Mani is the matter: on Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

Mani is the matter: on Chekka Chivantha Vaanam


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Two personalities in Tamil cinema who refined the craft as well the tastes of viewers are Kamal and Mani Ratnam. That’s purely because they’re cineastes first. Added to the staple of local fare they never missed an opportunity to watch world cinema. Kamal’s vast collection of VHS tapes helped. It’s their ability to traipse down the tightrope between art and commerce that makes them unique. Their constant endeavour is to try and wean viewers from junk by offering fare that makes you think rather than numb your senses. Mani took up direction because he was confident he could churn out better stuff than what was being made. His idols ranged from Kurosawa to Guru Dutt and K. Balachander. “You also have to learn what not to do from some of your favourite directors,” said Mani. There’s an anxiety when a Mani or Kamal film is due for release. You wish they live up to their abilities which will automatically satiate your expectations. You want to be kind to their work because you know the hard work that goes into their effort, not just physical.

Mani has been doffing his hat to his favourite films with stray shots, sequences, style and narrative. If having Revathi dangle from a lamppost a la ‘Singing in the Rain’ means copying so be it. The slaying of the Reddiaar family intercut with a ceremony and the gunning down of the son in ‘Nayagan’ is Mani’s humble hallelujah to ‘Godfather’. Dumping cartons of smuggled stuff tied to sacks of salt is from an unsung classic called ‘Once Upon A Time In America’. The song ‘Sundari Kannal’ shot in twilight on a hill with horses and Rajni donning Samurai apparel is the closest Mani came to doing something like Korosawa. The touching climax in ‘Alai Payudhe’ is straight out of ‘Sliding Doors’. It speaks of Mani’s ability to pick the spirit and style of stray scenes rather than the whole. ‘Ayudha Yezhuthu’ had the narrative style of ‘Amores Perros’ and nothing else. Most feel Mani lost the plot in trying to please the pan-Indian population. There was ‘Iruvar’ which was a film only Tamilians could relate to but was marketed as a Mani Ratnam offering and bit the box-office dust though many consider it his best effort. His last few efforts have been lacklustre, but his ardent admirers and those who recognise his cinematic sensibilities never lost hope.

Mani is the matter: on Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

‘Chekka Chivandha Vanam’ is the closest he’s come to plagiarism. ‘New World’, a Korean film is a complex tale, intricately woven but lucidly narrated by Park Hoon-jung . It talks of the bloody, internecine war following the death of a crime syndicate leader in a car crash. Like in ‘Nayagan’ Mani writes a similar plot but makes it more relatable. The onus on emotional relationships does little in aiding the fleshing out of characters unlike the Korean version but that’s struck a chord. The plot is Indianised without reducing it to kitsch. Mani embraces the drone using it for ‘establishment’ shots of places like Dubai and Serbia and in the climax where the camera withdraws as if heaving a sigh of relief.

Mani turns it into a tale of orchestrated self-destruction. With a crowd of characters the pace is uncharacteristically hurried. Only Mani Ratnam can make a gangster movie, and draw families to theatres. It’s purely because of his signature style in characterisation and the way he carefully choreographs sequences.

He also has the uncanny ability to humanising characters, however dark. The mafia Don played by Prakash Raj, grievously injured first asks about his wife but doesn’t forget to enquire about the driver. His son bashes up a suspected rat before wiping off the blood. The eldest son’s wife barges into his concubine’s house sans hysterics. She’s more worried that there are too many windows making her husband unsafe. It’s taken for granted that goons are philanderers. Underlings are served sumptuous fare before an expected ambush with the wife even taking a dig at her husband’s culinary skills that only his paramour has tasted. Watch the Mani touch as a snatch of ‘Jane Kya Tune’ from one of his favourite films ‘Pyaasa’ is played in a brothel. There is a sense of class in the way Mani shoots ceremonies be it a death or the naming of an infant. It’s the character played by Aishwarya Rajesh that leaves a lot to be desired. She’s seen eavesdropping in a conversation between brothers and in a tardily shot sequence framed and incarcerated on drug charges. A similar sequence in the original still sends goose bumps.

‘CCV’ has the potential of a riveting web series. Anyway it’s been declared as one of Mani’s biggest box-office successes. Lest it be said that it’s because of the presence of stars like Vijay Sethupathi and Simbu. Remember the fate of their recent films.

People are watching and clapping purely because there can be only one star in a Mani Ratnam film even though it’s inspired. Mani still matters.