If it is a Mani Ratnam film, it is inevitable that there will be a lot of expectations and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam does not disappoint. Mani Ratnam has gone back to his Nayagan-Thalapathi template of gangster flicks… In Nayagan, the protagonist played by Kamal Haasan is constantly faced with the dilemma of what is right and what is wrong. That is the question that runs through the film: Am I a good man or bad man. In Thalapathy, what is right and what is wrong changes with who you are and where you stand, your circumstances. In Raavan, there was the good man and bad man, on the face of it, and as the film unfolds, you see there is evil in the good man and goodness in the bad man.
In Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, Mani Ratnam puts to rest that dilemma. It shows how a family can become dysfunctional if it does not stand up for values, is permissive about violence, greed, selfishness. The moral of the story is that violence begets violence and in that spiral, the only way you can go is downwards. Somehow it was reassuring to me.
As expected the film is fast-paced, deftly edited, with a tight screenplay and well-etched out characters. The film, specially, the first half is a breeze and there is no moment of boredom.
It is a multi-starrer with Prakash Raj, Jayasudha, Arvind Swamy, Jyothika, Aditi Hydari, Arun Vijay, Silambarasan (simbu) and Vijay Sethupathy. They are all given well-etched roles by the director and everyone performs brilliantly. In fact, it is Vijay Sethupathy who is the most deglamourised of the lot… But he is solid with the best one-liners.
Most of the lead actors play trigger-happy gangsters for who it is all about power and control. The director tells us their story, their motivation, their style, their fears and vulnerabilities, and yet you never really empathise with them. It is amazing how in a action movie, with so many characters, the director manages to give detailing to each character and role. No line is wasted. Every dialogue tells you about some back story of influences that shaped a personality and brings the character alive.
The family is living the high-life and yet they are hollow from the inside. A power struggle within the family where the sons are in many ways just like their dad. Money and power do little to remove insecurities, feelings of inadequacy. The film in many senses is a commentary on what you see in several seemingly perfect hi-flying families, where you tear the veneer of colourful perfection, and inside are gashes that run deep.
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is a dark film, end-to-end, but crafted in beautiful colours. Santosh Sivan creates a canvas where the veneer looks all bright and beautiful but underneath is a dark underbelly of mistrust, anger, fear and suspicion, violence and death. This is Santosh Sivan's sixth film with Mani Ratnam… the last one was Raavan.
Music and background score by A R Rahman is as always soul-stirring. It complements the beauty and the stark messaging in every scene, heightening the sense of drama. As A R Rahman put it its the beauty of the evil that has been captured here.
Ironically, the release happened on the day the Supreme Court ruled on adultery. And I was watching a film where two leading women are not just aware of the extramarital flings of their husband, there is no melodrama that is made out of it, they in fact even joke about it. May be the director was only trying to show how degraded families and relationships can get if there are no values to live by and there is nothing redeeming about the way they live.
To tell so much within those 2 and a half hours, with so much depth that you continue to think about the characters and the film long after you have stepped out of the theatre, that is the magic of Mani Ratnam for me.
(Uma Sudhir is Executive Editor, NDTV)
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