Vikram - The Chiyaan is one of the most versatile actors of this era with a will and grit to offer whatever rests in his best capacity to uplift 'any' role he plays- these 'any' roles are those that are chosen with concern and conviction based on the challenges underlining them.
It is a rarity these days, sparing one or a maximum of two, to find fine actors with an inclination of this sort and there he is ' 52 years old' and just take a look at him in Kadaram Kondan and you shall know the drive of awe in my words. He does feed us a sense of incredulous interest too. His rise, of course, is a remarkable story of perseverance, passion and diligence. In his early days, he has dubbed for stars like Ajit Kumar and Prabhu Deva and he has referred to the job as the dignity of labour.
When he was around 30, having starred in a few unsuccessful films, Bala's Sethu came up. Vikram gave it the fiercest of fire within him. He lost nearly twenty kilograms and shaved his head which meant he would not be able to star simultaneously in any other projects. The film was shunned by a few producers, distributors were hard to find and the struggle didn't subside. Finally and fortunately when Sethu released, Vikram took to fame- as an actor. Critics called him 'a revelation' and the film was a commercial hit too.
The actor was bestowed with accolades and adoration that till the day he is fondly known by the nickname of his role in the movie - Chiyaan.
One of the best ways of celebrating an artist is to applaud his work with an appropriate appreciation it commands.
Here is a look back at this film which came as the lux post tenebras forming the ladder for Vikram and the lead for Bala.
Sethu - The Light After Darkness
Chiyaan: The Name of Fame
As the paintings over the college walls unanimously and vibrantly hail Sethu, the Chiyaan, we get to him who has won the College Chairman election- a Victor and a leader figure dressed in the now trendsetter - Black shirt and White Dhoti. Decades before Kallipu from Premam which launched the iconic costume as an association to rage,what a splendid sight to witness Sethu wearing the similar costume in the setting of same sorts, thumping his opponents, chasing them through the college amidst the downpour that doesn't seem to drain the rage of the young men's hurt ego and impulsive provision of punishment to the villains.
The fight eventually ends in a bridge set against the evening sky filled with a shade of red emanated by the setting sun - an iconic shot by Rathnavelu. The setting sun and the subsequently red sky do accompany our lead in two other significant places one of which is when Chiyyan is confronted by his friend on his fury overwhelmed by love. This beautifully stands out, not as a deliberate symbolism but a delicacy.
What we see Chiyaan initially doing post the opening fight is singing out loud, "Thanni Thoti Thedi Vantha !" in front of Sivakumar who plays his successful and concerned brother. He pauses and resumes just when Sivakumar is about to eat his breakfast, "Saraayatha Oothu!” when we think back on Sivakumar's unconventional and phenomenal role as the failed alcoholic musician in Sindhu Bhairavi. It is the musician's love affair that complicates his addiction and brings about his destruction. In Sethu, it is the same love affair that distorts his carefree self and opens up his mad obsession which coincides with his destruction.
The nickname of his irritates and infuriates his brother for he dislikes the identity the name gloriously stands for - impulsive, insensitive and intrepid, all in contrast to the tender, musical name - AbhithaGujalaambal.
Abitha asks him what does Chiyyan mean and the man who has given no thought to it is driven on a search for the meaning of his name as he brings to life dormant parts of his personality and absolves himself of the adrenaline additions he is infamous for.
The search for the meaning of Chiyaan is a hilarious hint at finding reasons for the trivial, spontaneous sensations.No one can reason with that but the following course of the film helps us understand the substance in Chiyaan.
In Chiyaan, lies a sense of divine goodness which is highlighted in one of the explanations: 'Srimaan - Chiyaan!' This strikes a perfect connect to Abita's name and its significance. Her presence is enhanced by bright illumination throughout highlighting her to be an angelic figure.
Abita's fiancee compares Chiyaan to God stating that even the idol of The Almighty is made of stone that's rough but we worship what lies within it. The divinity is emphasized via Abita's sister and father at other points. Abhita falls in Sethu's feet in the surrender of love marking a symbol of worship. She is the angel but she realizes he is something more.
It is not merely the divinity that endears Chiyaan to us but largely his rash yet reasonable ways that are at times strikingly straight and even intimidating.
He can’t be poetic or romantic. He is just sturdy, strong and unapologetically straight even if these ways prove relatively less sensitive.
This mix in Sethu is what makes this name of his the one of Fame.
Music: The Mood of the Movie
The film travels from buoyancy to melancholy with regards to its story and the fate of the characters. The music which marks these varied and intricately connected emotions masterfully sets the mood of the movie that is both enhancing and affecting.
The college election victory opens to an elaborate celebration, "Kanna Karunguyile" - an invite to the merry birds to join the song and rejoice. This opening number introduces us to the lead and other significant characters. Saranam Bhava is the immediate next, acquainting us with the tender, timid and innocent Abhitha, extending to the setting of her family - her father and fiancée.
Sikaatha Sittonu is a youthful celebration of the delight love brings with it. What of the pain of falling in love which is a pressure offering a sense of pristine pleasure? Illayaraja comes with Maalai en vethanai as an answer. Post Vidiya Vidiya, the path changes and poignancy fill in with Enge sellum intha paathai, ending in Vaarthai Thavari Vittai.
The songs with the exception of the last two come with interesting interludes set in a mini-musical conversation style pumping up their respective energies and charm. The music, hence, places the movie in the intended mood embracing us through the story with its tunes accompanying our laughter, smiles and tears.
The sensibility of love
What signifies Sethu's love is his mad obsession over her that he remains atrocious in a few of his attempts to seek acceptance. The proportions of love he holds exist on dangerously drastic levels that it frightens. In such insanity, Bala adds an intense sense of poetic beauty exemplifying Sethu's helplessness and his desperation not to attain her but to have her accept his love.
He doesn't say 'I love you !" to her or even why he does. He just wants her to be happy and he sees only himself to be capable of keeping her so. This consideration stems from his very own superiority complex that thankfully moves to an innocuous range.
The confused and frightened Abhita records her refusal and calls him a brutal one. On realising the goodness residing in him, she surrenders - an ultimate surrender that she renounces her life when asked to marry another and come to terms with the fact that he might never be back. Her love and its helplessness are painfully higher than that which tortured Sethu.
We initially conceive Sethu's love to be a mix of impulsive infatuation but it indeed proves to be an intense one. The acceptance of the bond in both the families rests on robust and reasonable grounds. There are mentions of caste, not as divisions but coexisting spheres of culture and way of life.
There can be views on the initial confrontations between Sethu and Abhita being misogynistic. The intention is clearly not that but to highlight the flaws within Sethu that drive him crazy when he receives her refusal. Recall Arjun Reddy where the Surgeon kisses Shalini taking her baffled silence to be consent. Here, Sethu asks her and implores in a tone and nature he is been accustomed to. These men's sensibility of love, is, however, far more fathomless and intense than their insensitive ways are. The real trouble is when these traits and actions are seen as part of the macho and glory rather than as the innate conflicts within the characters. That is a topic for another day.
No fairy tale
Bala seems determined in letting his tale chronicle the ruthless and random reality than forming a Happily Ever After ending when he did own possibilities permitting the latter. It is a tale Bala has derived from his own college days based on the life of his friend which deteriorated and ended in an asylum followed by substance abuse. Bala who was himself an addict those days was traumatized by the guilt of having introduced his friend to drugs. Sethu is his tribute built by guilt. Hence, it remains rooted strongly on reality which makes us feel extremely despondent for what Sethu is doomed to. We have scenes in which Sethu's best friend is consuming Ganjaa in the morning and Sethu chides him on the same.
As Sethu dances in the joy that Abhitha has accepted him, he is hit by a group of goons - associates of his previous rivals. It is a consequence of his earlier deed but it occurs randomly, in no connection to what is currently happening or what the character is going through, exemplifying the unpredictability of life and its painful implications. Sethu seems quite high in the song Vidiya Vidiya and during his encounter with the goons that he becomes incapable of fighting them. It is the high that becomes a factor of his tragic fate.
The ill Sethu is chained and pathetic. The montage that shifts from his early days to the present in Enge Sellum Intha Paathai is a harrowing honest account on the unforeseen slopes in the hill of life. How sorry and woeful must have Bala felt to see it first hand in flesh and blood that he transfers it painfully and proficiently to light and sound.
Sethu eventually heals despite the disastrous and medically appalling conditions he is treated in. He escapes and heads straight to Abita's house - she is the only one in his recognition- his angel. There were anticipations as he walks through the decorated house that he will find married Abhita and return heart-broken but the ruthlessness of reality doesn't concede.
She lies lifeless- clad in red saree, surrounded by mourners- the Broken Angel. With her fallen, his sole anchor in life is vanquished.
To be continued
Walking out of Abita's house, Sethu is completely devastated. He pays no heed to his terribly worried friends, family and the mentally ill girl. He is taken in an ambulance behind which the mentally affected girl runs. The scene freezes as the hurt gets deeper. The credit goes ' A film by Bala'. Couldn’t help wondering if it was a part of Bala’s troubled insane self chasing the ambulance.
In Bala's films, the ends aren't largely conclusions but continuations in themselves, passing on to us pain and melancholy that lingers and lives with the powerfully constructed tragedies.
The end hence is a ' To be continued' card here and the continuation lies within us.
This transfer is possible when one is hopelessly and passionately attached to the story he or she is telling. This attachment Bala and Vikram held with Sethu, the terrific tragedy make this a story and film of vital significance that commands a recall after twenty years. The fine performance Vikram delivers in this remains phenomenally brilliant and hugely affecting.
The reality, after all, is the greatest source from which the best of stories can be uprooted and then planted carefully in the hearts.
Vikram has come quite a long way since then, starring in remarkable films, delivering finest performances but Sethu will indubitably remain the special first.
" When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top!" said a wise one and here we have Chiyaan who has faced the uphill struggle, while thoughts on the view from the top fueled the fire. He has emerged there and is now attempting to soar higher.
He is an ardent artist who is one among eternity and so is Sethu.
When the going gets tough and hopeless, remind yourselves of these men and the stories they told us and it will give you the essential fire – reliable and resilient.
Hold on firmly to your belief and you shall win gradually and definitely. Don’t fall with the tragedies that hit you but build on them.
We shall remain grateful to Vikram, Sethu and Bala for reinforcing this hope in us Thank you.