Cheliya: A visual treat where roses overpower guns
Set against the backdrop of the Kargil war, Cheliya chronicles the love affair of Varun, an air-force officer, and Leela, a doctor. While Mani Ratnam’s previous film, OK Bangaram was a love story too, it was a more breezy affair in comparison. This, meanwhile, is an intense, emotional and a complex take on love and on human failings and inadequacies.
Cast: Karthi, Aditi Rao Hydari, RJ Balaji, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Delhi Ganesh
Director: Mani Ratnam
The film opens with brief shots of the Indo-Pak skirmish and shows Varun being held in a Pakistani jail. It’s as he reminisces about his past that we get to learn about his roller-coaster romance with Leela. The narration frequently moves back and forth in time, and these transitions are smooth. The Mani Ratnam touch is there in the way that the love is shown to grow between Varun and Leela. The lyrics, locations, Ravi Varman’s exquisite photography and a splendid musical score by Rahman all enhance the magic of these moments. Varman’s photography, especially, is a key area of strength.
Varun is a simple man with failings that he acknowledges. The tendency of humans to hurt the ones they love most is brought out here. He is wary of commitments, hot-tempered and forgetful, ready with his quick apologies, which naturally fail to pacify Leela, who frequently tries to pull the plug on the relationship. But love keeps drawing them back. Like when he leaves her stranded at a registrar’s office. Such moments feel taken straight out of life itself.
We get to see a new dimension to Karthi’s performance. His clean-shaven look also suits the role perfectly. Hydari’s exotic looks and vulnerable demeanour is a perfect foil to his mercurial ways. The actress has been flatteringly photographed. The lead pair shares terrific screen chemistry, and bring out great intensity and passion in the relationship.
The film isn’t, however, without its glitches. Certain moments, like when Varun meets Leela’s parents, feel contrived. Also, in this love story, the entire Indo-Pak skirmish seems sloppily crafted. As was evident in Kannathil Muthamittal, battle scenes aren’t the strength of this director. But if you can ignore these missteps, Cheliya feels like a love poem on celluloid.