Mani Ratnam’s 'Chekka Chivantha Vanam' delves into man’s hunger for money and power

Though Vijay Sethupathy was in crackling form, the film belongs to STR, who was effortless and entertaining.
Mani Ratnam’s 'Chekka Chivantha Vanam' delves into man’s hunger for money and power
Mani Ratnam’s 'Chekka Chivantha Vanam' delves into man’s hunger for money and power
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One of the best moments of Chekka Chivantha Vanam happens five minutes into the film. After Vijay Sethupathy’s narration takes us on a metaphysical tour of the city, its life and times, he steers us to a couple seated inside a sleek black Mercedes. We are told that the aged, weary man in his late 60s is Senapathi (a terrific Prakash Raj), also the most powerful man in the city. The serene faced woman in a pink sari who sits next to him is his wife Lakshmy (Jayasudha). And suddenly, Senapathi breaks into a romantic song, smiling at Lakshmy. She shoots back wryly, “So today it’s my turn. Why? Did you get tired of singing to your pretty young things?” He laughs.

The husband has forgotten their anniversary and has decided to make amends by accompanying her to a temple. She talks about constantly asking god to forgive her husband for all his sins and lies. It’s a trope in every gangster film – the ageing don and his traditional, tolerant wife, who is just there to give him children, manage the household and play the three monkeys all her life. And yet, despite the hackneyed representation, this couple remains the most heart-warming memory of the film. Chekka Chivantha Vanam (CCV), at least, begins promisingly.

The narrative picks up pace after Senapathi and Lakshmy are hospitalised, when they narrowly escape a plot to murder them. Word is sent to their sons – Varadan (Aravind Swami) the eldest and his father’s main ally; Thyagu (Arun Vijay) who runs their business in Dubai; and Ethi (STR), who runs an arms and ammunition trade in Serbia.

Their introductions are lavishly set – we meet Thyagu on a luxurious yacht. The camera helpfully pans over bikini-clad women delicately picking strawberries, and settles on the white-suited Thyagu in conversation with Arabs. Ethi drives in a giant convertible, with a woman laughing next to him. Varadan is the more rustic among the lot, and unpleasant.

Mani Ratnam gives a brief intro to the characters through their reactions to their father’s accident. “Oh, should I come,” wonders Ethi while Thyagu is more emotional. Varadan reacts violently, wanting to nab the culprits immediately.

The initial portions are nicely staged – the bonding between the brothers, their families and those little nuggets to sketch out their personalities. But, the production designing seems to have been borrowed from his last film, especially the naming ceremony.

There is a nice scene at the hospital between the father and sons, explaining succinctly the equations between them. He is the kind of father who has kept his sons at arm’s length.

The movie delves into man’s hunger for money and power, and how it all comes down to one thing – selfishness, a characteristic common to every human being, strong enough to shatter the strongest bonds. CCV tells us to rethink blood relations, and that nothing and no one is indispensable.

Rasool (Vijay Sethupathy) is the crucial fourth angle to the story – Varadan’s childhood friend and a cop serving suspension. The superb actor lightens the mood with his one-liners – like the scene at a brothel, when they are chasing a suspect, a woman teasingly tries to stall him, and he tells her with regret and a hint of a smile, “I really can’t. I don’t have money.” It’s a vintage Vijay Sethupathy moment.

Prakash Raj’s character Senapathi required a better adversary than Chinnappa Das (Thyagarajan). He seems too straight and simple for a don. Those scenes fell flat.

There are times when you think Mani Ratnam has undermined his various heroes on screen, through the three brothers. But we are unable to empathise with any of them. So even when Varadan, the most complex of the three (or is he?) breaks down and talks about having lived under his father’s shadow for years, we don’t really feel for him. Similarly, it’s difficult to buy Ethi’s love story with Chaaya. It seems shallow from the word go. Or Thyagu’s scene with his wife at the jail. Varadan’s character sketch wasn’t entirely convincing. Or rather the actor struggled to convey it.

So is the case with women. Varadan’s love interest (Aditi Rao Hydari) is the weakest link in the film. In one scene, she is attempting to take a sound byte from Varadan (assuring us that she is a journalist) and in the next scene, she is jumping into bed with him. When Varadan’s wife Chitra (Jyothika) catches them red-handed, there is no remorse or embarrassment, just an inane conversation follows between the two.

Chitra is as ambiguous – she speaks more like Varadan’s mother/sister than his wife. She is this “stereotypical strong woman” we feel no empathy for.

One of the most heartening moments in CCV come from Aishwarya Rajesh and not because she had a distinctive role, but because she was playing an immaculately dressed sophisticated woman on screen.

The music played havoc with the pacing (would probably have worked better as a standalone piece) most of the time and it clashed with the narrative at various junctures.

Though Vijay Sethupathy was in crackling form, the film belongs to STR, who was effortless and entertaining – be it his succinct gags or his conversation with Thyagu on the yacht.

The premise is straightforward and interesting, and, in hindsight, when you watch it in the theatre, it does seem exciting and intriguing. But once you step out, you realise none of the characters has come home with you.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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