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Chekka Chivantha Vaanam Movie Review: In the beginning of Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, an attempt is made on the life of an ageing don, Senapathy (Prakash Raj). The don has three sons – the eldest one, Varadan (Arvind Swami) is hot-tempered, the second, Thyagu (Arun Vijay), a dark horse, and the third, Ethi (STR), the least favourite. And they all want to find out the person behind the attempt. The suspicion is on a rival, Chinnappadas (Thiagarajan).
If the initial set up of Chekka Chivantha Vaanam instantly reminds you of The Godfather, you are not wrong. And it is intentional. But it is only as the plot unfolds that you realise that Mani Ratnam is giving a delicious twist to the classic gangster tale. What if ‘family’ – the fulcrum of the saga – isn’t really sacred? What if the three sons are more concerned about who among them will succeed their father rather than in finding out the man who almost killed their father?
Given the numerous characters involved, the film does take a while to get going, as the initial scenes of every character is more of less exposition giving us a brief about their past, and their motivations. The first half, in particular, is structured as a whodunit, with every scene ending up as a means to keep throwing up the question that drives the plot – who plotted Senapathy’s murder? And the film gives us numerous suspects – the life-long rival, Rasool (Vijay Sethupathi), a cop and a childhood friend of Varadan, Chezhiyan (Siva Ananth), the right-hand man, whose father was killed by Senapathy, Chitra (Jyotika), Varadan’s wife and Chezhiyan’s daughter, and the sons themselves, each with their own ambitions. The film really takes off in the second half when the battle for Senapathy’s throne becomes the dominant plot point as the brothers try to outwit one another. And Mani Ratnam goes all out commercial (like Agni Natchathiram, the film isn’t deep in a refreshing way), giving each of his stars their mass moment(s) – Arvind Swami gets a terrific action scene, Vijay Sethupathi the quips, Arun Vijay, a devilish flair, and STR, charm and an emotional moment. The actors are all equally good and have a gala time.
The filmmaking does lack the fluidity that we have come to see in this director’s films. The veteran is still the master when it comes to staging (and Santosh Sivan does make the visuals aesthetically appealing), but the scene transitions aren’t as smooth as in his other films; there are quite a few inelegant jumps from one scene to the next, which are made more evident by Rahman’s score, which tries a bit too hard to shoe-in songs in the place of a background score. This jerkiness is also probably because the script attempts to strike a balance between the screen time of the stars.
This is also more or less a ‘guy film’, preferring guns over girls, like most gangster films. The female characters are reduced to supporting players – they provide an emotional angle to the male characters – a mother heartbroken seeing her sons fight amongst themselves, a wife who stands by her husband even though he is unfaithful to her, another wife who has to pay the price for her husband’s ambitions, a newlywed who meets a tragic end (another Godfather nod) – but they do not drive the plot.
To its credit, the film doesn’t seem to be apologetic about this fact. The single-mindedness of the script, which doesn’t stray away from its two major concerns (who tried to kill Senapathy, who will succeed him) is actually the film’s strength. And when we reach the climax, the film returns to its Godfather roots by showing us that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.