Today we’ll be looking at a very popular storytelling device, known as the Chekhov’s Gun. Let’s begin with some good ol’ theory, then?
In the words of 20th-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov: “If in Act One you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last Act.”
A broader and simpler version would be: If an object is introduced in the plot, it must be used later on, to alter the plot in a significant way. It’s a writer’s way of ensuring that there are no ‘false promises’ made to the viewer, by letting them in on an unexplained plot element.
Malayalam cinema has always had some sound writing, so we wanted to explore how often this device was used. Here are some instances we managed to spot!
In Varathan, Abin finds a few artefacts in the house he moves into, including a gun. It is used by him and Priya in the Home Alone– style climax, to defend themselves against Josey and his gang. So yes; in Varathan, the Chekhov’s gun is an actual gun!
CID Unnikrishnan B.A., B.Ed.: The Matchbox Trick
In CID Unnikrishnan B.A., B.Ed., we’re introduced to Janardhnan’s character who comes to train Unnikrishnan to be a CID. Of course, he turns out to be a fraud, but one of the things he does teach him is the matchbox trick which Unnikrishnan dismisses to be too crude and simple. In the climax faceoff, it’s this exact trick that manages to help them gain the upper hand over the villains.
Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu: The 10 Pavan Maala
We see Snehalatha asking Thattaan Bhaskaran to make her a gold necklace worth ten sovereigns. And out of love, he does it. But we all know what happened next. Snehalatha leaves him for a Gulfkaran, with her father giving the gold necklace as ‘dowry’. Bhaskaran is ridiculed by the whole village and is left heartbroken. Life goes on, and one of the biggest twists comes in the form of the aforementioned maala, which is revealed to be almost completely made of brass. And this sets up a series of events towards the climax.
One of the biggest surprises the film throws at us is in the third act when a young and beautiful girl by the name of Celine enters George’s life. When she tells George: “Nammal thammil oru pazhaya connection und” you never expect the ‘connection’ to be one from the first act. George ends up happily married to the older version of the little girl who used to go to school with Mary (his first crush) – whom he even befriended in the hope of getting to know Mary!
C.I.D. Moosa: The Car
Little do we think that Sahadevan’s red car – gifted by CID Karamchand (Captain Raju) – becomes such a powerful tool in the story later on. The car’s additional functionality elevates the climactic chase sequence into one of the funniest bits of the film. Also, the bonnet of the car is used by Sahadevan to defend the CM from bullets in the final confrontation.
Mayaanadhi: Ad Shoot
After the first 20 minutes, Mayaanadhi’s urgency in pacing takes a backseat. An instance that feels misplaced in the first watch is the Jewellery Ad shoot. In the “Kaattil” song, snippets of how Appu and Mathan are around each other, are casually presented to us. But it’s only later we realise that the hoarding for this particular ad is what becomes a pivotal clue for the investigating officers while hunting for Maathan.
Helen: The Security Guard
Twice in the initial portions of the film, we see Helen greeting the security guard at the mall. This minute detail comes back to save Helen in a big way, when in the climax, the security guard helps confirm that Helen did not leave the mall that entire day. She always greeted him before leaving; and that particular evening, he was sure she didn’t.
Guru: Ilama Fruit
Almost halfway through the movie, we are introduced to the Ilama fruit. At the time, it looks like another random detail about the alternate world that Raghurāman finds himself in. But as the story progresses we, through Raghurāman, realise that the fruit is both the cause and the cure for blindness.
Now, when you watch a film and see an unexplained object or phenomenon, you would overthink the hell out of how this element is going to come back into the plot. And by doing that, you’re missing out on the several other intricacies the film has to offer. So my suggestion would be to not think too hard when you see the possibility of this device in action. Allow it to surprise you during the first watch. And then post-viewing, appreciate how its use helped the film?
Also. As you may have guessed, the above list is a non-exhaustive one. If you managed to recall more instances of the Chekhov’s Gun at play – Damn, I just remembered: the tin of gunpowder in Ayyapanum Koshyum too, maybe? – do comment below!