Mani Ratnam back with thriller

The master director’s 24th film comes after a flop, and that’s just one of the many reasons fans are curious about it

Chekka Chivanda Vaanam stars many big heroes and was shot in Chennai and Dubai. It comes a year after Kaatru Veliyidai, which did not fare well at the box office.

Nayakan, the gangster biopic starring Kamal Haasan, was India’s official entry to the Oscars in 1988. It was a just honour for a stunning film that had got the country talking. The crew was thrilled by the Oscar selection. But the director, a certain Mani Ratnam, remained almost unmoved. “I generally don’t watch my films once they are done. I have work to do and I need to move on,” he had said.

It is perhaps this practical approach to success that has kept Mani Ratnam going despite the massive attention each of his films receives. Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, a multi-starrer opening worldwide today, is his 24th film in a career spanning over three decades.

The Tamil industry, Mani Ratnam’s home ground, has seen many directors who pushed the boundaries of film-making. But ever since his debut with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983), not many directors have remained as relevant as him in mainstream cinema.

The respect for the man is a testimony to his talent. “I blindly said a yes,” is the common response from actors. “We get a creative high in working with him,” is a refrain among Mani Ratnam’s technicians.

Mani Ratnam announced his arrival in a big way with Mouna Ragam (1986), his fourth film. After the sensational Nayakan, he became a household name with the Hindi-speaking audience with his trilogy, Roja, Bombay and Dil Se, in which he tackled terrorism and political turmoil. His works have travelled far and received international acclaim. So what defines him?   

Unconventional love

The journey of Divya (played by Revathy), who is unwillingly married off in Mouna Ragam, is poignant. The struggles of Shakti (Shalini) and Karthik (Madhavan) after they marry against the wishes of their families in Alaipayuthe are relatable. The different shades of a live-in relationship in O Kadhal Kanmani are a reflection of our times. Mani Ratnam handles relationships with maturity and a sensible moderation of melodrama.

Love isn’t unidimensional in his films. Sub-texts like the pain of separation (Roja, Kaatru Veliyidai, Alaipayuthe), unrequited love (Dil Se), love battling religion (Bombay) are showcased with brilliantly shot scenes. And Mani Ratnam uses the power of silence to convey love. In one beautiful scene in Kannathil Muthamittal, Thiruchelvan (Madhavan) proposes marriage to his friend and neighbour Indira (Simran). Without much drama, just the movement of eyes and Indira’s muted response, express many emotions. Many such romantic scenes in Mani Ratnam’s films have acquired cult status over the years.

Strong women

Mani Ratnam’s women have a mind of their own. They are vulnerable yet brave. Raagini (Aishwarya) dares Veeraaiya (Vikram), the tribal leader, to kill her after he kidnaps her in Raavanan. Seeing him in the eye, she calls him a coward. In Roja, the heroine (Madhu), is a shy woman who fights out of her skin to rescue her husband from terrorists in a non-Tamil speaking land (Kashmir).

Controlled emotions

One needs to observe the climax of Mani Ratnam’s films to see how emotion reigns supreme. After watching Amudha’s (PS Keerthana) reunion with her biological mother in Kannathil Muthamital or the tragic end of an adorable child (Shamili) in Anjali, one is left overwhelmed, with a lump in the throat. 


Mani Ratnam

Ace technicians

Mani Ratnam’s team is filled with gifted craftsmen. Each frame by Santosh Sivan in Thalapathi is breathtakingly beautiful. His camera angles in Iruvar add life to the story. In Nayakan, Thota Tharani’s sets and P C Sreeram’s lighting are pure magic. Music in his films has always been in the safe hands of the legendary duo of Ilayaraja and A R Rahman.

Who can forget Ilayaraja’s brilliance in Nayakan theme song ‘Thenpadi Cheemayile’? Even in some of his weak films, like Thiruda Thiruda, music is astounding. Remember ‘Konjum nilavu’?

Mani Ratnam’s understanding of the art is so astute, that it’s hard to replicate his style. Hindi versions of his films, like Dayavan (Nayakan), Saathiya (Alaipayuthe) and OK Jaanu (O Kaadhal Kanmani) hardly came close to the originals. In recent times, it’s admirable that Mani Ratnam hasn’t run out of story ideas. But his style has changed. He is still focused on creating interesting characters but the rhythm in story-telling has taken a slight beating. This explains flops like Kadal, Raavanan and Kaatru Veliyidai.

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam has a stellar cast in Vijay Sethupathi, Silambarasan, Prakash Rai, Arvind Saamy, Jyothika and Aditi Rao Hydari.

Mani Ratnam is not new to handling multi-starrers; Aayutha Ezhuthu, a political thriller, worked better in Tamil than in Hindi as Yuva.

For film romantics, Mani Ratnam is an emotion. The regular inanimate characters in his film like rain, train or even mirrors give a nostalgic rush. Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, has many things to draw the audience, but the primary reason is this line that appears early on in the title card: ‘A Mani Ratnam Film’.

Today’s release

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Crimson Red Sky) is a multi-star crime thriller co-written and directed by Mani Ratnam. It features Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi, Jyothika, Silambarasan, Arun Vijay, Aishwarya Rajesh, Dayana Erappa and Aditi Rao Hydari.

Prakash Raj, Jayasudha, Thiagarajan and Mansoor Ali Khan also appear in pivotal roles. It has music by A R Rahman.

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Mani Ratnam back with thriller

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