This Gangster Whodunit Lacks Fizz
Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi and STR in a Mani Ratnam film? I’m in. I am definitely in. And so with high expectations I watched Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Crimson Red Sky). Halfway through, I was disappointed. The story wasn’t gripping. The film’s trailer promised a good family feud but the film was a damp squib. One couldn’t help but be reminded of Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, while watching Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. We are introduced to Aishwarya Rajesh who arrives to meet her husband on a boat, and she speaks with a strong Eelam accent. I shuddered. Aishwarya Rajesh’s Renu reminded me of Poonkuzhali, and much like the character in the novel, the character in the movie shows up on a boat. I waited for more such connections to show up. It didn’t happen. I waited for Ponniyin Selvan-esque female characters. That didn’t happen either. The story offers its female characters a cold wind to suck on. It’s just another attempt to create a film fuelled by testosterone, which I assume was extracted from Arvind Sami’s chest hair.
The last best Mani Ratnam film was Kannathil Muthamittal (2002). Aayutha Ezhuthu – despite its flaws and Mouna Ragam-esque Surya subplot – was a good film, but the impact did not leave any residue. Mani Ratnam has been doing films more frequently now than he was back in the 90s. Take a close look at the four films he has made in the last five years. He has focused on evergreen themes such as good vs. evil (Kadal), modern relationships (OK Kanmani), combating the inner devil (Kaatru Veliyidai) and dysfunctional families (Chekka Chivantha Vaanam). Now, compare this with his love-drenched sociopolitical dramas of the 90s or the hard-boiled crime films of the late 80s. Is this the evolution of Mani Ratnam?
STR gives us his best performance since Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, and in some ways is the saving grace of the film. Vijay Sethupathi continues with his “talk fast or talk loud” exercise. The trailer promised us Prakash Raj in a meaty role as the patriarch of this crime family. He’s reduced to just a handful of scenes. Heaven knows what Aditi Rao Hydari is doing in this film! Are we to consider her as just another casualty like Aishwarya Rajesh, Jyothika and Jayasudha? They play characters that sound interesting on paper but remain one-dimensional on film.