In addition to its small-town setting, Chithha differentiates in that its protagonist is a woman. While the protagonist in Gargi used legal measures to fight for what is right, the protagonist in this story reacts in a masochistic manner. In a way, this is also a commentary on the misplaced sense of righteousness that men have when it comes to crimes like abuse and the Catch 22 situation that women find themselves in. On the one hand, they have to deal with the horror of coming into contact with cold-blooded abusers, and on the other, they have to deal with hot-headed protective figures who react to their angst with retribution rather than consolation.
Easwaran (Siddharth) aka Eesu is someone who has had to take over the responsibility of taking care of his family at a young age. We learn that he's got his government job in the sanitation department due to the sudden death of his elder brother, and is now the caretaker of his sister-in-law (Anjali Nair) and Settai, his eight-year-old niece, Sundari (Sahasra Sree). We see him rekindling his romance with his school mate and now co-worker Sakthi (Nimisha Sajayan). We see the almost familial relationship that he shares with his friend, Vadivelu, a lower-level undercover cop, and his niece Ponni (S Abiya Tasneem). We sense the tragedy that's about to befall all of these characters in a scene where cops discuss a locality that has become notoriously unsafe for women.
Arun Kumar first illustrates the lovely connection between Eesu and Settai. We can see how loving she is to him and how devoted he is to her. He corrects a school watchman in an early scene after the latter quips that the girl has gone home alone. The movie is filled with optimism yet we know that disaster is just around the corner. The lovely imagery of balaji Subramaniam fills the pictures.
Then disaster happens! but not in the manner that we anticipate. We can see how even the smallest hint of uncertainty, expressed via the use of an apparently well-intended remark or by a seemingly innocent gesture like a mother choosing to sleep with her child on her bed, may have disastrous effects.
Another tragic scenario begins to play out before the characters—and we, the audience—can move on from it. While the writing and direction become deceptively potent, by the time the interval block plays out, it makes us want to run away because we don't want to see something bad happen to a character but at the same time, stay transfixed to witness the difficult-to-watch events playing out on screen. The cinematography, now largely handheld, creates a sense of unease and dread. We have moved from feel-good to feel-bad.
The drama eventually transitions into a survival thriller with a race against time, although we do wish the filmmaker had avoided including a sequence that details the kidnapper's aggressive behaviour. Do we really want to know the how when the thought of a little child being kept hostage by a serial rapist and killer is enough to make the scenario horrifying? Wouldn't it have been preferable to let the audience imagine such a scenario even if the movie doesn't clearly depict it?
Thankfully, the events that unfold at a police roadblock give way to one of the most suspenseful scenes we will ever witness in a movie this year. The reward that comes next is so satisfying that we can't help but rise up and applaud. The subsequent events, however, struggle to live up to this high point, which is a drawback. We have a vengeance plot that culminates in a gratuitous sequence presented to the audience that feels out of character with the rest of the movie (Vishal Chandrashekar's subdued soundtrack also abruptly turns joyful at this point). A key character-related revelation also doesn't feel shocking enough. However, the character's remarks are pertinent, and it is admirable how this scenario finishes with the victim standing up for herself.
Additionally, the performances are excellent. While Nimisha Sajayan makes an assured debut, Siddharth's portrayal possesses a hitherto unseen intensity and gritty quality. The two young girls also excel, notably Sahasra Sree, who portrays the victim's wounded and fearful soul in a really moving way.
Despite all the gloom, there are a few touching moments. A moment between two friends who have experienced an incident that has strengthened their friendship and a survivor running up to a character and hugging them. Such moving events transform Chithha into a crucial force in the present.