Director Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam opens with a voice-over by Rasool Ebrahim (Vijay Sethupathi) , who we later learn is a cop with a not so shining track record. He introduces us to the head of a crime syndicate, Senapathi (Prakash Raj), who runs his operations based out of Chennai. He is headed to a temple to mark his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife (Jayasudha). His car is ambushed leaving him and his wife critically injured. The incident sets off a series of introduction scenes and the stage is set for a bloodshed in the pursuit of power.
Senapati’s firstborn Varadan (Aravind Swami) is a tough nut who prefers guns to dialogue to settle problems. He is the second in command and the heir to the criminal enterprise, should anything happen to his father. He is married to Chitra (Jyothika), a no-nonsense lady who lives by a code: the truth will set you free.
Senapati’s second born Thyagu (Arun Vijay) is living in Dubai with a beautiful wife Renu (Aishwarya Rajesh) and two kids. Rubbing shoulders with rich Sheikhs, signing business contracts on private yachts filled with champagne bottles and beautiful girls, Thyagu’s life looks sorted.
Now, Senapati’s third son Ethi (Simbu) is a bit of a problem. He is making loads of money transporting illegal weapons and drugs in Siberia. He is dating Chaaya (Dayana Erappa), who is a total knockout and yet he is unhappy.
You may already know all this information if you had seen the trailer of Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. The trailer was cut using the traditional three-act structure, which introduced the heroes, established the conflict and even showed us how it was all going to end. It felt like Ratnam gave away more than we needed in the less than 3-minute video. But, while watching the movie, you will realize that the beauty is not just in the size of the canvas but in the details it holds.
It’s a game of death played between bloodthirsty brothers who feel betrayed by each other. The female characters get very little action in this film. The characters of Aishwarya Rajesh and Aditi Rao Hydari’s Parvathi appear briefly on screen. But, Parvathi delivers a very memorable line when Chitra catches her with Varadan.
Tender and loving Chitra offers unconditional loyalty to her man even as she catches him cheating on her. Vijay Sethupathi as Rasool carries an air of mystery about himself. It’s very difficult to guess where his true loyalty lies until the end.
All the characters are not what they tell they are. There is a scene set in Senapati’s house, which is shown through the shots of the mirror reflection of the characters as they engage in a heated debate. The scene is meant to establish the duality of all key characters. Cinematographer Santosh Sivan has soaked the film in shades of yellow and blue as the narration keeps hoping from rage to sadness with no respite. And what Ratnam and composer AR Rahman have done with the film’s music is a surprise. The director has not used any of Rahman’s songs in its entirety or spent money picturizing the beautiful numbers. He uses the songs in small doses throughout the film to lift up the scenes further. Rahman’s music is a character in itself in the movie.
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam feels like the work of a fresh director with an impressive understanding about the craft of filmmaking. It could be because auteur Mani Ratnam has made a violent film after a very long time. It could also be because it is a straightforward movie, in which he has highly favored words to images.