The beauty of life sometimes lies in its small subtle moments. But, when those experiences are translated to the silver screen, we expect intense dramatic sequences. But, what if a film maker curbs those instincts and creates a movie experience that is on par with reality. The result would be a beautiful poetry called Manmadhan Ambu.
So, what is this movie all about? The basic theme deals with how the lack of trust and transparency could impair one’s life. The admirable aspect is its treatment. Trisha’s character is the pivot around which the movie revolves and she plays herself (as an actress).
Even the character sketch defies stereotyping- a lost (mind of course) business man, a Tamil speaking Tamil actress (a third world wonder indeed), a retired army major playing a private detective, a divorcee with two kids who lives life on her own terms and is content . Salute to the ingenuity in the character sketch! But it doesn’t stop over there! All these characters have been given ample scope to perform. Madhavan gets as much screen space as Kamal and Sangeetha almost as Trisha. There are contrasting emotions displayed in various sequences – Kamal -Maddy (humility, humiliation, revenge), Kamal -Trisha (admiration, concern, guilt, romance), Trisha-Sangeetha (affection), Kamal -Ramesh Arvind (sorrow), Maddy-Trisha (love, suspicion, jealousy, hatred). As these sequences continuously move around, the audience experience a varied ensemble of emotions grouped very differently from other movies. You do not have the typical humor, then romance, then split followed by the re-union. The narrative style makes for an interesting medley of emotions. Also, there are no stereotypic racy chase sequences, mandatorily inserted songs, comedians or punch dialogues (we don’t expect them either from Kamal). The first applause from the crowd goes to a guest actor. The hero appears almost 20 minutes into the movie. Even the hero intro song (a stereotype at last) has been smoothly done. The hero is shown as one who cannot scale a tall wall matching the villains. He cannot even match their pace. There are no other fight sequences unnecessarily thrust in to show that the hero is powerful, even if he was an army major. Also, a few characters interact only through phone or video chat throughout the movie. That in no way undermines the way their affection has been brought on screen.
Dialogues are a key feature in Manmadhan Ambu. But, there are a few sequences where even silence or a bgm drives home the message. The Paris car drive sequence showing Kamal looking at the sky and showing Trisha do the same convey more through silence than through words. The same effect is created when Trisha admires the sky for an instance at Kodaikanal. The razor sharp dialogues (especially about the interconnecting door) drive home the escalating bitterness between the pair in a matter of a few scenes. Even seemingly funnier scenes have an inherent message, like for instance the mad craze for celebrities especially film stars and how the cops turn a blind eye to even grave mistakes committed by them. The Marseilles train scene brought out the sharpness and creativity of a kid’s brain over an adult (the scene where the little girl diverts her brother’s attention from the gossips discussed). The curiosity among kids to listen to gossips and getting to know things is beautifully brought out in another scene. The suffering of a cancer patient has been brought forth beautifully in just 3-4 scenes. The reactions and expressions of Ramesh Arvind not only bring out the good actor in him but showcases that cancer is still a demon. Equally heartening to observe the kid Ashish comforting Ramesh Arvind telling that when even AIDS can be cured, cancer can also be. The escalating medical costs are conveyed indirectly through just a few side pointers (the mottai adichutaanga dialogue). Same applies when Kamal says that he is stranded on the streets.
The first half sails so smoothly that you hardly realize that it is the interval. The songs for a change were used to enhance the narrative rather than just filling up the time. The Kurups character could have been made livelier in the initial portions. The first half has an interesting ending creating more expectations for the second half. The dialogues in the scene where Kamal explains about the Colosseum packed a punch ending with the answer “Wrong place, Wrong time”. Then comes the real masterpiece. The reverse narration, though present in bits and pieces earlier, has been for the first time used to convey a whole flashback within a song. The need was for a crisp narration of the flashback and doing it through a song would itself be an achievement but moving many steps forward, the song has been done in reverse including the lip sync. It was heartening to note the “Pettraal than pillaiyaa” van in this song, the AIDS initiative that Kamal supports in the real world.
Coming to the way romance has been portrayed in the movie, such a mature portrayal of love is indeed a rarity in Tamil cinema. The deletion of the crucial kavithai could have made it tough for a few to accept kamal-trisha’s love. In the kavithai, Trisha explains the traits that guys should watch out for in girls. Kamal then narrates his part which expresses the desired qualities that a girl wishes for in her husband and how in the real world it is unattainable. Kamal’s portion of kavithai exactly conveys what Trisha had felt regarding her choice of husband, thus creating a romance conveyed beautifully in the next scene ,which was deleted. But, even without this scene, there were numerous instances which showed their love. As Kamal explains the fake lover character with his attributes, he is slowly transformed into him. The stage dance show revealing Trisha-kamal glances and Sangeetha’s look at Trisha gives it all. The ending of this scene shows the dancers appearing in the portrait leading kamal to trisha. Probably, we are so used to the conventional love sequences that a love without people really proposing seems different.
The humor in the last 30 minutes, though well done could have been made more realistic. A few emotional touches there could have made a more realistic ending. Since the characters especially kamal and trisha were emotionally bonded to us, a sublime ending would have been great. The Maddy-Sangeetha pairing was to show the aspect that people who are too finicky in choosing their partners and do not trust them might end up with partners that they least desire normally. This could probably have been enhanced through another scene. The editing could have been crispier in a few scenes, though in Neela Vaanam it was top notch.
Lead characters performance is the highlight of the movie. Special mention to the kid Ashish who plays Vishwa. Kamal Haasan is a revelation clearly playing the role to the finesse that the character demands and brings out his excellence throughout be it in acting or screenplay or dialogues or lyrics or singing. This should rank as a milestone movie for Trisha not only for her performance but also for the way she has spoken for herself. It was refreshing to see Maddy and Sangeetha playing the humorous segments with ease. Manush Nandan never looks like a debutant as he has excelled in bringing the beautiful locations on screen.
Overall Manmadhan Ambu is an attempt to break stereotypic narratives and lead Tamil cinema further to the next level.