Cupid’s Arrow!

I watched Manmadhan Ambu about two weeks ago, and haven’t found the urge to write about it yet. I think now is the time, because the film has sunk in better and I am in a better position to comment. I’ll try and break up this review into parts, so as to do justice to the different aspects of the film.

Genre

What is this strange genre that Kamal has been trying to perfect for the last 5 years? Is this a musical, a romance, a comedy or a drama? We have no clue but I found the mix both intriguing and interesting. For those people who think this wasn’t like Panchatantram, I only have one thing to say: If you walk into a theatre expecting Manmadhan Ambu to be like Panchatantram and come out disappointed, don’t blame Kamal for it. He would have named it Panchatantram 2 if he wanted it to be like that!

Story

Let’s face it! The storyline is mediocre. It’s about an actress who decides to take a vacation to Europe pre-marriage to get a bit of perspective on her relationship with her overly-suspicious boyfriend. The boyfriend in question, in the meantime, decides to hire a detective to trail her to figure out if she is having an affair. So far, so good. Nothing to write home about and nothing outstandingly special about the story.

Screenplay

This is perhaps the first time I am able to poke holes in Kamal’s otherwise water-tight scripting. Why does the flashback involving the start of Ambu’s problems with Madhan have to rewind three years? What happened in the intervening time? Why did Ambu choose to stick to the relationship for three years before deciding she need a break away from the prying eyes of her fiancé? One possible explanation is that she needed to complete her film assignments and that it took her three years to do so. After finishing her assignments, she could have decided to take that break before settling down to wedded bliss. But, this is not very clear and leaves the average viewer wondering about the timeframe.

Second, how do Ambu and Major end up falling in love? Where and how does that romance develop? I get the feeling that the deleted scenes featuring Kamal’s poem might have held the key to the developing of that romance. The film has suffered greatly because of the lack of continuity between those scenes. Somehow, we as viewers don’t really identify with that romance or that tenderness. We can’t understand why Ambu suddenly chooses to declare that she loves Major. I mean, how? If the deletion has harmed the script this much, I think Kamal should be very angry indeed!

Finally, I had serious problems accepting that the death of a spouse due to the carelessness of someone could be so easily forgiven. How can a man, knowing fully well that the woman standing before him has caused him immeasurable pain, forgive her so easily that he has no problems falling for her? It can happen, but without that time given to develop the transition, it seems unrealistic.

Dialogue

Borderline philosophy (Nallavangalukku thimiru thaan veli), subtle provocation (featuring blouse hooks and pant zips), Ambu’s disgust at having to explain the connecting doors between her and Surya’s dressing rooms, Deepa’s declaration that the matrimony was bad but the alimony was good…many examples of Kamal’s take on relationships coupled with humour typical of him, complete with wordplay and wit.

Music

I liked it. I loved the way the songs have been set in such a way that they don’t really hamper the progress of the story. Of course you can’t compare DSP with Ilayaraja. Even entertaining such a thought is sacrilege. But, I think we should give him credit for having tried. The Neelavanam song is superb, both in the way it’s picturized and in the melody by itself. The others are peppy dance numbers. What did we expect when watching a movie with music by DSP? Carnatic music? He has lived up to the standard he has set for himself. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kamal’s musical adventure

Call me a die-hard Kamal fan, I don’t care! He was simply superb in this new avatar as poet! I flipped the first time I heard the Kamal Kavithai. Written in impeccable Tamil and recited by Kamal himself, there is nothing mediocre about this composition. Of course, this is not a song; it’s a dramatic dialogue. That’s what makes it more real. I found that this song was one aspect of stage theatre that the film adapted. And I loved it. The other songs, especially Neelavanam have beautiful lyrics, if only we stop to listen!

The small stuff

Apart from these, there were small things that worked in favour of the film. Usha Uthup’s diction, although a bit stilted, sounded a more authentic version of “Brahmin Baashai” than the crap we are used to in Tamil cinema. Madhavan’s characterization of the drunkard was too good to miss. Sangeetha’s almost-perfect comic timing was an added delight. On the whole, I think both Madhavan and Sangeetha outperformed Trisha and Kamal in the film.

Did anyone notice how Madhavan is ultimately stuck between two mothers? First, it’s his mother who creates the discord between him and his girlfriend. Then, he end up with a mother (Sangeetha) because he finds her babying cute and reassuring! Oedipus Complex? I have no idea! And, I must credit Praveen for this observation. He was mentioning this sometime when we were discussing the film!

On the whole, Manmadhan Ambu is far from perfect. It has many flaws and many problems. But, this did not really hamper my enjoyment of the film. This film is an experiment. But, this experiment was only about half successful. Maybe a few more cross-over films (between genres, I mean) will help Kamal perfect this genre and make him pace the screenplay out better. My final verdict would be that this is definitely watchable, preferably in theatre. Once.

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