Sunday, July 12, 2009

Manorama Six Feet Under, or, Every Fish Has His Day

Manorama Six Feet Under is an interesting experiment of a Hindi movie, or maybe it's just supposed to be non-mainstream. It has Abhay Deol, Raima Sen, and Gul Panag, which usually signals quality + edginess to me. Then again, it takes way long to go anywhere plotwise, which is pretty typical, and it has Vinay Pathak, which is also typical since he is freaking everywhere although that doesn't take away from him being a very fine actor. Then again again, it is inspired by the Jack Nicholson film China Town; and that means the plot goes deeper and darker than almost any other Hindi film I've seen.

In the desert of Rajasthan, Satyaveer (Abhay) is a very small fish. He has a life that's swimming nowhere. He got suspended from his job as a junior engineer because he took a bribe. He loves to write but only got one pulp-fiction novel--Manorama--published, and it was a failure. He's married to disapproving Nimmi (Gul), who's addicted to soaps and nagging. Then, along comes a woman, played by Sarika. She introduces herself as the wife of P. P. Rathore, the local irrigation minister, and asks Satyaveer to investigate her husband to see if he's having an affair.

Nothing much comes out of his "investigation," besides taking a few photos of Rathore talking with a young woman in a scenario that could mean absolutely nothing. Satyaveer returns the camera to Mrs. Rathore and thinks the entire episode has come to its conclusion. However, fate has different plans. Returning home drunk one night, Satyaveer is accosted by Mrs. Rathore. She tells him that her real name is "Manorama," just like his book, and that she is 32 years old.

Before he has a chance to catch his breath, Satyaveer is sucked into a maelstrom of complications, from mistaken identities to corruption to betrayal to murder. If I said anything else about the plot I'd be cheating you of an interesting viewing experience, so I won't.

Abhay carries the movie, and he does an exceptionally fine job at it. His Satyaveer isn't filmi heroic; he's slow to draw obvious conclusions (obvious to those of us who've grown up on noir, anyway), incompetent at investigation, and more of a failure than not at his job and relationships. Yet somehow Abhay brings the viewer to sympathize with Satyaveer, and root for his success against the odds. Of course, it helps that his opponent is pretty evil.

And it also helps that there's a stellar supporting cast. Vinay Pathak does his dependable good work.
And Raima Sen shines as a woman who steps into Satyaveer's life just as Nimmi walks out, tempting him with more than simply unanswered questions.

There are fish everywhere in the movie, and the symbolism of small vs. large fish and who comes out on top is knock-you-on-the-head clear. Which was the biggest problem I had with the film: it has the typical filmi Indian storytelling features of heavy-handed imagery and bunny trails divergences in the plot, which in a typical masala entertainer is awesome. However, it doesn't work so well in a dark thriller wherein practically unnoticeable details are supposed to add up into answers during the final few minutes. ALL the details, not just some. I don't think there's room in this genre for throwaway scenes, details, or even lines, and it seemed to me that there were too many of both in Manorama. Then again, I might just need to watch it a couple more times to really get it, which wouldn't be a hardship.

I can't decide whether this movie is a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond, and in the end it's that identity confusion that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending the film. Still, with great performances and an interesting, if not convoluted enough, script, I can say that Manorama is worth at least a try.


  1. Abhay is definitely an underrated actor. I really enjoyed this film, actually all films of his. Gul is another actress who gets un-noticed. Raima is a really good actress too, but too bad she's not that big in Bollywood.

    You should try to watch Abhay's other film, Ek Chalis Ki Last Local

  2. The movie is definitely a little fish in the big bad pond of masala because its neither wholly masala nor completely noir! It is in fact a Bolly-noir, but way darker and grittier than the golden age Bolly-noirs (Raj Khosla's CID, for example), and yet still very compelling. I loved it because it brought dusty, small-town Rajasthan into my living room in a way that glossy masala never can, and also because though I expected sinister happenings, I couldnt predict exactly what (which you normally can in almost any Bollywood film).

  3. Nicki: I really want to see Dev D, especially since Shweta swooned over it. I really wish Gul and Raima would get more work. Gul's ads with Aamir are too cute--don't you think they'd be good in a film together? I have Ek Chalis in my queue; I think I might bump it up.

    bollyviewer: Bolly-noir is right. And I really appreciated the realistic setting, like you. I found it too predictable; like, I might not know exactly how it would happen, but I could predict the general course of events. I think I just prefer my plots more twisty.

  4. Oh, i really liked this movie. Just for its 'lonesome' feeling. There were so less characters, and kinda silence around all of them. Though, its true I watched its end 'two times' just to understand what it wanna tell. :P

    and, Yay! Go for Ek 40 first. Fun movie. Then u can go 4 darkness of DevD. are my boy-crush :D


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