Monday Malayalam: Chenkol, the Cycle Breaks with a Sacrifice

I watched Kireedam months and months and months ago and now, FINALLY, I know how that story really ends.

It ends realistically. You can’t just erase everything that happened in your life, and how your life affected the lives of others.  Bad things happened, and bad things will continue to happen, that’s how the world works.

This is perhaps one of the most seamless sequels I have ever seen.  It’s truly just a continuation of the previous story, the second half of the same film.  Which is remarkable, considering the two films were separated by 4 years.  And yet the script, the performances, the whole feel of them just matches perfectly.

Image result for chenkol

Perfectly, but with a sense that time has passed.  Truly, a remarkable achievement, taking advantage of the added maturity of the actors, and the time the audience has spent reflecting on the previous events in order to add depth to the story they are telling.  Without changing the tone of the story in any way, making us feel like something has changed externally, like the actors are somehow playing the roles differently or the director has lost a sense of the story.

Only the real advantage is that it lets them explore this story after time has passed.  A unique narrative in which we see both the cause and the result in full detail.  Not just rushed through to get to the happy (or sad) ending.

And doing it this way, it ends up letting us see the themes of the first film in a new way.  The first film was about how circumstances can come together to poison a man’s life, to bring him to violence.  It seemed to be a lesson in how things can go wrong, how society and family and personal instinct can conspire to ruin you.  But this film is about expanding that picture.  It’s not just our hero that is being drawn to violence, it’s the whole world he lives in that is being slowly turned dark, everyone for their own reasons.  And all you can hope to do is bring one small shred of light, one tiny way to make it better.

There is no wise elder to show the way to that light, there is no pure beauty left to protect, all of that is ruined.  All you can hope for is finding that one small gap when you can do one right thing, whatever little it is you can do, to try to set the world back on its feet.

What makes this really deep is the discovery that all the “right” things we saw in the first film were, in fact, wrong.  It is only once our hero goes all the way down to the depths that he is able to come back up and see the world for what it really is and what truly needs to be done.  You can’t see what is wrong, how things go wrong, if you only look at the bright side of things.  You have to see the dark of it too.

Oh, and I suppose I should talk about performances and songs and things, but none of that really matters with this film.  It’s about the story and the themes, and it’s about Mohanlal.  And that’s it.  His performance carries everything.  This is the story of his character’s rise and fall and everything else is incidental.

 

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I think I have to start at the very end.  Because this is a story that only makes sense in retrospect, when you see what it was all leading too.  At the very end of the film, Mohanlal saves the family of the man he killed when they are being attacked by a rival gang.  They escape through the forest, but Mohanlal is attacked and left behind.  He fights off his attackers, and when he is laying on the ground, beaten and weak, the young son of the man he killed comes upon him.  Hesitates a moment, then grabs a knife and suddenly stabs him.  Mohanlal wakes up, grabs him, holds him still for a moment, then throws him off and orders him “run!  Forget this!  Save yourself!”.  The boy runs away, and Mohanlal finally dies.

This is the triumph of his life, in the very last moments of it.  He has spent this entire film trying to compensate, to make up for his former sins.  But he never quite found the right way to do it.  Until now, at the end, when it finally comes full circle and he finds a way to interrupt the cycle.

Let’s look at all the other ways he tried before.  All the “normal” ways.  He went to jail for 8 years, didn’t even try for parole, stayed out of his family’s life.  When he was released, he went for a job and couldn’t find one that would pay well, and even when he did he was hassled by the police.  The solution seemed to be money, money to take care of his family, and pay down his sins by taking care of the family of his victim.  And money is available, if he turns his strength and ability to fight to an advantage and goes to work for the only person offering, a mob enforcer.  Only, that is just a temporary fix.  He quickly releases that this is just another kind of cycle, he is working for the very person who is oppressing the people he wants to save.  So, now he starts fresh, clean, does a decent job laboring on land, plans to marry the daughter of his victim who no one else will accept, and take care of her family legitimately.  Plans to do the best he can for his own family, but only with honest money.

And in a different film, that would be the end.  A criminal released from jail who tries to get an honest job, fails, goes at things the crooked way, realizes that just makes things worse, and finally finds the good right way to do things.  And is rewarded with a small happy life.

Only, then nothing would mean anything.  What was the purpose of all this violence, all this misery, if it just ends with Mohanlal farming a small plot of land and married to a nice woman?  If he could escape violence, than what is his excuse for being drawn into it in the first place?

And so we see that there is no escape.  Not for Mohanlal, and not for his victim.  Mohanlal doesn’t just want to save his victim’s daughter to assuage his sins, it’s because his victim was trying to do the same thing.  He is slowly becoming the same man, step by step.  And so, at the end, this little boy becomes himself, only a self he can save before he dies.

Let me back up.  In the original film, his victim was just a terrifying man of violence, nothing else.  He would appear in town, threaten and attack, and then disappear.  There was no sense of him as anything else.

This is what Mohanlal is head towards and then gets past.  But his victim could have gotten past that too, perhaps.  If only he had a chance.  He had an ill father, a brother who loved him, a family.  He took the money he was paid for his gunda duties and put it towards them.  And more than that, he was trying to save someone else, taking on a responsibility he didn’t even have to.  He fell in love with a young prostitute, a widow with a daughter.  He wanted to take care of her and her daughter and his son with her.  He bought them a house and needed more money for their upkeep.  That was why he did what he did.  And maybe, if he had lived, he would have kept going on this path, found a way to make money that wouldn’t bring danger on his family, that would let him spend more time with them instead of living a wayward life.  But he didn’t get that chance.

This film isn’t about Mohanlal finding redemption, it’s about realizing that he denied that redemption to his victim.  And there is little he can do to make up for that.  He tries, he tries to take up where his victim left off.  And he does, really.  He takes the same kind of job for the same reason, to give money to the widow and her daughter and son.

It’s not just guilt, it’s fate.  When he is injured in a fight early on, they are the ones who find him and bring him home.  He was meant to find this woman and her daughter and son.  To feel an obligation and connection to them, just as his victim did.  It was all meant, taking up every part of his victims life as his own life slowly fell away.

Mohanlal returns to his home to find his mother so sick she can barely walk.  His father a broken old man with no money.  His older sister the only mainstay of the household.  His younger sister bringing in the money, performing in plays.  The family he left is gone, this is a new one in its place.

And he tries, at first, to bring back that old family.  To find apologize over and over as though that will bring back his father’s pride, to love his mother into wellness, to somehow find the money to stop his sister working and get her married.  But, you can’t bring back what is gone.  That family of his memory, that is lost.  Lost to the world, but also lost to him.  He cannot be their son, their brother, ever again.  He has to walk away from them and let them be, let them live their lives as they are now.

Which is what he does.  He finds some kind of fragile peace with them, and then leaves them alone.  At first because he is thrown out, but later because he just knows he doesn’t belong any more.  It is making it harder for all of them, for him to see what they are now and for them to remember what they used to be.

That’s what kills Thilakan.  Literally kills him.  Not that Mohanlal’s little sister has become a prostitute to support the family, with her father as her escort/pimp, but that Mohanlal catches them both.  He can handle doing this in order to survive, but he can’t handle Mohanlal finding out, being confronted with what he once was versus what he is now.  And so he dies, killing himself.  Leaving his family no worse or better off than before.  Well, slightly better, since they don’t have one more mouth to feed.

His sister survives, but admits to her brother that she no longer thinks of or wants marriage.  And, by implication, that it is more painful for her to watch him pretend than if he just went away.  Even his mother, when he first arrives, risks pain and injury to rise up for her bed of illness to greet him.  He is making them try to be what they were before, think of what they were before, and that just makes it more painful to be what they are now.

Mohanlal is the happier one, because he can be what he is now.  And, briefly, embracing that identity does satisfy him.  He becomes a goon, makes money, uses to to help the forgotten illegitimate family of his victim.  Until he realizes he is just causing harm in a new way.  He is bringing this other family back down the same bad path as well.  He offers to marry and care for the daughter, and her mother refuses.  Because it is the same offer she was given, by a man who ended up dead by the violence he perpetrated.  She does not want that for her daughter, does not want this particular pattern to repeat.

And so Mohanlal, seemingly, breaks the pattern.  He makes an honest living farming, he plans an honest marriage to the woman, he even gets his family’s tentative support in this.  It is a new life, not the same as the old one he lived or the old one his victim lived.  Things could turn around, fall into a new place.

The romances are the biggest symbol of this.  In the first film, he had a lifelong love for his cousin, they were planning to be married.  But when his life started to fall apart, he rejected her and encouraged her to marry the other man that her family had picked out for her.  And she was killed by her in-laws, leaving a daughter behind.  Something we don’t even see Mohanlal learn for the first time, it was just one of many things that happened while he was in jail, that he had to process and accept on his own in exile.

His old romance was of the past, yet another tragedy thanks to the entire system of tragedies which lead to his life falling apart.  His uncle and aunt not trusting their daughter to choose her own husband, Mohanlal not trusting himself to take care of her, everyone trying to follow the rules and do the sensible thing instead of accepting that sometimes there are no rules, and sometimes the sensible thing can get you in more trouble than the senseless one.

This new romance, this is different.  This is a man and a woman who know exactly how bad things can be, making a decision to be together because it is better than being apart.  They have seen the worst but together they can have some kind of a hope for the best.  Not because they are following the rules or being sensible, but because they are doing what makes sense for them.

But none of this matters, not really.  You can’t just erase all that happened before with good deeds and hope for the future.  There needs to be more than that, real sacrifice and caring and understanding of the root causes.

Which brings me back to the end.  It wasn’t about the daughter or her mother.  It wasn’t about the boss who hired him.  It wasn’t about all the people from Mohanlal’s old life who have been lost to him.  It was about something simple, violence causes violence.  It makes people react violently, and once they do, that is a stain they cannot erase until that same violence kills them.

Mohanlal was always doomed to die at someone’s hands.  His only hope for redemption is making sure the person who kills him can live a life clean of that sin, to give absolution with his dying breath.

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8 thoughts on “Monday Malayalam: Chenkol, the Cycle Breaks with a Sacrifice

  1. One fault – Thilakan hung himself on a ceiling fan in the motel, and not died out of heart attack. Also, you didn’t say anything about mohanlal’s performance. Hardly, is there any other performace of such emotional depths from a male actor!

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    • Ceiling fan thing fixed now! And I think all I could say is what I said at the end of the first section “It’s about the story and the themes, and it’s about Mohanlal. And that’s it. His performance carries everything. This is the story of his character’s rise and fall and everything else is incidental.”

      On Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 6:07 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  2. Thank you for this beautiful review.I love how easily u decode the subtle and deeper themes in films.

    Chenkol is an underrated classic. People always talk about kireedam but very less about chenkol. I feel kireedam is just the begining.It was setting up the plot for this film. this is more intense and complex movie.And the characters have to deal with much bigger situations here. Kireedam was the reflex from sethu. Chenkol is his response.

    Bharatham,his highness abdulla, kireedam, chenkol are all films from the same team. Directed by sibi malayil and screenplay written by lohithadas. Powerful script from lohithadas is the real star in all films. Ever since sibimalayil and lohithadas separated, sibis films turned out to be mediocre like ‘apoorvaragangal’.

    And now it will be better to watch ‘Nadodikaattu’ as a break from downers. Film from same period but Mohanlal and thilakan in entirely different roles.Plus sreenivasan and shobhana.
    (I am reposting this comment since the first one didnt get published)

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    • I don’t know what it is with your comments! You get spamscreened more often than anyone else. So thank goodness you reposted instead of waiting for me to notice and rescue from spam.

      I love your description of Kireedam as the “reflex” and Chenkol as the “response”.

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    • Yeah… Nadodikattu! Second that…! Thats the film close the Mallu’s heart, if Manichitrathazhu is what our brian wants to see, Nadodikattu is what makes our heart tick.

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  3. Pingback: Film Reviews | dontcallitbollywood

  4. Pingback: Monday Malayalam: Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela No SPOILERS Review, a Nivin Pauly Movie that Isn’t About Nivin Pauly | dontcallitbollywood

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