Vaaranam Aayiram is unthinkable without Suriya's brilliant double act of father and son. His absolutely rivetting performance(s) lifts the otherwise very so-so film several notches and makes for extremely engaging viewing. Otherwise, the loose screenplay and meandering storyline, in particular, the second half almost derails the relatively well-worked out first half even if the sequences increase the pace of the otherwise not so pacy narrative as the film tries to pack in too much for its own good. This is especially true in the scenes following Meghna's death, where Surya loses himself to drugs, recovers, rescues a kidnapped child in Delhi more efficiently than the police and then decides to join the army.
Admittedly, the film, said to based on director Gautham Vasudev Menon's own life and feelings when he lost his father, is stylish and polished technically but at the cost of storytelling at times. It appears that the newer lot of Tamil directors overdo the stylish aspect overlooking content. They appear at times to think in terms of shots rather than scenes and story and thus the film lacks a overall narrative cohesiveness. Further, too many sequences are totally geared up towards blatant commercial elements of mainstream cinema (Suriya taking off his shirt just to show off his body much too often and unneccessarily) and obvious performance scenes for the actor, which also tend to take away from the narrative. For instance, considering the relationship the father and son share, you find it odd that the father leaves Surya totally to himself following his return to Chennai after Meghna's death. Of course, this allows for scenes of Surya to get into drugs and then having to recover through harrowing scenes of withdrawal and no doubt Suriya has performed them well enough, but they loosen the narrative. The songs, normally a strength of mainstream Tamil cinema, are generally nicely picturised and it must be admitted here that it is refreshing to see songs depicting emotions and small moments between the characters and having some story progression rather than standard frontal long shot dance movements. For instance the Oh! Shanthi Shanthi song works really well as Surya reaches San Francisco and through the song traces out Meghna. As does Adiyae Kolluthey through which we see his budding relationship with Meghna while Annul Maelae brings out the tender and mature romance between Priya and Surya, nicely contrasted with the exuberance between him and Meghna. However, the film could well have done without the koothu music number where Surya goes hysterical as he remembers Meghna even if it does move the narrative forward as we see Surya's descent into drugs. Then there is the problem of the film's three hours running time that causes the film to drag on to its 'happy end.' The film, though structured as a series of Major Surya's flashbacks, succumbs to the usual problem that Indian cinema faces - of going neutral to give you the 'complete' story.
What really gives the film its strength is the relationship between the characters especially the father-son, mother-son and father-mother sequences. In particular, the father-son relationship works nicely enough as the two bond like friends with the son looking onto the father as his hero. It is a trifle over-sentimental and mushy but works. Some moments in the film like when Surya first sees Meghna in a train and their subsequent encounter at the door of the bogie work really well as he promises to be a part of her life and sweep her off her feet. Surya's wooing of Meghna thereafter with his likeable charm brings a smile to your face and the romance is nice and cute - see the scene where he goes to her house dressed in exactly the same clothes he wore when he met her in the train so that she could recognise him! Surya's subsequent breakdown over the phone with his parents following her death in the Oklahoma bombing is another well handled sequence and so is his relationship with Priya especially in the scene when he finally proposes to her. Another poignant moment is when Krishnan has lost his voice to throat cancer and one sees the look of helplessness on his face when his grandson asks him to tell him stories and he is unable to do so.
Vaaranam Aayiram is Suriya's film all the way and the actor delivers and how! Kaakha Kaakha (2003), Ghajini (2005) and now Vaaranam Aayiram. Suriya is growing better with each film and Vaaranam Aayiram sees him score heavily especially as the father. His body language, mannerisms, soft-spoken, warm nature are all beautifully done. It's a pity the make-up for the character couldn't have been done better, especially so in the last leg of his life. Suriya carries off the different ages of both his characters beautifully, the father from college days to middle age to old age and the son from his teens to his 30s. He rarely hits a false note in the entire film as both his characters go through a varied range of looks and emotions. Summing up, it's simply a brilliant act (or acts). Simran is very good as the patient, loving mother while Sameera Reddy is used well and nicely photographed. Otherwise, it is a largely undemanding role she carries off ok enough. Divya Spandana as Priya, the girl who has loved Suriya right throughout and whom he finally marries, has her moments. It is refreshing to see women in a mainstream film having minds of their own even if their ultimate aim is to get married and settle down.
The technicalities are polished but admittedly a little attention-drawing be it Anthony's obviously flashy editing or Rathnavelu's camerawork. Harris Jayaraj's music is a big asset with Adiyae Kolluthey (the female vocals by Shruti Haasan are great), Nenjukkul Peidhidum, Mundhinam (even if picturised a little more like a parody of the late 60s and early 1970s rather than a genuine recreation of the era) and Annul Maelae composed really nicely. However, the background score is very ordinary to say the least and Brinda's choreography is just about efficient enough. The recreation of the various periods needed more work.
All in all, the film has enough going for it and is worth a watch.
The film has gone on to win the National Award for Best Tamil Film and Filmfare Awards for Tamil Best Actor (Suriya), Tamil Best Supporting Actress (Simran), Tamil Best Music (Harris Jayaraj), Tamil Best Lyrics (Thamarai) and Tamil Best Playback Male (Naresh Iyer).