To me, the best Tamil movies of all time include Mani Ratnam, A.R. Rahman and Kamal Hassan in the credits. They're the trio that I consider as the best of the best, and the ones who seem to always elevate even the most formulaic of stories. But when it comes to my favourite film, I had to think of a movie that moved me in a way that a lot of movies are not able to. I was lucky enough to watch this film on the first day of its release. It was back in 2008, and living in Toronto, Canada, watching a Tamil film in theatres was always a special occasion. I remember listening to the amazing soundtrack from Harris Jayaraj almost every single day. I was hyped after seeing the beautifully crafted trailer. I knew I was in for something different in comparison to Suriya and Gautham Menon's previous venture (Kaakha Kaakha). So entering the theatre with a bunch of my friends, I had no idea I was about to watch a life-altering film.
In my opinion, it's really hard to distinguish a favourite film. I'm a film fanatic, the type that will watch a film or two a day, depending on how much time I have. So I have a long list of favourites. The reason why Vaaranam Aayiram ranks as my favourite one, or one that I reminisce about a lot, is its exploration of life. Never before had I witnessed a film from Kollywood that treated life like poetry, emphasising on the highs and lows of a person's life. From the childlike wonder of looking up to to a father figure, to the youthful brashness and confidence that comes with love, to the mellowing down and searching for one's purpose of life. Suriya and Gautham Menon seemed to have figured out the perfect formula and recipe in channelling a real life story to Tamil cinema.
There's multiple scenes in which the father constantly encourages and brings up the son's confidence. It was something that felt foreign in Tamil cinema, where the plot device of father-son conflict is very common. But this film felt different. It felt honest and caring in the portrayal of this parental dynamic. No matter what happened in the young man's life, his father was always there to help guide him. It was genuine and so lovely to see. Suriya's performance stands out. He feels like a different person at the different stages. It's one of the greatest performances I have ever seen in world cinema, and I feel it is under-appreciated.
Then there's the music. Harris Jayaraj seemed to be in a zone when working with Menon, and I kind of understand why the two stopped working together after this film. It's extremely hard to top a magnificent soundtrack like this. There's real love being brought forward in this score. You understand why people refer to Jayaraj as a "melody mannan" in the music field. There's a musical cue right after the song Nenjukul Peidhidum ends, when Suriya is on his knees as Sameera Reddy's character walks away. That light musical cue, with a brilliant use of piano, is a prime example of why this film's soundtrack is one of the best to have ever been produced in Tamil cinema. Every time I rewatch this movie, I always hum along subconsciously.
Then there's Gautham Menon. Though his more recent work has not been stuff I've liked as much, I felt that there was there was a certain vibe and aura that he brought with this film. It just feels epic, without trying to be an epic. It captures a person's life like a great novel would. I read about how his own father's passing affected him when making this movie, and you can clearly see the influence. It's a touching tribute. He definitely was his hero, and the way he showcases the father character really shows his unfiltered affection for his hero. R. Rathnavelu's cinematography is simply superb. Life is a colourful mosaic, and this film is a colourful mosaic in itself. Each age segment is shot and staged in such a beautiful and meaningful manner. All these scenes were made with actual care and nothing was just thrown in there for commercial or self indulgent purposes.
Also read: Every Gautham Vasudev Menon Film, Ranked
This is a film I always recommend to people who are new to watching Tamil films or who ask me to suggest a film that could change their life. It definitely led me to seeing life as a beautiful journey and looking at each stage of life with a new perspective. I could write on and on about this film. But one thing is for sure, there are not many films like this and when a film like this comes along, you need to see it to experience it.