Short Takes Movies

Shining without stars

The feeling when you enter a theatre with nil expectations and exit overwhelmed, defies definition especially for a film lover. It can only be experienced, not explained. After the superbly crafted ‘Dhuruvangal 16’ by the 21-year-old Karthik Naren comes ‘Maanagaram’. There was the deftly directed ‘Kuttram 23’ in between though it stuck to the familiar format. The one thing that emerges without any room for argument is that the backbone of a good film is pithy writing be it the screenplay or the dialogues. The lack of importance given to this by most filmmakers is glaring and reflects in the end product. It also exposes the maker’s ineptitude or the scant respect he has for his craft.

The lives of various, unrelated characters converging into a cohesive climax connecting the events is fascinating to watch but a daunting task for the maker. I was fascinated by Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ when I watched it on Mani Ratnam’s recommendation. Then Kamal recommended the fascinating ‘Magnolia’. It became a genre with films like ‘Babel’ and the most famous of them, ‘Pulp Fiction’. ‘Magnolia’, I suspect sowed the seed for Kamal’s ‘Dashavataaram’ just like Mani’s ‘Ayudha Yezhuthu’ was inspired by ‘Amores Peres’. Both films did not do justice to their immense, respective talent, especially as writers. When such efforts are not convincing they end up as mere gimmicks.

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s ‘Maanagaram’ (Tamil) is an audacious effort. You feel so probably because it is his first feature length film. His short effort ‘Kalam’ was a part of Karthick Subburaj’s anthology, ‘Aviyal’. I’m sure a few producers scorned at his initial attempts in narrating a script that veterans would be wary of attempting. Strangely, I was reminded of K. Balachander’s ‘Pattina Pravesam’ purely because that was also about a family that migrates from the village to the city seeking better prospects. The narrative though was straight and concentrated on the travails of the family, but the soul of ‘Maanagaram’ is similar. Also, most of the cast comprised unfamiliar faces at that time. KB could afford it because he was the selling factor in his films but with ‘Maanagaram’, it speaks of the confidence Lokesh has in his abilities. This can happen only when you are convinced about the strength of your script. More importantly he found a producer who saw promise in the project and the prospect that it would connect with audiences.

The plot is strewn with a crowd of characters shown in slick scenes that unfold seamlessly. You are introduced to a youth who has arrived in the city and lands a job, the girl who approves his application but is dealing with a protective boyfriend who continuously courts trouble. A cab driver, also a migrant, joins the same company to get his kid better medical treatment but is clueless about the city’s topography. There are the small time crooks who hire a bumbling novice to abduct a kid. Then there’s the vilest baddie in town with a bunch of ruthless underlings and a police officer who sees an opportunity to get rich quick. It is about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, mistaken identity, misplaced mobile phones, kidnapping of the wrong kid, conflict and catharsis. You cannot pinpoint a single department that stands out simply because every one of them complements the other making it an outstanding effort. Each scene makes you eagerly await the next with a climax that is befitting. In fact you wish they had done away with the intermission.

The casting is perfect. Every actor performs like the role was written with none else in mind. Veteran character artiste Charlie is the most recognisable face and he performs with rare grace. Sri looks and acts every inch the immigrant who is initially disillusioned by the lackadaisical attitude and lack of respect in the teeming metropolis. He is brought down to reality in a wonderful exchange with the cab driver played by Charlie that transforms him in the end. The editing looks crisp shifting to the various characters and episodes leaving you curious about the rest but it all boils down to the racy writing.

‘Maanagaram’ is the kind of film that depends on favourable word of mouth reactions. Lokesh proves that if you have a good script your film can shine sans predictable tropes or stars.

sshivu@yahoo.com


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:53:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/shining-without-stars/article17474025.ece

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