Watching Kamal Hassan speak Malayalam fluently is a surreal experience. I was a kid when I first saw Chankyan and it was around the same time that I had discovered Pushpak (India’s first full-length silent film) as well. I thought this was another silent film starring Kamal because the first few minutes didn’t have a single line of dialogue.
We see a gentleman operating a remote-controlled toy car. Minutes later, this car explodes. Whoa! Exciting stuff! I assumed he must be a professional killer and the thought of Kamal playing that role made it even more exciting. Then we learn that he is not really what we think he is because he wants to kill only one man – a Chief Minister called Madhava Menon (Thilakan).
We learn that this mysterious man’s name is Johnson. When things don’t work out as planned, he decides to seek the help of a mimicry artist (Jayaram). The motivation: Menon was responsible for the destruction of Johnson’s entire family. It all happened because he fell in love with his daughter (Urmila Matondkar). I’m electing to not divulge any more details on the plot.
A sense of doom permeates throughout the story. While it may sound like a standard revenge story on paper, what makes it an exceptional one is Kamal’s standout performance, the fresh and innovative techniques, ominous background score and the engrossing screenplay. It is unpredictable, has a few twists up its sleeve and ends in an unexpected fashion. And Johnson is a very sympathetic character.
The director is the multiple award-winning T.K Rajeev Kumar and this was his debut film. It also marked the Malayalam debut of Urmila Matondkar and the first collaboration between Kamal and Jayaram. I regard this film as one of Kamal’s best. His transformation from an innocent and harmless young man to a calculating killer is simply awe-inspiring.