Maanagaram is riveting
We have had movies that trace the underbelly of Chennai. Most of them paint a dark and gloomy picture. Maanagaram does that too but it also shows that there is always a ray of light if you look for it.
On a fateful day in Chennai the lives of four characters meet at a point.
The first scene of the film is an interview. It is low key and in no mood to create any urgency. But it is brilliant in the way it establishes the characterization of Shri. We get to know that he is brutally honest and he is there only due to compulsion. The dialogue is to the point and you can see the director in complete command over the medium. It is as though a candid camera has been placed in the interview table. But it isn't art-house cinema. It is like the exact bridge between what you want to see on screen in a cinematic form and what happens in the real world. This particular blend is what you yearn for. Lokesh Kanagaraj maintains this for the most part of Maanagaram. The premise is exciting and the characters are real. So what we have is a sort of semi masala film but with characters taken from the real world. There is action but no heroics of the filmy kind.
What is most interesting is that the film relies on coincidences and there are so many of them. Yet they never look contrived. Not even one of them!!! Take for instance Vil Ambu (another Shri starrer) that released last year. It had only two parallel tracks around two characters and yet almost everything that brought the two together looked forced. Here we have four tracks but everything is seamless.
Maanagram could be new age cinema but it has its roots firmly in our good vs evil mainstream space. It does operate like the famous dialogue from Baasha that roughly translates to – the good will face hardships but the end would always be on the right note. The film also makes a point or two about the this phenomenon or city called Chennai. There is a conversation between Shri and Charlie (excellent as always) about the city and its evil side. Both have not had it easy in the city but have contrasting views. This is a wonderful moment in the film and says a lot about the director's sensibilities. There is also this message that you really need not know someone to actually help them. The casting is superb and every actor looks the part.
The only hitch (a small one) is the characterization of Munishkanth. He does well but his character borders on being extremely silly. It is not about his behaviour which is entirely plausible. But the fact that notorious people around him trust him seems out of place. Hence the black comedy in these portions loses some impact. Also the last scene that looks like an afterthought and more like a Naerukku Naer/Agni Natchathiram scenario is out of place.
Maanagaram is an exciting ride through the underbelly of Chennai. What more can you ask for when realistic cinema also gets to be entertaining.