Oh Manapenne Harish Kalyan Priya Bhavani Shankar
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Director: Karthikk Sundar
Cast: Harish Kalyan, Priya Bhavani Shankar
Language: Tamil

Oh Manapenne! is directed by Karthikk Sundar. The title is delightful because it plays on an AR Rahman song, ‘Omana Penne’ and I love the way it puns on the song. The film stars Harish Kalyan and Priya Bhavanishankar. The film is a faithful remake of Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu. If you haven’t seen that movie, it is a Telugu rom-com and obviously, because of the nature of the genre, it has two opposing types – the girl is super focused and the boy is lazy. He has no clear sense of direction or purpose, he is still clearing his arrears whereas she has got a gold medal in a management degree. She is detail oriented, punctual and he is not – so on and so forth. You can dream up all the concepts that you want, but if you don’t get the right actors, they all go to dust. 

The best thing about Pelli Choopulu was the casting because of the way it brought together Vijay Deverakonda and Ritu Varma. She really looked like the gold winning MBA type and he,  like a lazy loser, but a lovable lazy loser type. What is actually special about this is that they brought inner life to their characters.Anybody can play focus, which is an external character and anybody can play lazy You can just sit there and have a smoke or something. What really makes these characters more than what they are is the inner life that an actor brings. Ritu Varma and Vijay Deverakonda did that brilliantly. Their individual performances as well as in their mutual scenes, their chemistry was off the charts,  as was Tharun Bhascker’s staging and direction. The film had a genuine newness to it in the way it was staged, realized and everything that a director needed to do. It seemed so fresh! 

Now, that is not exactly there in Oh Manapenne! which gets off to quite a shaky start. there is a staginess to the dialogues and also to the performances. The leads take a while to settle into their roles and at first, they are very pleasant but bland. That inner life that I spoke about earlier is not there in either Harish Kalyan or Priya Bhavani Shankar. In fact, Priya Bhavani Shankar has better chemistry with Ashwin Kumar, who plays her ex-boyfriend in a small flashback. He is very good, as are the two actors who play Harish Kalyan’s friends – Anbuthasan and Abhishek Kumar. Another person who stands out is Venu Arvind who plays Harish Kalyan’s father. Otherwise there is no energy in the acting, in the frames or in the staging and everything seems  a little off. The dialogues start a certain way and stop, another person picks up their dialogue. There is no real sense of the actual energy of an interaction.

We see variations of similar scenes, which was the case in Pelli Choopulu as well, but I didn’t quite feel that there because of all the things that I mentioned above. But once the central idea of the food truck is established with Priya Bhavanishankar as the manager/business person and with Harish Kalyan as a chef, Oh Manapenne! really takes off. The leads begin to click and their cat and mouse rapport becomes quite affecting, infact both of them seem a little better in their serious scenes than the supposedly lighter scenes, earlier. 

 

The food truck is a wonderful metaphor, whether or not Tharun Bhascker thought of it. It says, in any relationship, between lovers/parents/siblings, you bring something and I bring something. Then we use these things together and make this relationship work. I like that idea in the food truck very much!

The second half also works because of the themes that I hinted at in the first half. They become articulated and make a lot of sense. For example, when I was much younger, I wish I had the guts to tell someone not to make us live life at their pace or the way your father or their father’s generation lived- we will find our way, just give us some space. 

Apart from this central conflict there are also tiny conflicts that keep the screenplay interesting. Another continuing conflict is the dowry system that Harish Kalyan’s character is actually invested in. He is so lazy that he thinks he can just live off the money that his wife brings. Now to some of us this might be shocking, but the film does not pass any judgement on any of its characters. There is a light disgusted expression from Priya Bhavanishankar, but otherwise the film is very clear that these people are who they are and we are not going to pass any judgements on them. We are just going to observe them. Of course, all of this comes from the Pelli Choopulu universe. 

What is nice and unique in Oh Manapenne! is Vishal Chandrashekar’s music which is a nice mix of the old and new that the film is about and the music reflects this beautifully. I will say, Oh Manapenne! is an okayish remake, but if you haven’t seen Pelli Choopulu, you may even upgrade that to a decent or to even, good.

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