Mamangam movie review: Mammootty's film is a sumptuously-shot, smartly-plotted epic
Mamangam is not a perfect film, but it gets the job done, for the most part
When a cinematographer like Manoj Pillai is involved, the images are naturally going to be gorgeous. Mamangam is, from the first frame to the last, a sumptuously-shot epic. But more than the spectacle and the fight sequences (neat but nothing to write home about), it's the characters and non-linear narrative approach that held my interest.
A tale of warriors sent on a suicide mission to settle a decades-old score, Mamangam not only does something inventive with the epic genre, but also with the visualisation of its main hero, Chandroth Valiya Kurup (Mammootty). He is the sort of character that Toshiro Mifune played in films like Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Though known as a master of disguise, Kurup is only seen in three different get-ups. One particular disguise results in a delightful, clap-worthy entry sequence. Interestingly, this is not his first entry sequence. But given its subtlety and sense of humour, it's the one that carries more weight. Suffice it to say it will be a treat for Mammootty fans.
It's this ability to surprise, on more than one occasion, that works in the film's favour. You expect it to be a certain way before you enter the cinema hall, but you're relieved once you see the film going in unexpected directions. Consider the film's middle portion which behaves like a mini detective story. The primary antagonist (Siddique) goes into Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot mode to solve someone's murder. There is a Rashomon-style flashback before the truth is revealed. This portion builds mystique around Kurup. You are as intrigued about him as the film's secondary heroes, Chandroth Panicker (Unni Mukundan) and Chandroth Chanthunni (a fierce Achuthan). When Kurup is described as a traitor by his family members, it feels like a nod to Mammootty's Chathiyan Chandu from Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha.
No one can accuse Mamangam of being overly patriotic. This is a film about the perils of being too proud — of your caste, land, religion, and power. It's also about the futility of vengeance. What's the point in going after someone who has merely bequeathed the position of their villainous predecessors? The male characters do most of the action, but it's the women who make the major decisions, such as sending these men to their deaths. They also do other things, such as torturing female suspects (I didn't see the "violence against women is a punishable offence" warning here).
Mamangam is not a perfect film, but it gets the job done, for the most part. The bar set by Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha is so high that any subsequent Malayalam epic is inevitably going to be compared with it. The minor flaws — the theatrical nature of some performances, the glaring artificiality of the stunt work, and a slightly sluggish tail end — keep it from reaching that benchmark. But regardless, Mamangam engaged me in a way that even Pazhassi Raja couldn't, in spite of a runtime close to 150 minutes.