Mani Ratnam seems to be tired of people calling his films too mani ratnam-esque so he went out and made Chekka Chivantha Vaanam trying to be as least mani ratnam-esque as possible but he just couldn’t help but have his signature all over the film. Be it associating characters with colours (tones of red all over, monochromatic dresses for single tone and straight forward characters like Varadan, Chitra, Senapati, but more flamboyant for Ethi and Thyagu), the way people talk and respond to questions (as soon as Senapathi wakes up, Chitra tells about Lakshmi in a Kanden Seethaiyai way), power play of characters shown by where they are standing when talking with each other, the list keeps going. And when I have all these things on screen to keep me entertained, I can’t help but be impressed with a film even if the overall story is meh. But in case of CCV, even the story ties all these things together really well.
I see Chekka Chivantha Vaanam as a tale of a bunch of characters trying to prove themselves that they are worth much more than what the world thinks they are. Chitra is fighting her way to prove varadan that she also can handle things. Varadan wants everyone to know he is much more than what his dad made him. Ethi doesn’t like being ignored all the time and wants people to respect him. Rasool wants to prove how good a policeman he is. And all their actions are triggered with this motive without considering the consequences. And most of the time, the consequences are catastrophic. We as an audience see these consequences coming far back but the characters, being flawed as they are, don’t. This is the kind of immersive experience that makes a film complete.
The screenplay was coherent but the way a few scenes were edited seemed a little off for me. There were some abrupt transitions with Bhoomi Bhoomi and Mazhai Kuruvi showing up in a random way even though they fit in with that particular scene. At some point, it felt like the music was just included because the character associated with it is on screen. But I really loved Sevanthu Pochu Nenje when something drastic is going down and how Praaptham was used during action sequences.
The places where it didn’t seem like a Mani Ratnam movie were the scenes involving Vijay Sethupathi and Simbu. In some way these two bring their own shade into any character they do. Even the dialogues these two speak is nothing what I usually see in a Mani film. But the way Vijay Sethupathi steals any scene he is present in is phenomenal. Arvind Swamy’s senseless beast, Chitra’s calm yet impulsive behaviour, Arun Vijay’s calculated evilness, everyone made it easy for us as audience to understand them.
It’s really fascinating how the works of Mani and Santhosh always stand unique when compared to their works with other people. There isn’t a lot of Kaatri Veliyidai in CCV but there is a lot of Iruvar and Raavanan in terms of cinematography. The way Prakash Raj enters into the screen showing his presence literally and figuratively when his children are discussing about his successor, and how instead of the camera circling around the characters showing how confused the characters are, the whole world is circling in the climax showing how there is no balance anywhere around them. The camera tells a story by itself during most of the scenes.
As Baradwaj Rangan recently said, Mani has moved on from writing realistic characters to experimenting with more superficial and hypothetical characters. And in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, he takes us through the journey of all these characters trying to prove their own identities but along the way we try to justify the actions they do because we know what the character of that sort, would do in a situation like that. Writing non-relatable characters that, we, as an audience, can understand is far more complex than writing relatable characters. And I’m starting to like this Mani Ratnam more.