Chithha - A compelling and haunting film on child abuse
S. U. Arun Kumar’s Chithha starts with the note, ‘Based on True Events, Unfortunately’. Having seen the trailer and with the kind of information available about the film on social media, you for sure know that this isn’t going to be a pleasant watch. Hardly few minutes into the film and the bond between Eeswaran (Siddharth) and his school going niece is so nicely established. Everything appears so real and earnest that you never get the feel of ‘manufactured cuteness’ on screen. And you already sense some discomfort knowing the theme of the film. It is because you are already invested with the characters and have begun caring for them.
The first half of Chithha is terrific. Be it the way it establishes the characters, the way it builds up the equations between them and the performance of the actors. Everything is so on point. And what really takes you by surprise is that the plot goes into an area that you aren’t actually expecting it to. The thing that you dreaded does happen, but the talking point is something else. You start thinking if the film is going to discuss something that the 2012 Danish film Jagten (The Hunt in English) starring Mads Mikkelsen talked about. Honestly, I did not expect the film to go into this area, but this almost feels like a brief detour as the film quickly goes back to the zone you expected it to at the interval point.
The second half of Chithha is treated like a thriller and I am unsure if it was the right thing to do. A child is put in danger and the film now becomes about if and how she will be saved. The proceedings are gripping, and the acting is consistently good but unlike the first half where you felt disturbed without much about abuse being talked or shown on screen, the second half has debatable choices. You wonder if the film had to get into details and focus so much on what a child is being put through. Creating a sense of uneasiness and even being disturbing is fine. Because the theme is such. But are these being used to heighten the tension? And is that the right thing to do? I am not sure! The climax again is up for debate. S. U. Arun Kumar actually makes it a point to show how Eeswaran’s thirst for blood isn’t going to help anyone. And this is pointed out well through the character of Nimisha Sajayan. In fact, the film at many places rightfully doesn’t judge or propose easy solutions. If the Siddharth character gets angry about why it is always the closed ones who are being suspected in cases of child abuse, another character tells how she has actually been abused by a close relative. There are dialogues about how ‘All men are same’, but there are men in the film who are deeply hurt when they are looked at with suspicion. When all these are so nicely discussed with all POVs being thrown in, I am unsure about the decision to show Eeswaran unleashing all his rightful anger on an abuser in a gruesome way. It might not be an issue in a ‘Bala film’ that is about revenge. But here where Nimisha Sajayan is actually spelling out the selfishness of this act, you are wondering what is going to be the takeaway from the film? Is it going to be about how men seem to make it all about themselves even when they are trying to protect women? Or is it going to be about how (so called) justice is finally served in the form of violence? If it was the former, I really wished the director made it clearer. The violent retaliation is more troublesome because this very film talks about how an innocent could be subjected to hate and violence under mere suspicion.
Debatable choices aside, Chithha is an unsettling but compelling film with strong performances.