Movie Review: Cheliyaa
Star Cast: Karthik Sivakumar, Aditi Rao Hydari, K P A C Lalitha, Shraddha Srinath, Rukmini Vijaykumar, Delhi Ganesh, RJ Balaji, Vipin Sharma, Harish Raj and Amritaa Singh
Directed by Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam
Cinematography by S Ravi Varman
Edited by Akkineni Sreekar Prasad
Music Composed by Allah Rakha Rahman
Censor Certificate: U & Runtime: 139.57 Minutes
Conspicuously promoted as typical Maniratnam visual poetry completely dependent on cinematographer S Ravi Varman and Tracks provided by A R Rahman following the set routine of the 90’s, Cheliyaa delivers exactly what was promised, offering nothing exceptional or magical in terms of storyline, screenplay, performances or through the conventional presentation.
The story of Cheliyaa revolves around a Squadron Leader IAS Officer Varun (Karthik Sivakumar) and a surgeon Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) who fall in love in their first “accident”. Their contrasting chars (as Varun kills to protect lives, while Leela saves them) and issues part them away. Destiny plays an interesting role in uniting the parted lovers after three long years at a medical camp, with a small pay off.
Karthik Sivakumar (protégé of Mani Ratnam for Yuva) in Cheliyaa, as revealed in its promos is simply nuanced and there are no other thoughts about the character. The actor reminds you of two characters from Mani-verse, mainly Suriya from Yuva and Madhavan from Sakhi. But his performance is mainly dependent upon all the situations from Mani-verse. Which is rightly conveyed through Nila‘s character in her conversation with R J Balaji. I seriously felt no depth in this flamboyant character, which caters to a lack finesse in Maniratnam’s writing. Competing with Karthi is extremely talented girl from Hyderabad, Aditi Rao Hydari (Trained Bharatanatyam by Leela Samson, who made her acting debut in Ok Bangaram). She makes a confident debut in Cheliyaa and her character is going to be loved by anyone, who liked female characters in Sakhi & Roja. Supporting the duo, Rukmini Vijaykumar is here in her famous form, Kannada actress Shraddha Srinath sparkles in her cameo, and RJ Balaji, KPAC Lalitha, Vipin Sharma are alright in their notable acts.
Cheliyaa, in Tamil called, Kaatru Veliyidai meaning windy sky, reflecting the same whenever the characters, Varun and Leela meet after a separation. We can see the inner turmoil between them being visually represented through every walk in the movie. If you carefully observe the simple exchange too, the director and cinematographer (handled by S Ravi Varman) duo, try their best to convey the story as visually as possible with unique compositions and framing. We can see that Mani after being through several box office films, now wants to tell you the story that gives you a challenge in understanding it completely. He wants you to dive-in, escape the reality around you, become the character and then think beyond conventional wisdom to see if you can crack out everything. This style of writing as per him could be intercepted as trying to tell a story through few incidents but nothing conventional.
As a script on paper there are lot of nuances that a clever and matured writer like Mani Ratnam include in the character design and development. But he seems to be impatient about telling them in a convincing way to the layman. He wants you to desperately think the way only he can or someone with highest knowledge of aesthetics do. For example, When Varun for the first time looks at Leela, the impression is imprinted in his eyes and that has been represented by showing Leela in an extreme close up of his eye pupils and her shadow in them. Greys and whites are heavily used whenever you see Leela, the ultimate romantic and pure at heart without being tampered by her ambition or societal norms. But you can see color changing as she gradually nears Varun into maroons and his favourites, black and orange. Yes, Varun mostly is seen in the uniform but the director tried to explain his character by by showing him in orange, blacks and jackets for most part as he is more interested in being outspoken and showing off. He is too disturbed and complex as well when compared to Leela, bringing out their differences. And at last, it is Leela who triumphs as Varun wears her colors like red, pink and grey whites while searching for her. This kind of thought process is fresh and way away from the normal filmmaking that Indian films are accustomed to. But the benign approach towards the romance that we experience from Leela’s side changes to rather Harsh when it is from Varun’s point of view. Well, even the camera work, lighting, back ground score try to emphasize on this aspect of storytelling and you feel there is something that the makers are trying to convey with each frame at times. The exercise does seem typical when it comes to sequences where Varun escapes from the prison in search of his breezy sky. The maker in Mani seems to given into designing a powerful visual without carrying for the viewer who doesn’t spend time on understanding the aesthetics in a theatre.
Making a major contribution in exploring angsty love is music by Oscar winner A R Rahman, Cheliyaa has six special tracks that can easily be said as an ‘incredible’ example before the entire composer brigade of Telugu and Tamil industry at the present. All the tracks are placed well in the narrative, you truly cherish the notes even if you cannot get into the emotional turbulence of characters. The composition, arrangements, the scat singing, the rendition, the harmonics, the Cuba – Spanish fusion, the usage of orchestral strings and the electronics, the percussions and the controlled production, the visuals aesthetics, and the overall mesmeric impact can only be felt and not expressed even in a long write up. We can mention the intelligent use of A R Rahman’s score as a major high light of the film. Just look at the way Maniratnam used the songs (Hamsaroo introducing characters with scat singing/non sense syllabus, harmonizing and using Punjabi lines to tribute 90’s indypop,; Tango plays with accordian-piano-flutes and fuses Spanish – Cuban’s origin score to traditional western ballroom in Indian Military; Jugni : tries to show case the fresh budding score with electronics and cracking vocals; Maimarupa’s arrangement used to represent the two characters falling in pure unison with melodious arrangement; Morethukochindi is filled with visual aesthetic grandeur with Rahman’s magical arrangement that gives you a pleasant experience; Allei sticks to simple vocals trying to showcase the desperation of the hero to please his love.) and background score (like Guitars used to showcase budding love; the usage of Mouth Organ in the disturbing sequence; jet sounds while getting separated, the thudding guitar score in the border chase) and the silence in the films two halves in some specific sequences purposefully.
As a film, as a story, Cheliyaa makes up for the visual experience that it promises to be in the trailers. You can see color concepts, frame compositions, submission in love, desperation in trying to reach the other person being captured scenically with great aid from Ravi Verman and sound design to complete the experience but in general it lacks in the freshness trying to be true to its time period, the 90’s even in its making style. Well, it could have been anything other than what it had been had Mani Ratnam tried to be the master storyteller he is rather than a filmmaker who wants to experiment at any given opportunity. Sky is the limit for such story for an in-form Mani magic!!
Survi Review: 2/5 (rated 0.5 more for the effort behind poetic narrative)
P.S: Read complete review before jumping to conclusions on rating, please 🙂