Maanagaram Synopsis: A handful of diverse characters find themselves in extraordinary situations that are interlinked with one another.
Maanagaram Review: In the opening scene of Maanagaram, a character tells his interviewer that he would prefer working in his native, a small town, but given that working in the city is considered to be prestigious, he has decided to take up a BPO job. We think this is going to be one of those city-bashing films that make it a point to remark at every opportunity how bad the city and its people are, but director Lokesh Kanagaraj gives us an exquisite, even-handed thriller — handsomely shot (Selvakumar SK), tightly edited (Philomin Raj) and propped up by a grungy score (Javed Riaz) — that unobtrusively makes its points while narrating a gripping story. The fact that most of its crew are first-timers makes this feat all the more remarkable.
For Sri (restrained, in a good way) the young man in the interview scene, the city feels hostile. He is roughed up and left on the road on his first night in the city, with no one bothering to help him. He is a young man from a small town (the ‘aattukkutty’ amidst ‘onaais’), and he is infuriated that people aren’t courteous — he’s offended by everyone calling the other ‘O*ha’ (for once, the censor board has been sensible and not muted this word) to one another. Sundeep (effective) is a brash, tough guy, but with his heart in the right place. He is in love with a well-employed girl — the interviewer in the first scene, played by Regina — but has a carefree attitude towards life. Charle (solid, as usual) is a taxi-driver who has moved to the city for the sake of his son, who is sick. When a kidnapping goes wrong, these three everyday characters (they make up the left, right and centre of the film respectively) are caught in a life-threatening situation (involving merciless gangsters and unscrupulous cops) that makes them question their choices and take a stand.
Where Lokesh scores the most is in how superbly he interlinks all these different stories and characters. The interlinking does not come across as mere coincidences or conveniences for the plot to progress, but as an observation of the interconnectedness that marks life in the city — even when most people are trying to be an island unto themselves with their ‘I, Me, Myself’ approach. It also showcases the vastness of the city. Given the multitude of people who inhabit the place, it is not implausible that there could be three people wearing red checked shirts in the same bar, or four Karthiks in the same class.
The director also strikingly uses humour to cut through the nail-biting tension every now and then, mostly through the character of Winnings, a wannabe criminal, and Munishkanth is excellent in this role. These comic moments do not ruin the tense mood of the film, instead they augment it, for what they invoke is nervous laughter that makes us titter at a character’s hapless situation or action because we are never what might happen next as the threat of violence is always around.
But the same cannot be said of the romantic track, which is the film’s low point. There is something perfunctory about it and these scenes, especially in the second half, threaten to bring the film a notch down. This is why the only leading female character in the film comes across as someone with ‘nothing much to do’ apart from being a plot device. But with the other characters, even the bad ones, we get a sense of them having an existence outside the film (Lokesh’s refusal to neatly tie up all the knots and leave some arcs open-ended is a masterstoke). It is a testament to the quality of the writing that we come to be captivated by these characters even though we do not know their names.