Sunday, July 12, 2009
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.