Critic’s Rating : / 5
Maamanithan Movie Review : A quietly affecting saga of an ordinary man
He strikes up a deal with Madhavan (Shaji), a real-estate developer, to help him sell his plots, so that he can afford to send his children to a private school. But he ends up getting duped by Madhavan, who has now absconded, leaving him to face the wrath of the people of his village and police action. Can Radhakrishnan find a way to prevent his family from disintegrating and ensure that his kids get educated?
Maamanithan plays out like a genteel version of Mahanadhi. In that film, too, we had a protagonist who is a happy family man with two kids who only wants to progress to the next level in his life, but gets cheated. But what if he had managed to avoid prison and had some external support to ensure the safety of his family? What if the people who he met during his journey towards redemption are honest and humble individuals just like him instead of ruthless wardens? Seenu Ramasamy essentially takes away the pathos of Mahanadhi and substitutes it with the feel-good fantasy of Vetri Kodi Kattu, in which individuals dreaming of a better future get swindled, but manage to rise up again through sheer hope and a little bit of harmless deceit.
What gives this film freshness is the low-key manner in which the director lets the drama play out. Even the most dramatic moments are presented in a naturalistic manner, which makes us feel closer to the characters and empathise with the situations that they find themselves in. When a wife discovers that she has been left on her own to fend for herself and her kids by her husband, there is no highly charged emotional outburst or wailing. Instead, we get the quiet resolve of a woman who tries to get by with the cards that life has dealt her with. It is this same approach that we see even when a character meets the person responsible for all his troubles. Even the cops are presented as understanding folks who are sympathetic to the family of the person who they are seeking.
That said, the director trips up while going ahead with this approach by making it too convenient for his protagonist to get his redemption. When Radhakrishnan goes to Kerala, he immediately manages to find a job, friends and even a surrogate family in the form of a widow and her teenaged daughter. And the one who he is after ends up in the same place as he goes to later. We also get a charged musical number towards the climax that feels tonally off.
Thankfully, the performances ensure that we don’t stop caring for the characters. Vijay Sethupathi is perhaps the only star who is daring enough to back such scripts these days, and he effortlessly makes us buy into Radhakrishnan and his follies. Gayathrie is solid in the role of a determined housewife whole Guru Somasundaram lends weight to a somewhat underwritten character. They are also backed by solid filmmaking. The first half features some of the best filmmaking in this director’s films, with one scene smoothly flowing into the next, complemented by M Sukumar’s cinematography, which remains unobtrusive (the many long takes never take away our attention from the story), always in the service of the storytelling. It is only the music, by Ilaiyaraaja and Yuvan Shankar Raja, that somewhat falls short.
Also, in these times when big-screen entertainment has largely come to mean action thrillers and fantasies, Maamanithan — a character-driven drama – does feel like the last of its species. And by the time that it ends, it turns into something more — a saga that is quietly affecting.