Posted in Movies - General

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV)

What if the battle isn’t always between good and evil?
What happens when evil permeates into good and what’s left is only shades of evil? 

Chekka

In a movie based on an abrasive story about a family horrifically transformed after the death of its patriarch who is a wealthy gangster, the writers (Mani Ratnam and Siva Ananth) and the director (Mani Ratnam) adequately prepare you for the gory twists and turns the movie is going to take, after a shocking opening scene where there is a failed assassination attempt on the patriarch and his wife.

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is a new kind of Mani Ratnam film. The ‘Mani-isms’ we are used to seeing perhaps have gotten a reboot. Mani’s treatment of songs has entered a completely new and a complex territory. There is less of poetry in any given scene, as the scenes are not dwelling on moments, instead they define phases of stories and hence Mani couldn’t afford to spend time on waxing poetry. There are many details, at first, seem untold. When I watched the movie the second time, I realized that they were not left untold, but were meant to be left intentionally open for audience’s interpretation, as the director wants to move the story forward in the quickest way possible. So, do these all make CCV a film that is very “Un-Mani-Ratnam”? The answer is yes, if you like to box creativity. The answer is no, if you believe in an artist’s creativity manifesting into different forms or in it simply evolving.

Arvind Swamy, Arun Vijay, and STR are three brothers. They play these characters that are your manly men, riding high on Testosterone with a capital “T”. They have strong women in their respective lives – Jyohika, Aishwarya, and Dayana. When their father, Prakash Raj and mother, Jayasudha, escape an assassination attempt on their lives, the brothers, two of them living outside the country, are forced to get together in Chennai. As they help comfort their parents, an opportunity to reassess their priorities arise, and along with it a suspicion on who could have tried killing their father creeps in. The stage is set for a power struggle, if and when a vacuum gets created after the father dies.

We are also introduced to an outsider, Vijay Sethupathi, a cop, serving suspension of his duties. He is a childhood friend of Arvind Swamy and is fully aware of the family’s criminal dealings, and is ok to share a plate of ‘upma’ or a cup of tea with them, without any guilt. The script sort of skates over these characters and their backgrounds unwaveringly, and yet, we don’t feel lost or disconnected. So, it’s left to the actors, then, to keep us close to the movie, and none of them shirks away from that task of injecting the needed intellect and emotion to the characters. AR Rahman’s powerful background score defines the underlying mood of the film, frame by farme.

I was quite unsure of my reaction to the movie the first time around because I was unsure if I had missed any character layering, given that the story is straightforward, barring the somewhat predictable plot twists. When I watched it the second time, I was able to appreciate the nuances of the characters much better. I could understand why Mani and Siva may have made some choices in their character portrayal. Given the nature of the “plot forwards”, and because of the deliberate attempt to downplay and not dramatize the bonding between the characters, there is very little emotionally, for the audience to latch onto, which works in the movie’s favor when it comes to the final act.

The final act of the movie is almost like a “purge”. A bloodbath of vengeance, shot aesthetically in a visually arresting landscape (Gandhikota Canyon in Kadappa district, Andhra Pradesh), set to hues of red, all over. From the phosphorus rich red soil to the bullfinch sky showcasing a sunset, from blood oozing out of dead bodies to the redness arising from anger, the director of cinematography Santhosh Sivan and Mani Ratnam, make sure that there is poetic justice meted out to the title of the movie. With AR Rahman’s guitar riff screaming to some powerful lyrics of Vairamuthu, one ends up walking out of the theater rooting for the right character…albeit as an afterthought.

What if the battle isn’t always between good and evil?
What happens when evil permeates into good and what’s left is only shades of evil? 

தப்பு தப்பா தப்புங்க செஞ்சு
தப்பு அறிஞ்சும் தப்புங்க செஞ்சு
செவந்து போச்சு நெஞ்சு

[Conscious but repeated violent deeds

Eventually result in bloodied souls]

 

Posted in Movies - General

Vikram Vedha – A Story of Choices

The two lead characters of Pushkar-Gayatri’s Vikram Vedha have one thing in common. They both are devout to their chosen profession with an obstinate belief in their respective approaches. The confidence they have in their approach with which they go about conducting their business pretty much provides them the drive they need and it also helps them define their moral compass ..a compass that gives them distinct clarity between black and white, in a world full of several shades of gray.

Vikram Vedha

Why Vikram Vedha turns out to be one of the best Tamil movies in recent times is not because of the philosophies and the above principles that define the two lead characters. But because of Pushkar and Gayatri’s screenplay that quite intricately builds the plot for the viewer, leading up to a climax which works in the most cinematically engaging way possible. The element of suspense, when revealed during the climax makes the audience connect all the dots. The hallmark of a great movie & a brilliant screenplay is how much it makes the viewer think about the movie after he or she walks out of the movie hall. I was thinking about the intricate plot for a few hours after I walked out of the movie.

Both Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi carry their roles with aplomb. Vijay’s character is a more relatable one for the Tamil audience. They have seen him in similar roles (not in a negative shade, but Chennai slang speaking, casual mannerism wielding, etc. etc.) and have cheered for him for his ability to breathe life into these roles. And yet, there was something more intense in this role and Vijay scores big in every opportunity he gets in the script.

Vikram’s role on the other hand was a bit more difficult for Madhavan to fit in and he pulled it off quite brilliantly. His character demanded balancing multiple relationships, each with a different set of nuances. Be it with a attorney wife, who is actually on the other side of the criminal case he is dealing with OR be it during his personal encounters with Vedha, the mobster whose downfall has been his mission and also the person who intrigues him the most by making him look at the gray side OR be it with his colleagues, with whom he shares his ideologies in the most pragmatical way possible with some kind of naiveté – These are some of the different shades of Vikram’s character that Madhavan had to carry on his shoulders.

Vedha is that introspective criminal, who was thrown into the mix due to circumstances. He is fully aware of what he is doing and hence keeps himself detached from other people, except perhaps for his love for his brother, a matter in which he had no choice. He deals with situations in a practical way, weighs his choices justly and sticks with his decision. He is smart and is persuasive.

The Vikram-Betal structure has been used to frame this intricate plot of what otherwise is a simple story. Pushkar and Gayatri have shown their humorous side in the past through their earlier outings and their penchant for brilliant one liners continue here as well but in a more unassuming way than you could imagine in a plot like this. Even though Sam CS’s background score is bright and energetic for this movie, providing the much needed gusto, he also overdoes it to some extent (would have preferred a softer approach in some sequences). The main theme chant inspired by the powerful “Aigiri Nandini” stands out and bodes well with the overall momentum of the movie.

In Vikram Vedha, we get to witness two characters from two sides of the socially dictated moral spectrum of “Right vs Wrong”, pitted against each other and making choices based on their instincts.  When one of the two characters offers the other a different perspective and the other character agrees to accommodate a different perspective, the choice making is no longer instinctive but analytical.

And the buzz of “Oru Kadha Sollattaa Saar?” (“Shall I narrate a story, Sir?”) continues to ring in my ears.