Siva Ananth, who’s a co-writer, executive producer and actor in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, isn’t one — as you can see — to relish getting boxed into one role. He says he’s happy to be a “cinema professional” and resorts to a sports analogy to explain himself.
I half-expect him to draw from his knowledge of cricket (he’s also the co-writer of Sachin: A Billion Dreams), but he turns to football instead. “You may know of total football,” he says. He’s talking about a brand of football championed especially by the famous Dutch and Barcelona legend, Johan Cruyff. “A player has to both attack and defend. I believe in that,” he says.
He doesn’t make much of the popular notion that directors prefer to write their own scripts. “I think writers like to turn directors.” He cites the example of Kamal Haasan, an accomplished screenwriter himself. “Directors like Vetrimaaran and Bala are constantly looking in the direction of literature for inspiration. And we do have a rich tradition of directors working with writers. Mani Ratnam himself has worked with several including Sujatha and Jeyamohan.”
The director’s latest, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, has been largely received well. It seems to have helped — in this age of social media and Netflix — that the film’s about gangsters, and has an urgent quality not often seen in the director’s films. Some of the character’s backstories, for instance, aren’t really etched in detail. “It’s 2018, and as a story-devouring society, I trust audiences to fill in gaps in the narrative.”
Siva finds it hard to answer whether CCV is a ‘perfect’ story. “I’m a decent cook, but I don’t know if my food tastes good. I’ll leave that to you,” he says. I offer what seemed to me to be a few minor grievances: The under-development of the younger brothers, Ethiraj and Thyagaraj, among them. “I’d urge people to watch the film a second time. There’s a lot of understated detail given to the characters, including Thyagaraj, about the nature of his job, and Varadaraj, concerning his relationship with Periyavar.”
It’s tempting to dismantle the film and wonder which parts belong to Mani Ratnam, and which to Siva Ananth.
“I’d rather leave that job to film enthusiasts and critics.” Many summers ago, Siva joined Mani Ratnam, after becoming an admirer of Roja. Today, he’s sharing writing credits with the director. I ask if it’s surreal to have risen to being an equal. Siva channelises writerly wit when he replies, “I think the question is surreal. I don’t think of myself as an equal. And honestly, CCV isn’t the first project where I’ve worked with him. So it doesn’t really feel like a breakthrough moment.”
Siva disagrees with CCV being thought of as a film that hinges on its two big twists. “The reveal over Periyavar’s killer wasn’t even thought of as a twist. I expected the audience to figure it out far earlier,” he says. He’s more interested in examining the nature of men and women who populate the film’s universe.
“The men are a bit like those in drug cartels. They may think of their women as trophies, and dispensable ones at that. If you notice, even Thyagu’s anger over his wife’s fate is almost about self-preservation.”
I can’t help but ask him about comparisons drawn in social media with a Korean film called New World. He throws a look of deep disapproval. He doesn’t think such allegations serious enough to even warrant his concern. “I read that film’s summary. It seems interesting. I look forward to watching it,” he says.