Director: Mani Ratnam
Cast: Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi, Simbu, Arun Vijay, Aditi Rao Hydari, Jyothika and Aishwarya Rajesh
Crime and drama make for a deadly combination, and Mani Ratnam is one among the very few Indian filmmakers to have done full justice to the genres via films such as Nayagan and Thalapathi. Returning with a film set against a gangster backdrop after 15 years, Ratnam's Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, which is undeniably his best work of this decade, is a slow-burning, highly rewarding story of a crime-ridden family that gets torn apart by power, greed and deceit.
The story is built on a very simple premise.
When an attempt is made on the life of an ageing don (Senapathy), played by Prakash Raj, his sons join hands to find out who was behind the attempt, only to be motivated by the battle for their father's throne. Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is essentially a family drama set against a crime backdrop. The action in the film doesn't take place on the streets in the form of gang wars.
It takes place within a family as three brothers -- played by Arvind Swami, Arun Vijay and Simbu -- fight for supremacy as Ratnam dives deep into the psyche of these power-hungry characters and what we get is a fascinating study of human emotions.
Ratnam, as both writer and director, gives us flawed characters, and it's never easy to trust anyone. This is established quite early on when Prakash Raj and Jayasudha escape a fatal accident and the events that follow give us a better understanding of each character.
There's a beautiful scene in the first half where the three brothers confront each other and another family member as their parents Prakash Raj and Jayasudha stare in silence. The entire scene is beautifully captured in a single frame through the reflection of a mirror, allowing us to understand that each character has another yet-to-be-revealed side.
As the story progresses, we realise that there are more layers to these characters, especially the sons, which is probably the film's biggest pay-off in the second half.
Given the film's big star cast, it was a matter of concern if Ratnam would use each actor appropriately. And he doesn't disappoint, at least when it comes to his leading heroes - Arvind Swami, Arun Vijay, Simbu and Vijay Sethupathi. The women are merely used as a support system and as collateral damage in this story of men vying for power. Jyothika gets the meatier part and she nails it with grace, while Aditi Rao Hydari and Aishwarya Rajesh are decent in their respective parts.
When it comes to the men, Arvind Swami and Simbu get stronger parts and Ratnam extracts the kind of performance we haven't seen from them. Arun Vijay is equally good but the pick of the actors is Vijay Sethupathi, who walks away with all the brownie points in a role that comes with a delicious twist.
A.R. Rahman's score and songs work in tandem to elevate the overall mood of the film. Ratnam's use of the Bhoomi track in the climax is nothing short of a masterstroke, assuring that it's the return of the master to his glorious form.