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MOST OF the time they begin quite well. But halfway through they get bogged down. Oscar Films' latest presentation, "Manasellam," written and directed by Santhosh, belongs to this category.

The cast is fresh — Srikanth has an appealing screen presence. Trisha is petite, beautiful and can perform well too. And she has a commendable dress sense. So when the film begins on an earnest note, projecting the hero as a responsible, intelligent young man who comes to the city in search of a job, you expect an interesting family drama to unfold. It does, till the intermission, after which the story flounders.

Bala (Srikanth) comes to Chennai to find a job. His simplicity impresses the fast food joint owner, Sundaram (V.M.C. Hanifa), and Bala becomes part of the family. (Why this sudden penchant for the name `Bala' in Tamil cinema?) Malar (Trisha) lives right opposite. The two vagabonds whom Bala shares his room with vie for her attention, while the third (Shyam Ganesh) is too busy with his office chores. Just when you think that the simple and sincere hero is going to find a cushy job, events turn awry and the fellow is forced to switch over to the flashback mode. And it is here that confusion starts.

If the heroine had only told her brothers about her ailment and her romance there would have been no plot to proceed with. The sacrifice the lovers make seems so unnecessary that it exasperates the viewer.

The two roommates (Vaiyapuri and Sukran) irritate you with their senseless infatuation. Sukran is an actor with potential, who deserves better roles. He had made quite an impression in "Dhil". You expect Murugan (Chaplin Balu), who is aware of the shabby way in which the two treat Bala, to do something. But nothing happens.

In the climax, when the hero walks away from the hospital, it is strange that nobody in the family even thinks of rushing to the bedside of the dying patient. The hero's solo strain protracts matters and affects the tempo.

Apart from traces of Erich Segal's "Love Story", K.B.'s "Ninaithaale Inikkum", Kadhir's "Idhayam" and Saran's "Kadhal Mannan" that are evident, the heroine's introduction scene and the very setting are so very similar to Maniratnam's "Dhalapati."

Shyam Ganesh renders a dignified performance. Of course, dance is simply not his forte. As the mother of Bala, Fathima Babu indulges in too much of theatrics and hence has very little appeal. Rajeev, as the composed dad, shines in contrast.

"Iniya Nadhi ... ," the duet sung by Srinivas and Sadhana Sargam, is a melodious piece from Ilaiyaraja.

The only thing new about the story is the hero himself walking away from the scene of action before the tale actually ends. "Manasellam" has the ingredients of an entertaining fare — but the worn-out storyline and trying sequences are stumbling blocks.


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