Readers Write In #192: Why did you dial her, Karthik?

Posted on May 25, 2020

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(by Harish S Ram)

It all starts with Karthik struggling with writer’s block. As his mind longs for Jessi’s presence, his hand dials her number, hoping she would bring him out of this abyss. What should have followed is an epilogue to the original film or a prelude to a sequel. However, what I saw was a procedural event. To begin with, the writer’s block was treated at surface level without any heft. Just because you write heroine intro scene as her brushing her teeth (Raja Rani) you cannot lose hope in life and take drastic decisions. Once the phone conversation begins, it goes into confession mode listing out every detail the audience needs to know about the life of this couple in the past 10 years. It is of course interlaced with the GVM must-haves such as self-deprecating humour, throwbacks to his successful films, and Mani Ratnam; all in now-intolerable staccato.

When I took a step back, recounting events in the form of confessions inherently is a highly effective tool. But here it comes as the voice of the director than that of the characters. This was more evident because the Karthik I saw at the end of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, at his first film’s premiere, was impersonal with Jessie. His demeanour acted as a conjecture that Karthik has learnt to internalise the pain of love failure and has channelled it through his work while staying aloof in the exterior. Can lockdown make Karthik, the person I knew, to propose to a woman who has been happily married for 10 years? GVM answers this by giving Jessi the line that she never told Karthik in all these years that she is happy with her present life. As I said above, the words seem to be coming from the director to serve the purpose of the story and not from the characters who have been in touch.

Moreover, I think GVM made a mistake by selecting this style to introduce the status-quo of this couple. The amateurs today are shelling out short films that keep the eyeballs fixated on the screen for every frame. It is surprising to me that GVM instead chose to go for a procedural style of filmmaking. By procedural, I do not mean boring. In our films, we have the procedural scenes for investigation, family meetings, friends chatting at tea shops, among others. They are all filler scenes which are present to prepare you for the anchor scenes that move the plot to the next plane. It seldom has drama. If we take Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya the film as an example, this phone conversation is built similar to the scene where Karthik and Jessi sit in Ganesh’s beach house and just chat. That scene had an hour or so to prepare us for the casual chat. It’s not so here. As a result, I just see a self-centred man-child begging his ex. The least GVM could try is to bring some kind of play around the conversation and create an effective drama. That would certainly have made us forget the controversial aspect of this idea and get invested in their worlds.

All said and done, as the end credits appeared, I replayed the video and closed my eyes. The soundtrack is still ‘Jessie’s land’, it’s still ‘Hosanna’, it’s still ‘Mannipaaya’, it’s still ‘Vinnaitaandi Varuvayaa’. However, A R Rahman brings in a slightly new arrangement to the sound through EDM-drops, fresh guitar chords, and his soulful backing vocals. As I went deeper into the contours of the score, I could feel that 10 years have passed, the world has changed, the erstwhile couple has moved to a new phase in their individual lives, but the soul is still intertwined. When I opened my eyes, there is a smile in his face as he thinks about her which is followed by sadness that she is not a part of him. And she? She sounded peaceful and composed compared to her ten years younger self. But deep down, one can see in her eyes that she is still perplexed by the vagaries of this lovable idiot. I think I will erase everything else from the short film and keep these two images alone along with the soundtrack.