“CSK – Charles Shafiq Karthiga”… A modestly mounted but well-written thriller

Posted on March 28, 2015


Spoilers ahead…

So many small films are dumped on us every Friday – without proper marketing or publicity – that it’s become difficult to sense which small movie is worth checking out. This week, first-time director Sathiya Moorthy Saravanan makes the decision fairly easy for us. His CSK – Charles Shafiq Karthiga is a beautifully written thriller, and had the making matched the writing, I’d have grabbed a megaphone and taken to shouting from rooftops. But even as it is, CSK is a pretty impressive achievement – though you have to keep in mind the low budget, which means the film is low on polish. CSK looks, at times, like a tele-film. But if the choice is between a well-mounted star vehicle which has nothing to say (yes, Valiyavan, I’m talking about you) and something very modestly made but which does what it sets out to do, then I’ll take this, thank you very much.

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CSK is one of those thrillers that unfold over the course of a night. Charles (Sharran) loves Karthiga (Jai Quehaeni). He loves her so much that he’s willing to do what she asks of him – give up cricket, his other passion. When she consents to marry him, he takes her to meet his mother, who’s in a church. Before the meeting, he asks her to remove the flowers in her hair, the dot on her forehead. A different kind of film would make him a spineless creep, an easy-to-hate mama’s boy. Karthiga would be played by Saritha, her eyes flashing at the things that she, as a female, has to undergo at the hands of this male. There’s none of that here. Charles is just trying to ensure that there isn’t too much friction during the initial meeting. The people in this film aren’t all good or all bad. Sometimes, you can be a good guy and still end up doing slightly bad things. Shades of grey, it’s called. There are a lot of those shades here.

Take Shafiq (Mishal). He sets the plot in motion when he agrees to smuggle some diamonds. But the director takes care to show us why he does this. We get a scene where we see Shafiq’s impoverished family, his mother and sisters stuffing chips and mixture into plastic sachets to sell at wine shops. These sisters need to be married off, and that will take lakhs. One of these sisters tries to electrocute herself. After he gets the diamonds, Shafiq is chased by cops. The chase could have been staged better, but its… amateurishness, if you will, matches Shafiq’s. He’s caught. He’s taken to the police station, detained. It sounds like stuff out of a mega-serial – but it’s handled well. It doesn’t play like a mega-serial.

And Shafiq keeps bungling up – as he would. He is, after all, no criminal. He’s just an ordinary man who’s taken to crime as a last resort. Everyone’s ordinary here, in the sense that everyone keeps making mistakes. The villains, the good guys – everyone tries to make the best of the tough situations they find themselves in. No one has a plan. They’re all making one up as they go along. This, coupled with the no-name cast, raises the stakes. With a big star, we know death is out of the question. Here, it’s not entirely impossible. That, sometimes, is enough.

Karthiga ends up in danger because of Shafiq’s actions – it’s the butterfly effect, but with diamonds. Again, the film looks at her in a grey light. After a point, she begins to fight back, but she isn’t allowed to transform into some sort of super-woman. She tries to set one of the villains on fire. The matchstick fizzles out. Charles almost saves her. He doesn’t. Then he does. This is where you know the writing is good. The way he whacks the villain with a stick, it’s like a cricketing shot. One of his passions has helped save the other. Directors of bigger films should take note of the scenes in which Shafiq uses pay phones because he’s dropped his mobile, or the ones where he has nightmares about his family being hurt. Had we been given only one nightmare, it would have looked like a cheap way to get a frisson from us. Do the same thing twice and it becomes a character trait.

I wish the film had not opened with scenes of Karthiga in danger – it takes away some of the suspense from the latter portions. But this, too, serves a purpose. The zoom-in on the locket around her neck shows us a picture of Lord Muruga. Then there’s Charles. Shafiq. Without making a fuss about it, the film is telling us a story not just about interlocked characters but also intermingling religions. Once the plot kicks in, there are no distractions – this is a focused narrative. The thriller portions never overwhelm the basic emotions. The last scene between Shafiq and Karthiga is a beauty. She knows what he did. He knows what he did. The scene could have turned messagey. But what happens is just right. It’s a small moment that works precisely because it’s not allowed to become big. This restraint will probably be the first thing to go if Sathiya Moorthy Saravanan, on the basis of this film, is snapped up by a star.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil