Revisiting Classics: 20 Years of Minnale - An enduring tale of dignified romance

It's been really long since I watched some new content with seriousness. With my day job and a few re-location issues going on neither was there an inclination nor did I have the time to sit with a film or a series with complete attention. Hell, even a series that I had begun a few months ago, I haven't been able to watch even one episode without any distractions. Life got in the way.

I have a list of films that I have wanted to watch for a long time. One of them being Minnale. A lot of reasons for this particular film. For one, I have been always intrigued by the way people talked about this debut of Gautham Vasudev Menon. I remember watching an interview of R. Madhavan where he talked about the struggles of getting a producer to bankroll this project as this film had all debutants at the core, the director, the music director (Harris Jayaraj), the cinematographer and so on. Another reason is GVM. I have watched his other two love stories, Vinnaithandi Varuvaya and Neethaane Yen Pon Vasantham. I loved both of them. The strong female leads, the dignified way in which the male leads approach them have always been an inspiration for me, personally. As a man, I hold myself up to their standards while interacting with the fairer sex. I was intrigued to see if the treatment of women was the same in his debut itself.

With all these thoughts I watched this film on YouTube. Before I proceed any further to talk about this film, I would like to throw in a disclaimer: This is not a review. It is just a revisiting (for most of the readers) and appreciation of the film along with the parts that didn't work for me. It is still an opinion and you have every right to disagree with mine. But it would be great if you could also mention why you disagree in the comments section instead of the one-word disagreement. With that said, let's dive right in.

Minnale is a film about mistaken identity. It is about a man (R. Madhavan as Rajesh), who, despite his disinterest in women right from the college days falls in love with a woman (Debutant Reema Sen as Reena). He steals the identity of her fiance and spends some time with her. What follows, when he learns that the fiance was none other than his college enemy (Abbas as Rajeev Samuel) which Reena discovers before he can confess to her forms the rest of the story. Of course, being the first film, it had to have the "happily-ever-after" ending with the "hero" getting the woman of his love. But what's interesting is the fresh and interesting characters that form the core of the film.

For instance, in the initial scenes where the enmity between Rajesh and Sam are established, Rajesh is portrayed to be a failure student. But that doesn't stop him from coming back at the jibes of his rival in fluent English. This is something very fresh and unique as up until then all the failure students were only portrayed to be illiterates.

It is also interesting to see how the obsession with clean-shaven characters in the film started with GVM's very first film. Even the rugged Madhavan sports only a stubble and not a full-grown beard. The antagonist is not an evil guy but on the contrary, a gentleman and even a better man than the protagonist. There is this scene where Rajeev is sure that Reena is in love with him (whereas in reality she is upset with Rajesh and confused) and both of them are in a car. He doesn't take advantage of intimacy but asks her to be a part of his life. There is another scene where Rajesh runs behind Reena apologising for his behaviour but loses it when she doesn't give a damn. He holds her by her hand and says something to the effect of, "Yes, I lied. But if I had wanted I could have taken advantage of our intimacy any time I wanted, but I didn't, did I?" At this point, I started to root for Rajeev and thought, "She definitely deserves better!"

While talking about the debut, it is impossible to not talk about the music of the film. As we all know the evergreen songs, Vaseegara and Venmathiye are still the go-to songs for love and break-ups. Harris Jayaraj was a revolution not just in the fresh sounds in the music and the background score. Probably it was the first time when a singer like Bombay Jayashree known for classical Carnatic Music gave a super hit film-song. The lyrics of the songs are so beautiful that keep the listeners hooked beyond the mesmerizing music and the great voice.

Despite being a debut film, it was interesting to see the director take a lot of risks in this film. In an era where writing female characters was restricted to eye-candies and props for the hero, it was a great relief to see the female lead have a mind of her own and reject the man. This also made a clear point that dishonesty is definitely not the way into a woman's heart - contrary to the rut of films that glorified and romanticised lying to the woman to attain her and even worse, the lies and deception being forgiven because "the love was pure".

The film is not without its share of flaws. But these flaws are mainly due to the restrictions that a new-comer has to face while making his first film. For instance, the stalking angle (scenes where Rajesh obtains the address of Reena and is found at her building entrance without her notice, following her everywhere she goes, etc.) definitely would be questioned and even lashed about though none of it was justified in the film. The comedy in the film, though fantastic when watched as a standalone track, definitely affect the flow of the film. The character of Rajeev could've had some consolation in the end. After all, he is the better man of the two.

Minnale is a good sample to introduce the director GVM to a newbie. And the director has stayed true to his self while making the films he has made so far. In fact, he has improved and has been a lot more sensitive about the women he writes in his films. There have been instances where women have been stronger than the male characters. GVM has come a long way. But for me, Minnale would be a good example of a debut that showed that romance, love and their expression can be dignified - on the screen and off it.

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