to get into the army post the acknowledgement of a fighter spirit in the course of an adventure. Later when Krishnan passes away, Surya is actually stranded in a rescue mission. The setting enables a calm extensive contemplation and goes on to create an inherent tension in the soldiers’ battle amid life and death.

Love at first sight is again a completely romantic idea that seeks to adorn this poetic tale. The men, the romantics who indulge in the pursuits of the heart embrace it. The women, Malini and Meghna,quite the realists here aren’t welcoming of the idea. There is no sudden blossom of love in them. They take their time and space to let their feelings bloom into love. It is only in the middle of MundhinamPaarthenewhen Malini begins crooning lovingly to Krishnan’s song that we know for certain that she has fallen for him. It takes Meghna close to ninety days – three months to fall in love with Surya.

Priya in their midst finds her place as a romantic for she tells Surya that she has been in love with him perhaps since she first saw him. She even goes all the way to Dehra Dun to ask for his hand, the same way Surya sets out earlier to America. It is in that minute Surya falls in love with her.

Meghna –perunallairuke! Krishnan says. Meghna – the clouds. Surya’s pursuit of Meghna reminds one of John Keats’ romantic poem Endymion about a shepherd who falls in love with the Moongoddess Cynthia and sets out to pursue her. The poem begins with the iconic line- A thing of beauty is a joy forever. This is a line Krishnan and Surya seem to intensely believe in and abide by with an unadulterated charm. They even sing praises of beauty in songs MundhinamPaartheney and AdiyeKolluthe. Surya goes on to sing EnIniyaPonNilavewhen he confesses his love to Meghna. This very gladly substantiates the Endymion connect we draw.

Surya describes the ninety great days he spends with Meghna as a boisterous Ilayaraaja song. As he stands in the queue outside the embassy to acquire a visa for his journey towards his lady love, he tells his mocking friend a few lines from Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening – the woods were lovely, dark and deep. I had miles to go and promises to keep. The poet here is tempted to stay longer by and venture into the woods close to where he has stopped but he is pulled by the obligations and the considerable distance yet to be travelled before he or she can rest.  Surya, in this point of the film, has successfully set up a business, he has completed the construction of his family home and he has moved the family to a financially secure space. Yet, he can’t rest. He has to meet the promise he made to Meghna- Wherever you are, I will come into your life and sweep you off your feet. His nights would be sleepless and devoid of stars if doesn’t go those miles. As he says, she is a song. And, a song has to end.

When Surya cries out to his parents post the demise of Meghna, the screen splits. In one half, we see the wailing wrecked Surya and in the other, his worried parents. This highlights what a crucial place they hold in his life, they constitute an equal half of his life and his very own self. When his heart bleeds, theirs do too.

These aspects further explain and stand proof to the identity of VaaranamAayiram as a poetic embrace. Let’s now retrace the other elements of the elegy.

The final meeting between Surya and his dad occurs when the latter comes to bid him bye and wish him safety before he goes on the rescue mission. Krishnan then descends the stairs as Surya stands by the door of his room, looking on at his father whose voice and life has been corroded by cancer. Krishnan bids a final bye as he looks up to Surya from the bottom of the stairs and then departs. Surya stands there staring for a few seconds down the empty staircase as the camera slowly moves away from him, letting his distanced and isolated self sink into his and our subconscious. He is alone now and he has to take it from there. He is albeit at the top of the stairs. The elevation Krishan helped him mount perhaps. This phase distinctly marks the lamentation element of the elegy where Surya regrets that he could have spent more time with his ailing father and grieves over the painfully visible erosions of his dad’s life.

When the reminiscence ends, Surya tells Vaazhkaiyamarubadiyumvaazhnthupaarthamathiriirukku. It feels as if I have lived my whole life again. This reinforces our take on the biography component- the mix of prose in this elegy.

Surya comes home to his dead father and mourning family. He kisses lifeless Krishnan’s forehead as Malini looks on. She turns away and breaks out in tears. We and her are instantly reminded of when Krishnan held the just born Surya in his arms as Malini looked on assuring the mother, the infant and himself that- ivanthalailaennaezhuthirukunutherila, aanaethavathuthappaezhuthiruntha naan thiruthiezhuthuven. I am not aware of what destiny holds in place for him but if there is something wrong, I shall correct it. 

A weeping Surya performs the last rites in the sea shore. It is also in a seashore that he first resolved never to let go off his dad’s hands. He hasn’t let go even now. We know it when he says Neengaengakooda than irukeenga Daddy, ennakutheriyum. This is the final part of the elegy, the consolation that Krishan’s spiritual presence still lingers on.

VaaranamAayiramsoolavalamseithunaarananambinadakindranendrethirMalini quotes Aandaal’s lines as she speaks of Krishnan.

Aayiramyaanaigalsoolavanthavarunga Daddy. Krishnan is such a magnificent and benevolent man with an aura that captures one’s awe and heart. The thousand decorated elephants quoted from Aandaal’s verse metaphorically illustrate this godly magnificence of his. He is one in a thousand. This stature of his is faintly hinted in the song Mundhinam when Malini and Krishnan watch Aayirathil Oruvan in the talkies.

Is Surya, an extension of Krishnan also such a special one? That, Priya and his kids would tell. As Surya departs the shore and treads toward the path of such a benevolent life, he again adds: You are still here, Daddy. We see Krishnan, old yet handsome and as cool as ever walk along the shore with his shades on as the vibrant sunshine hints at the glimmer of paradise, eternal hope and a positive presence of forever.

The closure gets a personal touch as Gautham Menon dedicates thisfilm to his father. A moving Tamil poetry follows on the same soulful lines of tribute. The elegy is complete.

Deep Breath

Perhaps, these are all why VaaranamAayiram is and feels like such a poetic embrace.