Man Madan Ambu

  1. Yes, real life got in the way.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

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9 thoughts on “Man Madan Ambu

  1. Welcome back! And yes, the writing was actually spot on and well structured till the last half hour. Then they had to do justice to their marketing. I felt the biggest problem with the movie was that it was marketed as a comedy the likes of Panchathanthiram etc. which it clearly wasn’t.

  2. True. After taking so much care to build up an emotional head of steam while still retaining a comic edge, the crazy section took over so completely that it felt like the emotions were shortchanged. Not quite the choice I was hoping for. In the end, one is left sighing about what might have been. Still , despite its faults, this was an above average outing for all concerned, I think.

  3. Dinesh says:

    At the break of interval, i was expecting the film would travel to a romantic tragic, a long due from kamal. On the whole, i didnt like the movie since nothing was mixed in adequate proportions..

  4. S says:

    Cha! Ramsu, you snuck this one in right past my “faithful reader” radar, dammit! 😀 Reason I musta missed this on the 2nd was coz I’ve been religiously refreshing this page over the past three months only to find the titular “Man” (from “Man 1 , Machine 0) greet me each time. So on the 2nd, when I saw “Man” again, can you blame me for being Pavlovian and going for the x on the upper right corner of my browser?

    How then did I ‘man’age to figure out this was a different “Man”? Well, it’s a simple case of New Year’s resolution (to NOT be so Pavlovian; same resolution as last year’s and usually lasts a whole week) kicking in two days too late.

    Today, when I read “Man” on the title, I kinda coerced myself into reading further and could you imagine my joy from finding out (finally!) that “Man” is followed by a Word (yes, EVEN if its first three letters are “Mad”) and NOT a binary? It’s a feeling that’s got to be experienced to be believed, I mean REALLY.

    That minor matter aside, welcome baccck!

    Now, just for this line, I wanna watch the movie in the worst way: “..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.” Oh wend your way to me willya, my dear Ayngaran/Sruthilayam DVD?

    • S says:

      PS: BTW, what you say here (especially the last three lines about the last half hour falling apart, yet three-quarters of the movie managing to stand up pretty well) echoes what BR wrote in his Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva combo-review:

      “Finally, we get to the fourth quarter, and Mani Ratnam, after carefully spinning three engrossing narrative threads, suddenly throws his hands up in the air. The last half-hour is crammed with all sorts of tying-up devices, many of which don’t work at all, especially the political wish-fulfillment scenarios that make the one-day-CM idealism of ‘Mudhalvan’ look like gritty social realism. It’s great to want to show denim coexisting with ‘khadi’ — this makes for a knockout visual as well — but that kind of accomplishment needs to be in a movie of its own, not just in the scrambling-to-a-finish climatic portions…

      So ‘Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva’ begins with a bang and ends with a whimper, but the bang lasts well into three-quarters of the film…that that makes the end all the more disappointing..”

      Maybe there’s way more similarity between Mani and Kamal than catches the casual eye?

      • I felt the same way about those movies. Sort of like a Salman Rushdie novel — he’s bursting to try out all of his tricks in the first 50 pages, but towards the last 50, he often runs out of steam.

  5. Rajendran says:

    I am still trying to figure out the trivia behind Rajamannar! I reckon Madhavan’s name is from Micheal-Madan…Where the hell is Rajamannar from?

    • Stop thinking Kamal and Madhavan and start thinking Gemini Ganesan, Thangavelu and Kalyana Parisu 🙂

      If that still doesn’t help, find thyself a copy of that movie. Its best aspect is the comedy track involving an unemployed man lying to his wife about his work status. The reference comes from there.

      • Anonymous says:

        aah I see. I am aware of the film but haven’t seen it. That’s a wonderful reference/tribute. Nice catch, Ramsu

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