Be it Shakespeare’s Macbeth or the legend of Chandu Chekavar from Vadakkanpattu, there’s always room for adoption and adaptation in classics, folklores and myths.
In 1989, M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan retold the legend of Chandu from an unusual perspective, turning the popular narrative upside down; finding the hero in the villain. Now after 27 years, Jayaraj is rediscovering the legend as it used to be in his spectacular work on screen - Veeram.
To enjoy the movie to the fullest, one must dissociate himself from the Chandu, who was vindicated through MT’s Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. However, that’s nearly impossible as the movie is so deep-rooted in Kerala’s psyche and most Keralites would still prefer to believe MT’s version of the legend rather than the original one.
This, perhaps, was the greatest challenge before Jayaraj when he thought of presenting Chandu once again, as the personification of greed and deceit. How easy or difficult it would be to erase the heroic Chandu from the collective consciousness of the audience?
The techniques the director employs to achieve this end are many. He places his characters and their actions in an altogether different space: yes, no sprawling Naalukettu structures and kalari floors in sight.
Detailed, calligraphic tattoos, body paintings and artistic hairstyles - all drenched in psychedelic colors - make the characters look entirely different from that of the popular imagination.
Nevertheless, whether or not Jayaraj, who is known for his attempts on different genres, has succeeded in molding Chandu in a different matrix would depend on the sensitivity of each viewer.
The film brilliantly juxtaposes the ballad on Chandu with the Shakespearean tragedy. Veeram, undoubtedly, is yet another testimony to Jayaraj’s prowess to find parallels between classics in faraway cultures. Under Jayaraj’s able direction, Othello took on a life of its own in Kaliyattom, which was anchored in Malabar’s ritualistic Theyyam.
Veeram follows the narrative pattern of a heroic comic with abundance of close-ups, mid shots and slow motions. The choice of the main location - the Ajanta Ellora caves with its huge brownish rocks and dark cavities - gives the film an ambiance of a fancy world. However, more long shots and fast cuts would have helped the film establish its setting and tone with more clarity.
On the performance side, the tall and handsome Kunal Kapoor - with his long hair and beard - looks every bit the masculine Chandu with exceptional skills in kalari. He manages to play different stages of Chandu's mindset -- his agonies, sense of betrayal, guilt consciousness, etc., -- with elan. Same is the case with Divina Thakur who played Kuttimani, the Malayalam version of Lady Macbeth, Shivajith Nambiar (Aromal Chekaver) and Aaran (Aringodar Chekaver). Lip sync is an area of concern and the peculiar north Malabar dialect would sound strange even to Malayalis.
S. Kumar's picturesque frames turn exotic with the color grading supervised by Titanic and Spiderman fame Jeff Olm and cuts by young Appu Bhattathiri. Allan Poppleton's stunt choreography offers some stunning moments. Jeff Rona blends western and native instruments for the background score, keeping the rhythm of the narrative. The use of instruments of pulluvan pattu at times offers a pleasant experience but a bit more native music would have appealed more to the audience.
Veeram, for sure, is a brave attempt to redefine the visual experience of Malayalam cinema. It has all the elements of a mega narrative and is sound in the use of technology. However, how much it can connect with the audience on an emotional ground is the matter in question.