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Manjha movie review: Gritty thriller

Motherhood is the flavour of the season. After Raveena Tandon and Sridevi have recently made their comeback with avenging maternal roles, now Ashvini Bhave appears in the Marathi film, Manjha as a perceptive and liberal single parent. While the more recent Mom is a revenge saga, Manjha is a coming of age story that also delves into parenthood, the common denominator being the fact that both films are gritty thrillers.

In an attempt to escape an abusive marriage, Samidha (Ashvini Bhave) moves to Lonavala with her reclusiveadolescent son, Jaideep (Rohit Phalke of Balak Palak fame) to work in a resort as a guest relations manager. Jaideep meets Vicky (Sumedh Mudgalkar of Dance India Dance fame), intelligent, witty, winsome, and head boy of the school, where he gets a mid-term admission. Vicky’s unabashed charm and his approachable ways turn them into fast friends. Rohit, who has undergone therapy in the past owing tohis father’s abuse begins to shed his timidity and starts blooming. A sinister plan between the two threatens to devastate their friendship and until Bhave intervenes with a shrewder strategy.

Written and directed by Jatin Wagle, Manjha makes a case for a laidback yet assertive parent-child relationship which opens channels of communication. Manjha’s mother is not someone who dishes out wisdom from the trenches but someone who inspires quiet courage. Wagle steers clear of teenage tantrums and conflicts with parents, which are generally seen as a requisite phase of adolescence, with a clever backstory. A working mother who refuses to succumb to an abusive relationship, and is a firm believer in new beginnings, and advocates therapy for her child and does not see anything wrong with male vulnerability is a rare sight in Marathi cinema.

Contrary to a clichéd depiction of a brooding or bawling mother, it is heartening to see Samidha’s poise in the face of vicissitudes. During the course of the film, we see a therapist likening parenthood to manjha (string used in kite flying) – agile balance is the key to make the kite soar with a firm grounding. The film achieves this by avoiding a didactic tone while keeping Bhave in the background. The script does not make attempts to overpower the storyline with Bhave’s star power. The boys are in the foreground as Manjha explores overweening admiration which gives way to an undercurrent of sexual jealousy and grandiose ideas of toxic masculinity. Weaving these deeper insights in the mainstream narrative of a thriller is definitely a triumph. The picturisation in the lush and secluded backdrop of the hill station of Lonavala and the soundtrack lend the film a sinister vibe.

Mudgalkar skillfully delivers the thrills with a chilling countenance, but a less conscious performance would have been even more unsettling. Phalke’s role is a more challenging one since it requires him to evolve from a meek and passive character to someone who finds his voice. As Jaideep, his face shows glimpses of the most fleeting emotions.

Manjha is also occupied by a cluster of non-Marathi actors like Mohan Kapoor and the dialogue is ‘Manglish’ (Marathi with a fair amount of English). It does sound a little uneven when non-Marathi actors speak in broken Marathi but as the film progresses, you realise that it reflects a cosmopolitan reality. The writing suffers when it makes it easy for us to take sides. We see the twist coming, very early on in the film but it still manages to take you aback. Though bold, the pivotal scene lacks the searing discomfort that it demands.

The flaws of the film start becoming apparent towards the end when just like in Mom, Samidha takes matters in her own hands.

The director manages to keep the tone of the film even with some splashes of lightheartedness till it starts getting too conventional, with an unnecessary song that mars the dark mood. Manjha may not be a seminal film in the thriller genre, but it’s a well-made contemporary film that makes its mark in the landscape of mainstream Marathi cinema.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 12:47:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/manjha-movie-review-gritty-thriller/article19322359.ece

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