Maamanithan Movie Review: What Could Have Been A Well-Crafted Hitchcockian Drama Becomes A Confused Affair

Despite the presence of an amazing actor like Vijay Sethupathi, who is able to navigate many of his films on his shoulders, this film seems to be losing its way.

Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Gayathrie, Anikha Surendran

Director: Seenu Ramasamy

Watching this film by Seenu Ramasamy, it seems that the film production has been a rather long-drawn-out affair. It has travelled through several ups and downs, giving us the feeling of a tired traveller. Despite the presence of an amazing actor like Vijay Sethupathi, who is able to navigate many of his films on his shoulders, this film seems to be losing its way, and that’s largely because it lacks a central dramatic focus.

It starts off as Sethupathi, playing Radha Krishnan, an honest auto-riksha driver in a small rural town wanting to educate his two kids through a good English-speaking education system. His wife Savitri (played by Gayathrie), assures him full moral support. Somehow, he meanders into a bogus real estate deal into which he gets trapped by Madhavan (played by Shaji Chen), a person you can smell out as a crook from a mile away, but Sethupathi cannot. That trap leads him into running away to Kerala on a wild goose chase to catch the culprit by abandoning his own wife and kids. He meets the culprit’s ageing mom played by KPAC Lalitha, who is in tears hearing his plight. As an act of balance, he plays good Samaritan by helping another young Christian girl there. This dramatic angle also comes to a rather abrupt end after about seven years, when he abandons this little girl and goes out to Varanasi.

Arriving in this new town, the script changes focus yet again when he decides that the time has come to seek a spiritual path on the river Ganges. Here, he encounters Madhavan, the culprit, by sheer coincidence, and finds out that he is suffering from an incurable disease. And just when he decides to journey on further, his wife and son arrive there and help the film to a happy ending. One can clearly see what starts off as a homage to Kamal Haasan’s Mahanadhi, which deals with a similar good guy getting trapped in crooked deals, losing its way.

The real problem is in the style of narration. All the crucial turning points are narrated as flashbacks by secondary characters or as voiceover narrations. When something like this happens to a screenplay device, we lose out on whose point of view the story is from and whom it is being told from. As a result, we the audience are not allowed into the story in the form of a direct engagement. We end up hearing second-hand experiences that are prima facie unauthentic. Overall, what we end up watching is the ability of a deeply wounded young man transforming into a Christ-like figure capable of forgiving the crook who ruined him and his family. This “Maamanithan”, the great man now dances wild among all the ganja smoking Swamijis on the burning guards as a final act of self-redemption. Why? How? Where does it all change? Who was responsible for all this? We don’t know.

The cinematography by M Sukumar is extremely patchy, giving you the feeling that the crew had to somehow wrap up everything in a hurry. The dubbing is even worse and just when you expect Raja (Ilaiyaraaja) and Yuvan Shankar Raja to deliver their healing musical touch, you realize the guy on the mixing table has pushed all the background music into the loudest volume levels, drowning all the effects laid out in other tracks. The soundtrack is a disaster, but what really stands out in this rather torrid saga are three excellent performances — Savitri played by Gayatrie has a kind of restraint and naturalness not seen much on the Tamil screen. The way she blends into the landscape, along with her small family, is amazing.

And then you have Somasundaram playing Ismail, Sethupathi’s best friend and saviour of the abandoned family. Honestly what a relief it is to see a Muslim character given some importance in an Indian film. This kind of inclusivity had almost been given up as a lost cause. I sincerely hope that other filmmakers in the future take this lead and start developing more characters from the Muslim community. And then we have Jewel Mary playing Pilomy a tea vendor in the backwaters of Alleppey, who accommodates Radhakrishnan. What a radiant presence. She’s one of the rare actors who just does not perform or exert herself to play her role. So, what could have been a well-crafted Hitchcockian drama of a small lower middle-class family facing a crisis beyond their comprehension, loses track and becomes a rather confused affair. So, let’s just blame it on the inconveniences caused by the pandemic of the last two years on a crew, which was ill-equipped also to handle their crisis, too.

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