Mani Ratnam's 'Cheliyaa', starring Karthi and Aditi Rao Hydari, hits the screens today. Here we tell you what to expect and not to expect from the romantic drama.
Varun (Karthi) is a fighter pilot who has been subjected to rigorous imprisonment as a prisoner of war in Pakistan. All that he has to fall back on during his internment are the memories of his sweetheart Leela Abraham (Aditi).
In the run up to the Kargil War in late 1990s, Varun had a brush with Dr. Leela as a patient. Their relationship went through ups and downs mainly because of what type of individuals they were, not because of any other factor.
What did Leela do when she realized (or should we say assumed?) that the man she is deeply in love with is actually self-centred and may be looking down upon her? What role does Varun's self-image of being a violence-inclined soldier play in the way the relationship unfolds? Will it be a happy ending or, as Varun says as a narrator in a scene, is he going to descend into darkness from where there is no return?
Answers to these questions are found in the second half.
Like 'Sakhi', 'Ye Maya Chesave', 'Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu' and 'OK Bangaram', 'Cheliyaa' is a conversational, character-driven romantic drama.
First things first. If you are prepared to watch a lead pair who seem to converse too much with their eyes in their very first normal meet-up, all while dancing in style, then this is your kind of film. If you are prepared to watch a female lead who doesn't like to take it lying down, and whose man is ready to repeatedly pamper her by saying that he is always less than her, 'Cheliyaa' is your kind. If you are prepared to watch more of the same in the second half, take your call.
Mani Ratnam-style mild humour comes to the fore as soon as Varun falls for Leela, a strong-minded professional who is not easy to crack. Through and through, they affirm love for each other, go on the verge of a break-up, affirm their love for each other, go on the verge of a...
All this starts seeming way too repetitious. A major drawback of this film is that, having watched a 'Roja', a 'Sakhi', an 'OK Bangaram', it's very hard not to feel that Mani is offering the same old stuff with a few added flavours.
There comes a point where the soldier declares that his nature is destruction ('Na swabhavam vidhvamsam'). He feels that the girl is in total contrast to his nature. Even the landscapes are poles apart: the serene, picturesque Kashmir locales where the love blossoms, and the inhuman, crazy jail where bigots torture Indian soldiers.
When Varun, a PoW on the run, smiles breezily during the interval scene, it's hard to find it convincing. Is he just out from a boarding school, out to enjoy holidays after a grueling exam schedule, is what you might feel!
The scene where Varun and Leela go on an outing is breathtakingly dialogic. Watch it for how Leela talks about how she always knew she was destined to meet Varun. It's surreal. Mani's layered narration gives a rich conversational romance. Tender emotions are interspersed with vehement affirmations here and there.
Despite those unusual moments, 'Cheliyaa' seems to drag on endlessly. Soon after the interval, when Karthi is doing the same, the drop in tempo is clear.
Karthi's light-hearted subtlety and Aditi's intense eyes are a welcome contrast. If in the first half, Aditi scores over her co-star with her expressive emoting, in the second half, every time Karthi has to say something big or go through something shattering, he is at his marvellous best. His act in the climax should fetch him superlative accolades.
Between the music and the cinematography, the latter is the clear winner. Ravi Varman's lens deliver a visual poetry. AR Rahman's songs have lost their appeal for the average audience. The BGM in the second half is up-to-the-mark. A Sreekar Prasad's editing is A-rated.
'Cheliyaa' has shades of some of the character-driven love stories. However, the lack of a strong conflict point, an engaging story line and no highs in terms of songs do the film in. Technical elements score.