Loss and heartbreak are recurring motifs in Gautham Menon movies. As in Kaakka Kaakka (2003) and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006) – two of the movies in his cop trilogy – in Yennai Arindhaal (2015) too, a key plot point occurs when the protagonist’s work and personal lives violently intersect.
Sathya’s lover Hemanika (Trisha Krishnan) is brutally murdered on the eve of their wedding. However, retribution does not come swiftly to Sathya (Ajith). The onus of raising Hemanika’s seven year-old daughter Esha (Anikha Surendran) from a previous marriage falls on him. He is torn between being a police officer seeking vengeance and learning to be a single parent to Esha. In this state of internal conflict, Sathya finds clarity in his father’s words: to know yourself, embark on a long journey.
The song Unakkenna Venum Sollu is about a man rediscovering himself and getting to know his child better, even enlisting her help in the process (tell me what you want, tell me to show you the world, we will set out in search of a new place, a new cloud). It is also about Sathya discovering the lost sweetness of life through Esha’s smallest wishes and whims.
The camera becomes a co-traveller to Sathya and Esha, who embark on a four-year journey from Chennai to the blue-hued streetscapes of Jodhpur and the sand dunes of Rajasthan to the lush fields of Punjab. In Sikkim, snow-capped peaks and prayer flags form the backdrop to a gradual settling into a parent-child bond, with Esha’s greeting cards to Sathya forming the milestones in their relationship. Hemanika’s framed photograph evokes a self-conscious smile from Sathya when he notices how much he has greyed (which is also something of a throwaway to fans because Ajith is known to be unabashed about appearing on screen with grey hair). Hemanika also lives on in Esha who seeks out her mother in herself, to mirror her in the way she braids her hair, and in her choice of large bindis.
When Sathya tells Esha that it has been four years since they left Chennai, she simply closes the chapter, and asks him where they are going next. Their journeys are captured in Esha’s scrapbook and her Mother’s Day card for him becomes the poignant culminating milestone to his journey in search of himself.
The movie sees the return of the partnership of Menon, music composer Harris Jayaraj and lyricist Thamarai. Benny Dayal renders the song with the timbre and tenderness reminiscent of KJ Yesudas and Unni Menon. Mahathi’s voice underscores the constant presence of Hemanika in their lives.
What sets Unakkenna Venum Sollu apart is not merely the depiction of the passage of time or the idea of travel as a means of self-discovery. The song adds credibility to the narrative by slowing it down, allowing Sathya to acknowledge that his strength as an encounter cop and his vulnerability as a parent can coexist.