Cast: Ashok Selvan, Samyuktha Hegde, Riya Suman
Director: Venkat Prabhu
When I recall Venkat Prabhu, my mind goes back to 2007 when he made one amazing cult classic called Chennai 600028 about a bunch of boys who fight out in cricket matches, in small little gullies and old colonies. Things like that give a very refreshing and realistic kind of feel. Then 2021 saw his film called Maanaadu. It is a wonderful experiment in time loops, may not be very classy, but certainly a very unique experiment.
So when you go to see Manmatha Leelai, your mind is full of expectations. Almost living up to the expectations, the first 70 minutes of the film just plays out two scenes — two similar nights, 10 years apart. Where 10 years ago, you have Ashok Selvan, the primary hero and Samyuktha Hedge and today you have Ashok Selvan and Riya Suman.
Now, this kind of similarity can be brought about only by very beautiful compositional techniques, and the cinematographer Thamizh Azhagan has really worked very hard to create the same kind of cinematographic style from 2010 to 2020. It is very beautifully done. I must say this is remarkable because for the first time I'm seeing Venkat Prabhu working with steady cameras, fixed blocks, and fixed lenses, which was very refreshing.
Then the second half jumps to a completely different kind of story. However misogynistic and narrow the male point of view it could be, the audience was roaring away in laughter. I was feeling a bit squirmish, but from a contemporary perspective, this would be called extremely perverse and anti-woman.
The music by Premji is very stereotypical. It is so old fashioned, almost like a cartoon movie that plays up to every scene on a kind of one by one basis and reaches so loud. It simply doesn't allow you to think. But it is in this second half that there is a serious jerk that happens. The film virtually leaves the whole comic domain and moves into a very serious domain where murders and killings happen, and you feel for some time that this is a dark comedy, but it is not. It is moving into a completely different zone of the film, the genre shifts and derails.
This is not what we call in Filmic language "a twist in the story". A twist in the story happens when you are following within the story structure. But this is another story altogether. So you come out of the theatre saying, "Is this the film I entered?" Honestly, I would not have been surprised if Smruthi Venkat, playing his wife, also landed up at the end of the film and said, "Wow, we are a great gang of serial killers". So this is another film altogether when it reaches the end.
Finally, this film is certainly not about any manmadhan, or any kind of a happy go lucky casanova, who just happens to fall in love with every woman that he watches. And if anybody goes there to look for a kind of sequel to K. Balachander's Manmadha Leelai, released in 1976 – Sorry, even that is not going to happen. So if you come into this film, you will see a very different Venkat Prabhu telling a very different kind of story.