Mammootty aces Chandu, delivering the verbose dialogues with finesse and precision, and bringing a sense of drama in his body language.

30 years of Mammoottys Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha Understanding the conflicted Chandu
Flix Flix Flashback Saturday, November 16, 2019 - 11:08

Chandu cannot be defeated, or so they say. And so they meme. This year marks 30 years of the evergreen classic Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. In this short retrospective, we look at the character Chandu, played by Mammootty, as a complex soul who perhaps lost more battles in life than he won.

In the original folklore, it is said that Chandu was a warrior who lived in the 16th century and allied with Aringoder Chekavar to kill his cousin Aromal Chekavar when his love for Unniyarcha is spurned. Though MT Vasudevan Nair gives a noble spin to the villainous Chandu, he comes with his own share of complications and complexes in Hariharan’s Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.

He is the poor cousin who belongs to a Thiyya community and gets adopted at a very young age by his uncle, the formidable Kannappan Chekavar (Balan K Nair). The act of benevolence is not lost on the young Chandu or on those surrounding him, inducing the first signs of resentment in Chandu. “I never felt like I belonged there,” he says.

This feeling of displaced identity haunts Chandu throughout his adulthood, making him a dense character. A quick learner, Chandu becomes proficient in Kalarippayattu and is also promised marriage with Unniyarcha.  He is a recluse; even with Unniyarcha (Madhavi), there is a reluctance to show his vulnerable side, though she is overtly bashful in his presence.

His relationship with Unniyarcha is clouded by insecurity and a false ego—that’s why his idea of romance is the reassuring sight of the chain dangling on her neck, the one he has tied as part of a custom. It perhaps gives him a sense of entitlement.  Chandu rarely smiles, even when he does, it’s out of gratitude and obligation than genuine happiness. He knows the world will never give him his due. As Chandu tells his wife of 16 years— “You don’t know me. No one knows me. Truth is that I haven’t allowed anyone to know me.” 

It is said that MT thought of writing Chandu from a different perspective after he read about the circumstances that lead to his deceit. Therefore, in theory, he seems to be merely furnishing arguments in defence of Chandu and has not envisaged the man differently from what he originally was portrayed to be.  In the cinematic adaptation, along with being a flawed hero and a victim of circumstances, he also comes across as someone who wallows in self-pity. He prefers to remain silent in the face of defeat and humiliation as he probably thinks that’s all he deserves.

As he witnesses Unniyarcha being wed to another man, Chandu looks on helplessly—“My desire, my meditation and the passion that trickled into my blood and veins from the age of 13, I have to forsake her. I don’t deserve her. I wish her well,” he tells himself.

It’s his inability to get over Unniyarcha that eventually seals his defeat—as he falls for her charm and sweet talk and accepts her invitation to a clandestine meeting after her marriage. There is an irony in the fact that despite being a physically formidable fighter, emotionally Chandu is a weakling, consistently letting people step over his dignity. His innate sense of subservience gets the better of him, in such instances, making him incapable of standing up for himself.

Unniyarcha on the other hand is the archetypal femme fatale—alluring, mysterious and brave, she uses her feminine charms slyly. Her arc is interesting, and they do give broad hints but then Chandu is too blinded by love to catch them. With Chandu, she appears meek and shy, eyeing him with unfeigned admiration but the fact is that she never really stands up for him when he needs it most.  During the local match, when her brother is unfairly eulogised over her lover, Unniyarcha seems distressed but it’s clear that she never addresses it. She is as unmoved when her wedding is fixed with another and even after marriage she manages to appease Chandu with a show of tears, further inviting him for a romantic secretive meeting. When her husband catches them red-handed, Aarcha does a U-turn accusing Chandu of luring her into the trap. Her mask has fallen and from then on she joins his foes in plotting against him.

Chandu also gets a worthy adversary in Aromal (Suresh Gopi), who never hides his dislike for his poor cousin and leaves no occasion to rebuke him, including fixing his sister Unniyarcha’s marriage with Kunjiraman. To further his misery, Aromal gets married to the beauteous Kunjinooli, who was in love with Chandu.  

Chandu encounters defeat everywhere and MT is ruthless here, crafting the events brilliantly, laying the snare efficiently, leaving Chandu defenseless and routed each time, thereby making his fall from grace complete.  But in the end when he does hara-kiri to save his nephews from defeat, Chandu had finally attained victory through his death.

While Mammootty aces Chandu, delivering the verbose dialogues with finesse and precision, and bringing a sense of drama in his body language, Madhavi lives up to the picturisation of Unniyarcha—with her luminous eyes, grace and a bearing that’s regal and confident, making it easier to forgive her character’s treachery. Captain Raju as the formidable Aringoder, Suresh Gopi as the cocky Aromal and Balan K Nair as the generous Kannappan Chekavar are all perfectly cast.

The film continues to be celebrated through memes and other platforms, with Chandu’s climactic speech and expressions being the most popular. This year marks 30 years of Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha and its leading man played a similar fallen hero 20 years later in Pazhassiraja, and is now gearing up for the release of yet another period film, Mamangam. It’s also a testimony to his growth as an actor that he could traverse the different dimensions, the physical and emotional intricacies of these characters (both Chandu and Pazhassiraja) without the fear of the tag of duplication.  That’s why when it comes to Mamangam, while one might not be sure about the fate of the film, there are no apprehensions whatsoever about the actor essaying the part of the epic warrior.

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