Director: I Ahmed
Cast: Udhayanidhi Stalin, Prakash Raj, Radharavi, Vivek, Hansika Motwani, Aishwarya Rajesh
Films like Chak de India and Paan Singh Tomar excelled largely because they did not steer away from their core themes. The first about hockey, and the second about a disillusioned steeplechase runner-turned-rebel engaged me with their neatly crafted scripts and some fine pieces of performance. Subhash Kapoor’s 2013 Jolly LLB was as gripping with Arshad Warsi playing a bumbling young lawyer, Boman Irani a seasoned and celebrated advocate and Saurab Shukla a sardonic judge.
For I Ahmed (Endrendrum Punnagai), it could not have been easy to recreate the riveting roles of Warsi, Irani and Shukla through Udhayanidhi Stalin, Prakash Raj and Radharavi respectively in his latest Tamil outing, a remake of Jolly LLB, titled Manithan.
Watch Manithan trailer here:
To begin with, Ahmed’s movie is 25 minutes longer than Jolly LLB, and the director uses this time to incorporate what to me seemed like a romantic preamble to the courtroom drama played out by Stalin’s Shakti and Hansika Motwani’ Priya amidst the rural landscape of Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. Ahmed also introduces a new character, a television anchor, portrayed with admirable elan by Aishwarya Rajesh, who captivated us as the impoverished mother of the two boys in Kaaka Muttai.
Though Rajesh’s several appearances do lend a degree of credibility to the plot, Manithan could have certainly cut the flab by doing away with some of the romantic interludes. And, the overflow of emotions -- a weakness of Tamil cinema that even a legendary actor like Kamal Haasan cannot fight -- considerably weakens the narrative, which otherwise could have been as engrossing as Jolly LLB.
Shakti travels to Chennai -- to the hallowed premises of its high court, where the novice lawyer hopes to make a mark for himself. His first meeting with the much-feared, the much corrupt, but highly successful advocate, Prakash Raj’s brilliantly acted out Adiseshan, is one of awe. But when the young man in his desperation to earn a living, files a public interest litigation in a hit-and-run road accident case that has been argued by Adiseshan and closed, sparks begin to fly. Adiseshan had bribed his way through to get his rich, young client -- who had, in his drunken stupor, killed five men, women and a child sleeping on the pavement -- escape a jail term. And this is where Shakti puts his little finger to shake and stir a judicial system which is often accused of protecting the guilty. Most of us know the story of Jolly LLB, which again was supposedly inspired by a Bollywood actor’s hit-and-run case.
While Prakash Raj with his extraordinarily power-packed and enlivening dialogue delivery outshines Irani in the Hindi version, Stalin is no match for Warsi, whose bumbling, dream-driven guy in a black jacket was such a pleasure to watch. And, Radharavi too pales in comparison to Shukla, whose characterisation of a bored judge -- who the end is urged to do one good deed for the poor -- was so nuanced with hitherto unseen mannerisms that I was floored.
Manithan could have made a better impact had Ahmed kept it trim and to the point, but Tamil cinema is addicted to distractions.