- Yes, real life got in the way.
- Yes, my New Year resolution is to write the odd blog post on the movies every now and then. Although, if this one goes the way of my other resolutions, you might as well stop visiting this blog for updates. (Assuming you still do, that is.)
- No, I don’t consciously break these resolutions. Real life (see #1 above) gets in the way. The same way that hot pakoras and kheer kadam gets in the way of my diet-related resolutions.
Now that we’ve gotten the preliminaries out of the way, here’s what I think of the latest Kamal starrer.
MMA starts off promisingly, has a reasonably strong midsection that suggests a screwball comedy slowed down to accommodate a little emotion… and then it goes wahoonie shaped in the last half hour. The plot is quite serviceable — a rich spoilt brat (Madavan) hires a private eye (Kamal) to tail his ex (Trisha) and find evidence that she’s cheating on him. The fact that she’s an actress explains why he suspects this — with all those handsome men around, he reasons, there’s no way she was going to be faithful. The private eye tails her, finds her to be a sensible, charming young lady and says so. And since he didn’t find any dirt, the brat refuses to pay him. So…
At this point, I am sure you can not only guess the general direction this plot is about to take, but also realize that the specifics are likely to get so convoluted that there’s no point trying to guess any further. Now, this is not really a problem in itself — the whole point of a screwball comedy is to convey a sense of breathless invention, with a much put-upon hero getting so tangled in the web of lies he has himself woven that he no longer has any clue what his next lie is going to be, or why he’s going to tell it. To a veteran like Kamal, this sort of role would’ve been a walk in the park.
I think the problem with Man Madan Ambu is that it provides the hero with some late-stage collaborators. The fact that these collaborators are pretty funny themselves doesn’t really help — it reduces the tension where it should’ve escalated it. As a result, even though it tries to pile contrivance upon contrivance in a manner faithful to the genre, it somehow feels like they’re trying too hard for a laugh.
Which is a pity because there are plenty of laughs to be had in the earlier sections. The private eye, for instance, introduces himself as “Major R. Mannar, Indian Army”. And later reveals that his full name is Rajamannar. And if that didn’t get at least a chuckle out of you, you clearly haven’t seen enough Tamil cinema. The subtitles — yes, the film has English subtitles — aren’t just literal translations, and occasionally provide their own zingers independent of what is spoken.
Even the serious stuff doesn’t really drag the movie down. While the subplot about the cancer-stricken friend is probably not entirely necessary, I don’t think it hamstrung the movie. There was the odd moment that hit home in those exchanges. Mannar’s flashback about his wife is told through a beautifully filmed song. Its brevity added to its poignancy.
The performances are not to blame either. Kamal does his shtick about as well as he usually does in these movies — he doesn’t hit this one out of the park, but I couldn’t find anything to complain about his performance. Trisha and Madhavan are adequate — the latter especially seems to have had a lot of fun playing a lush. Then of course there’s an absolutely fantastic performance from Sangeetha as Trisha’s childhood friend and divorced mother of two. The supporting actors — Usha Uthup, Kunjan, Manju Pillai — all hit their marks.
In the end, the single biggest problem with Man Madan Ambu turns out to be the writing (by Kamal). Tragic, really, because I was hoping for a Kamal movie where I could not find anything bad to say about him, and this one seemed well on course until the last half hour. Having said that, the film offers enough and more for most of its running time and is well worth a watch.