Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Release date:
Kerala: September 27, 2019
Delhi: October 11, 2019
Anvar Sadik

Vineeth Sreenivasan, Aparna Das, Indrans, Basil Joseph, Deepak Parambol, Delhi Ganesh, Sree Lakshmy, Hareesh Peradi, Nandini Sree

Writer-director Anvar Sadik’s Manoharam clearly aspires to belong to the category of Malayalam films earning nationwide acclaim in recent years for the realistic, clean fun they offer and their ability to draw profound social insights from both mundane and extraordinary circumstances. Manoharam ain’t no Kumbalangi Nights, Thanneermathan Dinangal or Uyare, but it is, in its own way, nice. 

Nice – now that is a word that heroes in romance novels have often feared, interpreting it to mean: “you are sweet but there is no spark between us.” Like the men their heroines have described as “nice”, Manoharam is likeable, entertaining and harmless, but also unremarkable and unmemorable.

Vineeth Sreenivasan plays Manoharan a.k.a. Manu, an artist in the village of Chittilancherry in Kerala’s Palakkad district. Manu is gifted but lacks self-belief. He earns a living painting hoardings and wall adverts, and is floundering when this film kicks off as digital printing threatens to kill his traditional craft. In a misguided attempt to stay relevant and to simultaneously exact revenge on a local guy called Rahul (Deepak Parambol) for an insult, Manu decides to launch a flex printing unit. 

His friend Prabhu (Basil Joseph) backs him in this enterprise, as does Varghesechettan (Indrans) although the latter is not convinced of the efficacy of their plan. The situation gets complicated when the computer software professional Sreeja (Aparna Das) enters the picture. 

Vineeth Sreenivasan is aptly cast and convincing here as an under-confident Everyman. It helps that unlike several of his films, Manoharam does not try to build him up as a hottie that girls are falling for left, right and centre. His Manu is surrounded by a motley crew of colourful characters, all played by dependable actors. 

Basil Joseph is sweet as Prabhu. It is always a pleasure to see the wonderful Indrans in a substantial role because there is never a role to which he does not do justice. Deepak Parambol as Manu’s long-time bete noir Rahul transitions smoothly from jerk to not-a-bad-guy-after-all in a small part that proves to be a good showcase for his talent. 

Aparna Das gets a comparatively weakly written role but looks and plays Sreeja effectively. And Sree Lakshmy with the teeniest amount of screen time as Manu’s mother walks away with the film in that one brief passage in which she tries to convince her son to have faith in himself. “Ninte kazhivaa ninte vazhi. Athu ninne chadikyilla (Your ability is your way forward, it will not let you down),” she tells him in Manoharam’s best executed scene.

Sadik, who earlier made Ormayunde Ee Mukham, does a good job here of creating this typical Kerala village of busybodies, well-wishers and doomsayers. The film is simple but thoroughly entertaining up to a point, and occasional glimpses of Manu’s artwork are worth the price of a ticket. Once Sadik has established his protagonist, the supporting characters and the setting though, he fails to inject his narrative with the zest and depth that could have taken it to another level. 

The somewhat clich├ęd treatment of the leading lady by the screenplay exemplifies Manoharam’s hesitation (or is it incapability?) to stray too far from the beaten track. In this universe occupied by so many commercial Malayalam films, women are viewed by the hero and his supporters not as human beings who fall in love, but as unemotional creatures who cruise the world until they find a man whose prosperity impresses them enough to drop anchor beside him. As a result, Sreeja is never seen as “one of us” but always a “them”, a member of the half of the human species that Manu considers desirable but will not fully understand and can never fully trust at least until that thaalimala is tied. 

In another area though, Sadik proves to be different from most of his colleagues. Contemporary Malayalam cinema tends to place Hindi on a pedestal above Malayalam (as does the average Malayali, whether consciously or sub-consciously is hard to tell) and to behave as if Malayalam is a language a non-Malayali would not possibly speak or want to speak. In a nice little touch in Manoharam though, when Sreeja’s friend does what most Malayalis in Kerala do, that is, when she spots a migrant worker and struggles to ask him for directions in her broken Hindi without even checking to see whether he might know Malayalam, he replies in Malayalam with evident irritation at her assumption that he does not know the local language. 

It is these observations that Manoharam needed more of to elevate itself beyond what it already is. That said, I could think of far worse ways to spend two hours of my life. Manoharam is nice albeit tame. Nice is good. Nice is pleasant and likeable. Nice is, well, nice.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
122 minutes

A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:

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