MANITHAN MOVIE REVIEW
by MANI PRABHU
Viewed in one perspective, Manithan, a reprisal of the well-received courtroom drama *Jolly LLB*, is replete with surprises. For starters, Udhayanidhi Stalin takes up an author-backed role for the first time and comes out nearly unscathed. He still cannot pull off heavy-duty scenes convincingly, but he doesn’t try too hard to be someone else. He smartly eases into the loser ‘underdog’ character and lets it gradually grow on you. And in the end, he almost catches you off guard with his natural anguish and frustration. Forget swashbuckling histrionics, this is probably how this character would react, when forced into a rabbit hole. Secondly, the director Ahmed’s confidence in the original script and his craft keeps showing up scene after scene as he refuses to rob the film of its inherent bittersweet tone by attempting to ‘commercialize’ it. He edges up the drama in a couple of sequences when compared to the original, but to be frank, he doesn’t seem to worry much about the kind of things that our trade pundits think would satisfy the masses. He does incorporate the North Indian heroine and the wise-cracking comedian into the proceedings, but both are kept in check. Well, almost.
The writing is surprisingly free of flab, and the inevitable song sequences are staged as montages which blend well with the narrative. Speaking of which, you can’t help but wonder at the mystical array of shades that a musician like Santosh Narayanan could impart to the quintessential ‘wastrel- warrior- winner’ drama! The man manages to brilliantly circumvent our feeling of déjà-vu to beaten-to-death emotional motifs with his signature tunes. Thankfully, the supporting characters (unlike the main character) are not brushed off using broad strokes. They are each given a unique flavour and depth. And when you have powerhouse performers like Prakashraj and Radharavi playing meatier characters than the lead man, the results are there to see. And the greatest surprise of all, Hansika Motwani essaying the part of the supporting lover, doesn’t ham the wits out of you. But then, Prakash (playing the smart, sinister super-lawyer) shows her how it’s done with remarkable effect, as he single-handedly averts some of the court-room scenes from falling flat.
But despite all these surprises, the film is not without its share of issues. The director’s decision not to tamper with the original and let the conflict build organically, backfires quite a bit here as Udhay is clearly not Arshad Warsi to keep us watching with his comical timing and body language in the first forty minutes. As a result, the film spends a considerable amount of time meandering on with the lead man’s social awkwardness, before it finally finds its groove. The character arc of the protagonist – his overnight transformation from a clumsy opportunist to the sincere vigilante – is never really explored convincingly. On what faith, does he go to to war with such an influential bigwig? Why doesn’t he predict Prakashraj’s ploys (which are incidentally as old as the hills) and operate on that understanding? You could say the same with the original, but isn’t the purpose of a remake also to address the obvious ambiguities. And after a while, the court-room drama clichés take over, one by one.. At times, they work despite the familiarity, but on other occasions, you wonder why not add some bite to the way these sub-conflicts resolve. But then, isn’t that an issue with most of our films that end up dangling somewhere between ‘good’ and ‘average’?