Readers Write In #163: ‘Varane Avashyamund’ has helped keep homesickness at bay

Posted on April 27, 2020

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(by Athreya Shankar)

You always feel a special connection with a movie that is shot in your locality- the place you grew up in, the place you associate with happy memories of a bygone past, where you wish you could return at the snap of a finger, but for whatever reason, has now become a distant dream. Every year, I make it a point to make enough memories during my annual, month-long Chennai visit so that I can reminisce and feel happy for the remaining 11 months. Hence the daily, early morning beach visits, the customary trip to Hotel Sri Lakshmi Sagar for Sambar-Idly and filter coffee, the Mylapore festival, the book fair… these are just some of my fixed agendas on each and every visit to Chennai during the last five years that I’ve been living abroad.

Whenever I feel down and miss being in Chennai, I watch the YouTube video of the “Chancey Illa” song composed by Anirudh for The Times of India, and literally pause the video to nostalgically gaze at some of the locations shown. So, when my sister recommended the Malayalam movie Varane Avashyamund (VA), excitedly telling me that it was shot not just in Chennai but actually in and around Besant Nagar, it was immediately promoted to the top spot on my watch-list. For someone who has grown up in a locality, it is not that the place is special because of a particular landmark or a tourist attraction. Rather, you subconsciously associate a feel with the place- the buildings look a certain way, the people around you- whether you know them or not- feel like they’ve always been that way, and even the imperfections, like the small puddles on the roads after a light rain are familiar and pleasing to the eye.

VA gave me a full tour of the life that I had lived, and achingly wish to return to at some point in my life. The apartment complex style living, with friendly but slightly nosy neighbors, the local restaurant where the waiter recognizes you, the curious “iron-man” who messes up your shirt- these are social interactions that seem hardly worth mentioning, but upon closer inspection, these are the small moments in your everyday life that eventually make you develop a strong sense of belonging to a locality. The feeling of my area, my place, my street, really arise via the petty interactions that one has with members of their local community. I remember a conversation that my mother had with a distant relative, an aunt who had refused to shift from a town in AP to Hyderabad when her daughter had landed a job there. This aunt proudly and happily declared, “I have spent so many years here establishing my kingdom. I have a thriving circle of friends, there are people here who will go the extra mile to help me, I have a caring and loyal set of service people- why on Earth would I leave my kingdom and go to Hyderabad to try and set up a new one?” In other words, this town was her area, her locality- this is where she belonged.

Hell, VA even has a song in honour of the city that is Madras/Chennai. It really sends goosebumps through your body when filmmakers from a neighboring state feel moved by your city and dedicate a charming melody to it. As someone who begins a countdown from 100 days for his next Chennai trip, my eyes welled up with tears even though I could only follow the lyrics through the subtitles.

Add to that some very pleasing performances, and the result was a very valuable viewing experience. The mood throughout gives the quiet reassurance that this is a pleasant film filled with nice people and that nothing bad will happen to them. I was reminded of the works of Radha Mohan, like Mozhi and Kaatrin Mozhi, where I didn’t really care what the story was, but was hooked on to the movie because of the general pleasantness and the familiar settings. All I can say is that VA has been added to my select list of movies that I can watch over and over again, starting at any random point. Hats off, and a big thank you to the entire crew of VA!