Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam: A Promising Story Let Down By Half-baked Execution
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Director Mani Ratnam is one of the few directors in Tamil cinema whose films are anticipated and celebrated as much as a Rajinikanth film. In fact, even with the film’s release months away, ardent fans of his begin to predict the plot that might be in store for them. This is why when their expectations aren’t met, they feel incredibly let down. You can’t help but agree that dealing with such pressure and delivering a good film despite that is hard for any filmmaker. But Mani Ratnam is not any filmmaker, is he? This is why you will find Chekka Chivantha Vaanam to be slightly disappointing.
The film is based on an extremely interesting script. It even has fascinating characters. But due to half-baked execution, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam isn’t half as impactful as it should have been. Having said that, this disappointment comes to you only because the film has a legend like Mani Ratnam helming it. If you take him off the equation, the film would be an average entertainer. But Mani Ratnam cannot and should not do average.
Senapathy (Prakash Raj) a powerful business magnate and an undefeated don is attacked on his wedding anniversary. Post this attack, his health and recovery are not promising. This brings his three power-hungry sons Varathan (Aravind Swamy), Thiyagu (Arun Vijay) and Ethi (Silambarasan) to his turf. For a while, it is like a lively family reunion but soon, the masks fall off and the siblings begin to fight for their father’s throne. Who will win this fight? Will they make it out of this war alive? The unraveling of the answers to these pressing questions forms the crux of this film.
For a film that relies so heavily on its characters, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam puts forth very little efforts to establish these characters, their personalities, and their psyche effectively. Unlike his usual self, Mani Ratnam uses dialogues to establish what these characters do rather than conveying it visually. Similarly, you are told that they’re hungry for power. But the lengths they will go to in order to attain it or the dangerous repercussions their actions could bring are never established properly. Due to this, you don’t connect with the characters and take little interest in what happens to them. Since their abilities to create havoc are never established convincingly, you are never threatened by their presence.
For instance, characters in the film look at Varathan as the next kingpin. But not once do we see him fight like a ruthless gangster. Despite living closest to his father we don’t see him get involved in their circle. In another exchange between Thiyagu and Ethi, the director tries to tell us that Thiyagu is capable of talking his way out of anything. But this characteristic of his isn’t strong enough to hold up in another scene where he convinces Varathan’s goons to leave his brother and join him. What should’ve been a powerful scene falls flat. This is why his actions in the climax aren’t convincing.
Ethi is shown to be a detached, ruthless and yet emotional person. But you never understand the mental conflicts he meets within the film because the director never takes you through his reason for feeling the way he does. In the second half, when he pleads with his mother to come away with him, you don’t soak up the core emotions of the scene. Rasool’s role in the film should’ve been evenly distributed. But because his importance is not established clearly, you don’t really buy his role in the climax.
Unfortunately, the film bears one too many logical loopholes and leaves a few loose ends too. For example, throughout the film, you witness many shootouts and murders but these go undetected by the police. Even in international territory, their crimes never come to the attention of the police officers. In the first half, you are introduced to Renu, an Illankai Tamil woman whose hometown or accent in no way contributes to the film. You never find out what happens to her in the end either.
Another problem in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is the fact that, for characters who are hell-bent on seeking revenge, they never get their hands dirty, so their threats appear empty after a while. The significance of a few props arent established well either. Senapathy’s throne, which is the reason for this macabre never appears royal enough. It resembles just another sofa in his home. Even when he dies in that chair, it never really gets registered in your mind.
The restricted frames and the absence of a magnanimous crowd make you question if there were limitations in budgeting. The production design behind sequences that required wider frames and much more manpower let you down.
For the first time ever, none of the female characters in a Mani Ratnam film have anything significant to do. Take Chithra for instance, she is always trying to save her husband. But you never discover why she chooses to stay with him despite his discrepancies. Aditi Rao Hydari’s character Parvathy too is underdeveloped and barely has anything to do in the film.
On paper, the idea behind Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is brilliant. It reminds us of the many political families in Tamil Nadu. A story like this, if executed in Mani Ratnam’s old brand of magic, could’ve been incredibly relevant in today’s socio-political climate.
However, the film isn’t entirely bad either. The dialogues are written wonderfully. Throughout the film, director Mani Ratnam ensures that the suspense is maintained. He has us guessing till the end. The presence of Ethi and Rasool, in particular, is very engaging, comical and intriguing. Some of the memorable scenes include the Ethi and Rasool’s witty exchanges, Aravind Swamy’s final confession and Senapathy uncovering the man behind his attack.
As Varathan, Aravind Swamy makes the best of what is given to him. Silambarasan and Vijay Sethupathi shine in their respective roles. They definitely lend the film its essence. As Thiyagu, Arun Vijay delivers a memorable performance. Jyothika’s character Chithra is definitely interesting but has limited scope in the film.
Cinematographer Santhosh Sivan gives you good visuals. But they come nowhere close to the visual poetry he usually creates with Mani Ratnam. The coloring and visual treatment come across as shockingly ordinary for a Mani Ratnam film that usually has hidden meanings embedded in them from frame to frame.
A.R Rahman’s song tracks for the film are noteworthy. But they have been placed poorly. The music and its incoherence in the places it plays out and the characters it is associated with creates a lot of confusion.
On the whole, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is an out and out mass film. What if Singam got a technical and scripting upgrade? This would be the result. If you are an ardent Mani Ratnam fan, chances are you might not be impressed. If you are just looking for just plain entertainment, this film will deliver.