Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant and waiting for a friend. You spot a couple sitting at the same restaurant, against the backdrop of stone cladding, wooden furniture and lissom plants writhing in between. The guy sips coffee from a blue pottery cup while making intense eye contact with the woman across and you hear snatches of their staccato conversation that almost sounds like whispers. She sits daintily, in a boho ethnic attire, a cotton sari thrown casually but perfectly over her shoulder and matched with chunky silver jewellery. Her hair billows in the wind, and the glint of her nose stud and dark kohl rimmed eyes grab your attention. As you sit admiring the visceral perfection of the scene, the guy drops on his knees, pulls out his guitar and starts singing paeans about the womanâs beauty. He ends it with an open declaration of his love for her, peppering it with a generous dose of how his love is one of a kind, eternal, and a vivid description of how it turned his insides out and tossed his world upside down. At this point while you wonder, âWho talks like this in real life?â and decide to pinch yourself awake, you hear CUT!! Oh well it was a film shoot and you were drowning in the romantic ocean that is Gautham Menonâs cine verse. A world that is all about the holy trinity of vibes, connections, and romantic love.
Gautham Vasudev Menon or GVM as he is popularly called and known for his signature romance tracks, has dished out yet another fare in the recent Netflix anthology series, Navarasa. Navarasa is a 9-part series, with each short chronicling a rasa or emotion. GVMâs film titled Guitar Kambi Mele Nindu, a reference to love tugging heart strings, showcases the rasa shringara or love. The film is a slice of a life account of a musician played by Suriya who falls in love and out of it and grows up to narrate it as an incident that shaped / inspired his life.
Fair enough. Love is all around us. Such moments happen to us. We love such moments too. But it is also possible to grow weary of these moments, especially when itâs overdone and they hardly resemble life. Reality has a way of ruining life, you see. Almost every film from the GVM house seems like a dĂ©jĂ vu of the one before and the one next.
Guitar Kambi has the same signature style of romance that we have seen in almost all GVM films. The leads (Suriya and Prayaga Martin) are perpetually stuck in the honeymoon phase of love -- the butterflies in the stomach and debilitating head rushes. Itâs always about the earth shattering, heart fluttering phase of love, only that it never seems to phase out but continues through the supposed arc and timeline of the relationship. Every character is more in love with the concept of love than their partner. Is that humanly possible, you wonder. And then you wonder even more if maybe only your relationship has transmogrified into morning goo and nightclothes while others are basking in the picture-perfect euphoria of romance. But a little observation will tell you that if anything, todayâs young are more scared than ever to use the word âloveâ. They know that it is a loaded word and comes with the greater responsibility of commitment. They know that it must not be flung around casually or used flippantly. In Guitar Kambi, the hero is floored by the heroine even before he has a conversation with her or hears her sing. He blames it on a âvibeâ, a certain cosmic âconnectionâ (that is unfathomable to you and me) that he felt when she opened the door and entered his studio. A montage of shots amidst falling maple leaves (in Chennai!!) Later we realise that the couple have started dating and he says âI love you,â to her, even before they get physically intimate (i.e., before the girl suggests that âthey have a go at each otherâ).
All in a matter of 10 days. I guess itâs hard to argue when itâs a sign from the universe. But merely philosophising about love doesnât make the love deeper, does it? It only appears so.
Watch: 'Thooriga' from Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru
Most directors do fall into a pattern over time, a groove that is familiar to them and that sets them apart from the others. A directorâs signature is visible from the way they set up a scene -- the colour palette, the clothing, the dialogues etc. For instance, maverick film director Mani Ratnam also has a striking style -- trains, rains, love at first sight, staccato dialogues, to rattle off a few. But one wonders if becoming a brand is also a limitation.
GVM has often been lauded for adopting the female gaze and giving agency to his female characters, (until they tragically die). The female leads are not afraid of making the first move. They propose. They donât mince words when it comes to sex and are confident that they âwant to make loveâ. But there have been some problematic elements too. In the much-celebrated Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaaya, Karthik (Simbu) kisses Jessie (Trisha) on the train while the song âOmanna Penneâ plays in the background. Despite Jessie mouthing a stern âNoâ and repeatedly asking Karthik to stop, and at one point even gesticulating, asking him to go back to his place, Karthik only moves closer and continues planting kisses. In a post #MeToo world, this scene is alarming. Until popular cinema stops misconstruing a womanâs âNoâ as a âYesâ and feeds the idea that women are confused about what they want or act contrary to what they feel inside, people will never understand consent and that consent is everything. In films, stalking and lewd behaviour is often associated with pesky and lowly âRoadside Romeos.â But when a linen shirt clad, clean-shaven hero does the same, it becomes wooing?
Am I the only one who feels out of place in the GVM world? In my world, a woman would feel creeped out by a stranger who proposes to her at first sight (Vaaranam Aayiram) and more so if she is travelling alone in a train. She would not only be horrified but also feel inclined to report to 911 if she learns that he spent money and effort to travel halfway around the globe just to meet her. Maybe she would even lodge a complaint with the US embassy for issuing a visa to a guy whose purpose of visit, as declared by the lead himself, was to chase after a woman he met once and claims to be in love with. Also, I am thinking, middle class Indian boys would not cancel their British Airways ticket at the mere sight of a woman (Guitar) and certainly not announce to their daddy that they made love to their girlfriend, even if they are grieving (Vaaranam Aaayiram).
Though films are not obliged to imitate life and directors are entitled to creative liberties, in a country such as India where the majority of the youth draw their perception of romance from films, maybe our filmmakers need to introspect. We may know by now that we must not take the love at first sight clichĂ© too seriously but should our movies still glamorise them so much? Where are the scenes to show the evolution or the depth of a relationship? Are there scenes to show the mundane and the triviality of everyday romance? Definitely not. The director doesnât care to tell us what makes the couple tick, or what happens after the love butterflies in the stomach flutter away.
VTVâs Karthik and Jessie realise that love is not easy. The film is a protracted love story that shows the bumpy ride that a relationship can be. The trials and tribulations, the fickleness and feistiness are shown in equal measure, realistically. The film does not end conventionally with the marriage of the leads. However, though the story has an arc, the characters donât necessarily do. The leads indulge in excessive hyperbole, verbose dialogues describing the heroineâs attractiveness and grand pronouncements such as Jessie being the one and only in the world are part of daily conversation and throwing open the arms, i.e. SRK-like hand gestures are considered perfectly normal behaviour.
Movies preach love. But they never tell you that love comes in all shapes and sizes; sometimes distorted, and most of the time oblivious to the naked eye or guarded heart. They never tell you that romance is not just a phantom kiss or a stolen glance but mostly, itâs becoming a nicer person. That love is stability and stability can be sexy.
What do I need to do to belong to this GVMâs romance world? Should I suspend all logic and watch or perhaps surgically extricate just the lump of cynicism and hope for a sweet boy who sings songs about me in my next birth? Or maybe I should simply accept that I am just a grumpy 37-year-old woman who desperately wants to unsubscribe from this world where heroes (or goners, as Suriyaâs Kamal says) and compare their lady love to their mothers and fall for them âhook, line and sinker.â