Jessie. Karthik. Jessie and Karthik. Jesse-Karthik.
When do we hyphenate the names of two lovers? Is it our way of making sure they remain together, at least in collective memory, even if fate had other plans? Or do we do it out of habit given how we're still thinking and talking about them years, decades, and at times, centuries after their tragic separation?
The reasons could be many, but of all the great love stories in Tamil cinema, one feels Jessie and Karthik are perhaps deserving of this 'union through punctuation'. Their 'ever-after' has been the subject of many theories and debates, and that's what makes it fascinating to listen to what Gautham Menon, the creator of these characters, have to say about them and their lives today. As the director sips on a cup of green tea, stuck with us after it suddenly starts to rain, we begin this most exhilarating/wasteful exercise. Onwards to Jessie-Karthik.
Let me begin by asking you this…both Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (VTV) and Ye Maya Chesave are two versions of the same film. But only the latter ends happily. We can comeback to VTV later, but do you look at Karthik and Jessie from Ye Maya Chesave as a couple that's living happily today?
This might sound rude but I don't consider VTV'sTelugu version as a film at all. For me, the film is the Tamil film. When you remake something, especially when you change the ending because someone tells you that it won't work, I've already compromised on my values as a filmmaker. It was me giving the producer what he or she wanted. It was great working with Naga Chaitanya and Samantha, but for me, VTV is the original film. In VTV, Karthik and Jessie move away but Jessie comes back to meet him at the premiere of his film, which was about them. She cries during the show, they reconnect but they move on.
It's almost a decade after that ending. Where are they now?
I have their continuation typed out on my laptop where we catch up with them a decade later. This sequel covers what happens when they meet again and what space they're in right now. Also, my partner Reshma has written a script with four heroes with one of them being Karthik. He too meets Jessie almost 10 to 12 years later and she features for about 10 minutes. But the story is not just about Karthik, it's also about his three friends and more. So I've already typed out reinterpretations of these characters and it doesn't end with just VTV. In my head, VTV is what it was meant to be. It was always about Karthik and Jessie and how they never got to be with each other.
As long as it doesn't involve revealing details from these sequels, would you be open to discussing the events that unfolded after Jessie leaves that premiere?
Considering what you feel about the Telugu version, is it fair to assume that their story ends there without the need for a revisit?
Because the ending of that film was not what I wanted, I'm not able to think about Jessie from the Telugu version and what I can do with her character now. They're together right? Now why does it matter if they're happy or not? I can maybe think of making Alaipayuthey with them right now, but that film has already been made by the master.
For me, it is about a woman who is now married. Is Jessie happy or not is what I'm interested in. She lives somewhere else and there's this filmmaker who has made seven or eight films. He is still unmarried and he doesn't have anybody in his life to take up her space. He's been in relationships but never like it was when he was with Jessie. But he does meet her again. Is he drawing a line, is he polite, how does he take things forward…that's what I'm looking forward to.
Do you imagine Jessie and Karthik as people who still keep in touch? At least occasionally?
I think they still call each other. There's probably been around two years in the middle when they didn't speak, but I think they call and text quite often. But when Karthik texts her after a long gap, Jessie asks him why chose to text her now, after so long. "Remembered me suddenly, is it?" Is one of her first replies. He says he just wanted to check on her. That's the space they're in right now.
So is it fair for us to assume that Karthik will never get together with his friend, the AD character played by Samantha in the Tamil version?
No, not at all. They got into a space, but it was never going to be real and true. You can't be fake with somebody right? You can take something forward for the sake of a lot of other things like family, but this is not that. Karthik doesn't see a future with that character. She's just a friend now. It is always about Jessie.
Karthik's first film is called Jessie, and that's very autobiographical. What kind of films does he make after that?
All his films have a little bit of that pain and that's what connects all of them. We're talking about two characters as though they're real, but I'm sure there are a lot of people like them. I see both Karthik and Jessie and I also see how they will meet. I see how they take certain things forward but also where they draw a line. There's also Jessie's husband that comes in. Maybe he's a good guy, maybe he isn't, but I don't want to make him the villain. But there's certainly some issues between Jessie and her husband. Karthik too has his own set of issues.
Karthik keeps going into a shell and he goes off the radar many times. He meets several women after that and Jessie wonders why he still needs her.
Are you saying that he's gone through a playboy phase after that?
Of course he's gone down that path. I've even written a scene that starts with him being in bed with somebody and he answers a FaceTime call by mistake. That's how the film starts. He's gone down that route and there's nothing wrong with it because he's single. But he's not cheating on anyone. He's just tying to find that space again. He just needs that one call or meeting with Jessie to move on.
When you say that all of Karthik's subsequent films have an element of Jessie in it, has he become that director who only makes tragic love stories?
Yeah. That's what his friends say. 'Why can't you get out of this zone and make an action film?' But he says all that is fantasy. He says, 'THIS is love macha! There's only love and life. Real cops can't even jump over walls. All that happens only in Gautham Menon's films. I don't make films like that.'
Is Karthik a successful director?
He is, but he's got all the same issues I have with producers. Karthik is bankrupt.
What do you think happened to Jessie in the US?
Like I said, I don't want to make her husband a bad guy. In today's world, it makes a difference if you're married but then you have somebody else in your mind. You're not being honest to yourself then. They have a child and they're in their own space. But whenever there's a text or a call from Karthik, she gets disturbed.
So it's not like she has gotten over him?
Has Jessie and Karthik met after the premiere?
They've met during three or four of his films. They met first during the premiere of Jessie. Two years later they meet again during the show of his second film. Karthik only makes a film once in three years (laughs). She makes it to be there whenever Karthik's films gets a release. That's really sweet as far as Karthik is concerned.
So she plans her trips to India based on Karthik's films?
Yes. They meet and they watch the film together. He hires a small theatre and they watch his movies alone. She tells him what she thinks of it and she goes off. There's nothing going else. She drops him off at the hotel and she goes back to the US.
What's Karthik routine like? Does he text Jessie a lot?
He texts her and he says he misses her. And she says, 'Don't text me'. And then he lays off for a year completely and when he texts her again, she says, 'Why are you texting me?' He feels that he's going through a phase and sometimes, he needs to speak to her. But Jessie wants Karthik to settle down and she's curious about the women he's been dating. There are instances where he feels like he should draw a line because he doesn't want to hit on a married woman.
Have they established boundaries between them?
They have. He has lots of things to tell her but he's drawn a line he will never cross.
Does Karthik feel that Jessie has moved on?
Yeah he does. She has not but she never tells him that.
Has Jessie changed a lot since their break up? You could almost sense a distance and some coldness when they meet during the premiere of Jessie.
There is a distance but we treated it like she's found her space in life, but also that she will always be there for him in some way. That's not what he wants and he's sad because of that. But he's now moved on to this fifth or sixth film by now.
And it's not like he's a loser either right?
He is not. He's recognised and there are people who want to take pictures with him and that makes her very happy. She finds it amusing, especially when they walk out of a movie and people surround him. She too takes pictures and she's happy for him. Karthik doesn't drink but whenever he's with Jessie, he has a beer. She doesn't drink at all. She eats peanuts (laughs). She insists that he doesn't take a second beer but he says he needs it to tell her a few things.
Apart from Karthik's films, does Jessie watch other movies now? I mean, at least Avatar or something?
No she doesn't watch films, even now.
So it's just the four or five films apart those Karthik has made?
Yeah, right from childhood, growing up in that house, she's never been tuned to watch films. She listens to a lot of music, anything contemporary, English, vintage, 80's, 90's stuff but not too much of film music.
What about the music from Karthik's films?
Of course she listens to the music from Karthik's films.
Who composes the music for his films?
He only works with Rahman.
And you're saying all his film are still love stories?
Yeah that's his problem. All the reviews are like, 'dude, you need to get out of this.' Every film has this first love and somebody dying and all that.
But given that he's a famous director who makes films about the same person over and over again, don't you think the 'myth' of this woman has travelled far enough to reach Jessie's husband too?
Karthik tries to keep that separate. He apologises to her and says he's sorry if people come to know, because Karthik uses her name and her father's name in his movie. She says it's too late now but she's not worried because her father will never watch this film and neither will her husband.
What kind of guy is Jessie's husband?
We never see him. She talks about him and Karthik says, 'please don't talk about him'. Jessie answers phone calls when she's with Karthik and she talks to her daughter and her husband.
I find it amusing that Karthik fails to move on. Your films have always planted that idea of a life after heartbreak. Be it Jyothika after Kamalini Mukherjee, Divya Spandana after Sameera Reddy and even Anushka after Trisha.
I didn't want to go down that path because I don't want to cast somebody else instead of Samantha in that place. And casting Samantha to just play a girl that's just there in his life without getting into that heroine zone will not work because Samantha is too big now. So I can't cast her. She doesn't feature in these films apart from a phone call or two.
But when so many other heroes in your films have found it in them to move on, then why can't Karthik?
But he tries, no? He spends time with many women after that but he realises that this is not what he felt with Jessie. But he's not a recluse. He hangs out with women, he has these one-night stands but by 4 the next morning, he's out of there. He knows that these things don't work because they expect something more and he doesn't see anything deeper. He realises that they can never be Jessie. And he has a problem because he ends up being a villain to all these women.
What ever happened to that Ajith film Karthik kept narrating in VTV? Does he ever make that?
One of his films didn't release for three years, so all the popular stars tell him that they will get back to him after that film releases (laughs). I'm not joking about this. It's happening to me as well. I got a chance to make a big film with a superstar but that didn't work out because someone told him that there are problems with ENPT.
Would Karthik have been a very regular filmmaker if not for Jessie? Would he have a made a film at all?
That's the turning point in his story. Is Karthik defined by his two years with Jessie? We are all defined by something in our lives. I was in engineering college but I wanted to become a filmmaker. All my three boys play cricket, and that's because of my love for cricket. I taught them how to bowl when they were just four or five. And that has come to define their lives.
What has come to define my life is Nayagan. If I hadn't watched Nayagan, we wouldn't have met and I wouldn't have been sitting here. It's a film I studied back and forth on VHS. But Karthik says he's defined by the two years he spent with Jessie.
But isn't he a Tarantino fan?
No he was largely defined by Jessie. He might have wanted to make films because of Pulp Fiction, but most filmmakers in Tamil today have been influenced by Mani sir. But the films he wants to make, the moods, the dialogues are all defined by his first love.
How has Karthik and Jessie changed post VTV?
He still has that respect for Jessie. He never crosses that line even though he might be tempted to flirt with her a little. She also draws a line between him and her husband. It's strange and it's still very different from 96.
What does someone like VTV Ganesh have to say about this?
Ganesh keeps telling him, 'pogathe, meet pannadhe. You'll get hit and because of you, I'll get hit again.'
Does Karthik work a song shoot in the US into his scripts, just to meet Jessie?
Yes, all the time. Ganesh even tells ME this at times. 'Yaaro irukku Thalaivaa,' he keeps telling me. Ganesh, in fact, told me that that I'm spending the producer's money just to see her and that's why so many of my films have scenes in the US.
But it's also much harder for Jessie to have chosen Karthik. She's from an orthodox family. Karthik on the other hand is more independent and free.
In VTV, there is that scene where Jessie was ready to leave everything for him right? That scene where she keeps calling him when he's shooting in Goa. That's the turning point for her. That's when she realises that she doesn't know what's in store for her. That's a very valid point right? Maybe she doesn't find that person in him.
Does Jessie blame her parents or her circumstances for leaving Karthik?
No she doesn't. Not after this turning point. She feels terrible when Karthik is sad and she knows what Karthik is going through. If you take off from that point where Jessie leaves the theatre and returns to the US, you will see that she too sheds tears. 'Is he going to be like this because of me? Will he ever get over this?' These are the questions that she keeps asking herself.
On a lighter note, what do you think Jerry, her brother is up to now?
Oh he's become a lawyer. He's in Bangalore and he hates Karthik's guts. His friends keep asking if these films are about his sister. He says, 'no, no. This is some other Jessie'.
Given that you spoke about 96 a couple of times, what do you think of the film?
I really really liked 96.
How different would 96 have been if you had written it?
I wouldn't have done that scene where Ram kumbudufies her thali when she's sleeping. AND, in my version, Janu and Ram would have kissed. On his balcony perhaps. They would have come together for a kiss and then moved away, saying, 'let's not do this'.