What does Gautham Menon like the most? Simple conversations. Long, mature, refined, heart-to-heart conversation. His movies have always been about that. And his short films understandably will not be any different. He recently released Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn (The number that Karthik dialled), a short film, which he has made with the lead characters of his blockbuster romantic drama, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. As the title suggests, Simbu’s Karthik dials, no points for guessing, Trisha’s Jessie. And what follows is heart-to-heart conversations about the film industry’s uncertain future, writer’s block and a filmmaker’s insecurities.
It is a little off-putting when the work of filmmakers, who spoke to your imagination and deep, hidden desires, speak the language of Google trends: lockdown, coronavirus, quarantine, self-isolation and newsy bits like Kerala has fewer cases of infection. Of course, I get that the scene is set in the backdrop of the lockdown and Karthik and Jessie should acknowledge and address it before they cut to the chase. But, still, it is odd when conversations in a GVM film reads like a news report, instead of passages from a personal diary. Thankfully, Karthik stirs the conversation to the right path with the three little magic words. No, not that. “I need you,” he says.
Now, we’re talking.
Karthik suffers from writer’s block, and Jessie is his cure. The title of his draft Karthik is working on, in the beginning, is “Un kaaladi thadathil…” Translation: Karthik is still at Jessie’s mercy. He is still hung up on her, and she has also given up hopes of him moving on. She has become more mature, composed and has found love again. Thanks to Mani Ratnam’s Mouna Ragam, which is about a girl, who lost her love, and marries another man due to the family pressure, and later falls in love with her husband. Wait, why does Mouna Ragam feel like a sequel to Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa?
The point is Jessie is in a beautiful place with her husband and kids. But, Karthik is still a tormented soul and feels empty for not being able to embrace the warmth and passion that Jessie offered.
Now, we should not take the conversation between Karthik and Jessie at face value. Look close, it is Gautham calling Gautham. It is a director’s agonising personal conversation with himself.
It is not Karthik, but Gautham Menon who needs ‘Jessie’. All the insecurity, self-doubt and apprehension that Karthik expresses in the movie are that of Gautham’s. It is Gautham who is worried about his two movies (Dhruva Natchathiram, Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha), whose productions have been stopped at the finishing stage. He is worried about the time it will take before theaters reopen and the public goes to theaters again. He is worried about his financial stability, and most importantly, he is in dire need of an inspiration to write something new. Maybe, that’s why he needs Jessie.
Perhaps, ‘Jessie’ is his metaphorical half that completes him as filmmaker-writer. He is at a better place spiritually when he’s with Jessie. Maybe, ‘Jessie’ reminds him of himself. She reminds him of those best times, when he was not afraid of the future, worried about finances, and in control of his craft.
What are the personality traits of Jessie? She is emotional but practical, tender but confident, conventional and wild at once, and she does what is good for her. Maybe, Gautham was like Jessie, when he wrote Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa.
The 2000s was the best decade of Gautham Menon’s career. He made Minnale, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Vaaranam Aayiram and he began the year 2010 with Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. Post its success, his career has been a bumpy road. I believe the movies that he made during the first 10 years of his career offset all the negativity that shrouded him professionally in the following decade.
Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn is Gautham’s nostalgic trip about the time he could write something effortlessly and never get tired of reading it over and over again. Maybe as a writer, he feels most at home when he is having a conversation with Jessie. She is proof that he is a talented writer and an inspiration to create more such memorable characters. Jessie is Gautham’s muse.
Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn is nothing but Gautham Menon giving himself a much-needed pep-talk in front of the mirror before he begins to write his next big film.
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