A major drawback of most of the biopics in Malayalam cinema is the protagonists' bid to mimic the real-life characters they are playing. But what if the movie is inspired by the real life of a mimicry artiste, viz., Kalabhavan Mani? Perhaps, there is no better tool than mimicry to employ for such a film. Director Vinayan has exploited the possibilities of this popular art to narrate his own version of colonisation, politics, discrimination and exclusion of artistes in Malayalam cinema through 'Chalakkudikkaran Changathi.' Moreover, there is no better character than the late Mani to unfurl Vinayan's own struggles too because the duo has plodded ups, downs and plain terrains together.
Rajamani plays the protagonist character by the same name, who has an uncanny resemblance with the deceased mimicry artiste who went on to become a superstar in the Malayalam film industry. The budding artiste resembles Mani not only in his name but also in his looks, voice, mannerisms, mimicry and music skills.
The movie is Vinayan's emotional attempt to reintroduce his late companion on silver-screen. The debutante hero handled the humble beginnings of Mani, his rise as a mimicry artiste and life as a superstar with gentleness and accuracy.
Salim Kumar has delivered a touching performance as Ramappan, Mani's father, who is a drunkard and a down-to-earth layman. Joy Mathew, the feudal lord-turned Mani's property manager juggled both the shades subtly. Dharmajan Bolgatty, SP Sreekumar and Vishnu Govind play the characters of Mani's childhood friends and life-long companions. The director also introduces his own interpretation of Mani's death. Honey Rose stuns the audience as a 'lucky heroine' of Malayalam cinema who concedes to the compulsions from industry and turns down an offer to play the role of Mani's heroine.
'Chalakkudikkaran Changathi' captures a picturesque Chalakkudy with all the rustic charms of its beautiful village life. The distinctive Thrissur accent also hold a special place in the movie.
Rajamani cries when he sees suffering. He drinks alcohol when he is overwhelmed by any emotion – be it happiness, sorrow, anguish or regret. Rajamani sings his own life through his songs. He mimics, acts and performs comic numbers to entertain his favourites. He faints whenever he is shocked. He loses his consciousness when he gets ditched for the first time in cinema and also when he lost the much-expected national award for his movie 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum...' He is deceived by wily people who pretend friendship.
When the Mani model refuses to leave his hometown, his roots, for a better life, the family man in him comes to the fore. His colour, caste and social status haunts him all along his life, despite success in the entertainment industry.
The director recreated the emotional outpouring among public as the real hero died. As audience is made to revisit the condolence messages of eminent actors on TV channels, the sheer superficiality of their lament is exposed.
In a nutshell, with 'Chalakkudikkaran Changathi,' Mani is no more an unsung hero of Malayalam cinema but a victim of his own sincerity and innocence in a wicked industry.
The movie has a good number of songs, most of them being the reworked versions of Mani's popular folk songs. It has romance, fiction, heroism and fine humour. It grows from rural outskirts to urban spaces and back, along with Rajamani. Though the filmmaker's attempt to bring perfection to the characters, their traits, dialogues and situations has diminished the importance of story-line which lags in most places, the movie is indeed a good watch.
Filmmaker's own tale too
The ace filmmaker also uses the Mani movie to narrate his own version of shenanigans in the industry by making use of all the possibilities of mimicry. Vinayan was once banned by the association of Malayalam movie artists for exposing shady goings-on in the film industry.
When 'Eappachan,' the president of the 'largest artists' body of Malayalam cinema,' forces Mani to humiliate filmmaker 'Hari' (Sudheer Karamana,) the audience gets a surprising glance into the crooked life behind the glamorous silver-screen. 'Thilothaman,' a veteran actor who is deeply pained by the disgrace he faced from the association, is obviously modelled on the late actor Thilakan.
Vinayan carefully chose Karamana to play his own character, making him adorn his signature costume and mannerisms. The movie exposes the social discrimination prevalent in Malayalam cinema and portrays Mani as a helpless victim of it.