Synopsis – Veeram is based on the ballads of North Malabar and narrates the tale of the brave and ambitious Kalarippayattu warrior, Chandu, whose story resembles that of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
My Take – Right from its 1st trailer it was quite obvious that this National award-winning director Jayaraj‘s film seemed like the most royal treatment an Indian filmmaker has ever given to a Shakespeare’s tale. While most viewers (including myself) may think this is just another one of those mythological based sword & sandals film produced to cash in on the massive success of the 2015 film Baahubali: The Beginning, director Jayaraj has sights set on something different. Shot in three languages – English, Hindi and Malayalam (with only the latter one released on a wide scale), on a whopping budget of Rs 35 Crores, this film as if is the costliest Malayalam film till date. Based on the Shakespearian tragedy ‘Macbeth’, the film set in the backdrop of 13th century Kerala, also takes inspirations from the Vadakkan Pattukal of North Malabar region in Kerala and tells the story of Chandu Chekavar, an infamous warrior in the 13th century North Malabar. In fact, director Jayaraj suggests that it is a coincidence that even before Shakespeare wrote his timeless tragedy, the rise and fall of a warrior called Chandu Chekavar was already a part of the folklore, literature and songs of northern Malabar. As promised, director Jayaraj has succeeded in bringing up a magnificent film experience, by providing a highly gratifying thrill ride through the feud ridden terrains of North Malabar, where machismo rules the roost and blood seems cheaper than water and by looking deeper you have an intelligent amalgamation of two markedly diverse cultures and two startlingly similar, celebrated tales from them with hitherto unforeseen over lapping. He has done a fabulous job in the technical department, by roping in the best possible technicians. However, keeping the set up in mind, it cannot be denied that film suffers though is the lack of an engrossing and engaging screenplay, which may or may not affect the Malayali audiences who are much familiar with the storyline, but in sense of a wider people, this 100-minute long is just not gripping enough.
The story follows the well trained, yet title-less warrior Ilanthalam Chandu (Kunal Kapoor) who upon avenging his father’s death against a famous warrior, is appointed as a lieutenant to Aromal Chekavar (Shivajith Nambiar), a member of the legendary warriors clan in Kerala who would often fought battles for the noblemen in the ancient kingdom. On his way back to his kingdom, Chandu stumbles upon a seductress witch who foresees his future about this rise to power. Once, Aromal receives an invitation to duel with his rival Aringodar (Aaran), Chandu is coerced by Aringodar’s scheming niece Kuttimani (Divina Thackur) to settle his old score with Aromal, who had denied Chandu’s marriage to his sister Unniyarcha (Himarsha Venkatsamy) and married her off to the much older Kunjiraman (Satheesh Menon) instead. Seeking this an opportunity and to make sure the witches foresight comes true, Chandu’s ambition and jealousy leads him to slay an exhausted Aromal in his sleep leading him to seal his unimaginable fate. The best part about the film is that it never deviates from its track and the director was brave enough to exclude songs from the film. For those familiar with the tale of “Macbeth”, may find it quite upsetting to see how Chandu’s back story and his initial indignation towards Aaromal were not wholly explored in this film. It could have been done; considering that the film is only about 100 minutes long. But I guess this film was never about the story or the heroics, as it focuses around Chandu only and how his view of a traitor sees his targets. It is no ordinary canvas that Jayaraj has mounted his epic film on, and as such it evolves into an ambitious demonstration of an idea that amazingly blends two classic tales together. Atypical in conception and phenomenal in implementation, the film presents you with one of the most memorable cinematographic experiences that you have witnessed ever in contemporary Malayalam cinema. The astounding parallels that are drawn between the Chekavar clan of North Malabar and a Scottish dynasty that’s a few centuries old, make the film move far beyond the stature of a mere adaptation. With almost every character in each of these tales finding a fitting equivalent in the other, the film is shrewdly scripted, never for a moment letting those legendary scenes in the original shrivel away in the reworked version.
The film also escalates the technical finesse bar not just in Malayalam cinema but the Indian film industry on a whole by several notches, and establishes without doubt that this small film industry down south of the Indian subcontinent is fast turning out to be a ready force to reckon with. No stones are left unturned, and the film is a visual extravaganza with one stunning frame after the other flashing across the screen. S Kumar and his magical cinematography is the chief reason why this film has to be watched on the big screen, and Jayaraj can rest assured that the film sets an exemplary example on that note. he major credit for the film surely goes to the technical crew – especially the CGI, sound, costume and art departments. The filmmaker had made it clear even before the film’s release that the onus was on the technical department of the film rather than the cast. The backdrop of the duels and forts are splendidly rendered with special effects and the locations of Ajantha and Ellora caves add to the splendor of the film. The film’s dialogues are in the North Malabar slang and the film itself is rooted in the area’s tradition with Jayaraj using Kalaripayattu, Theyyam and the oracles as elements while adapting Macbeth. However, it cannot be denied that while the film is a major success in its technical department, it suffers in it screenplay. Written by Jayaraj himself, the film lacks the emotional drama usually required to feel the turns of the characters in the story. While, we get to know about Chandu’s valour through a scene or two and his equal love and lust for both Unniyarcha and Kuttimani, the women who poison his mind, their general characterization falls short, mainly as we never explore Chandu’s beginnings or why he would turn into a so called traitor so easily. Coming to the performances, director Jayaraj has gambled by casting Kunal Kapoor (Rang De Basanti), a lesser known Bollywood actor despite some memorable performances to his name. Luckily, Kunal Kapoor is terrifically good here, and brings in the exact amount of agility and verve that the warrior role demands, and ensuring all the while that the emotional tussle that Chanthu goes through is retained to perfection as well. Divina Thakur does a near faultless Lady Macbeth, and as Kuttimani, she credibly unleashes the lusciousness and malice that thrusts Chanthu on to a journey of no return. Shivajith Nambiar, Himarsha Venkatsamy and Aaran deliver commendable performances as well. On the whole, ‘Veeram’ is a good watch which despite a meddling screenplay is enhanced by its great technical finesse and impactful performances.
Directed – Jayaraaj
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 100 minutes