Maaniik Review: A promising plot undone by inconsistent writing
Maaniik promised to be a romantic fantasy love story. The fantasy portions are noteworthy, no doubt, but everything else, including the humour, is mediocre at best
Maaniik begins sometime in the 1980s, where we first see the hero Pasupathi (Ma Ka Pa Anand) wearing a garish pink costume and sporting a glasses and moustache a la Rajinikanth from Johnny. I smiled. It then becomes a love story-gone-wrong when Manobala bumps the hero off for saying 'I Love You' to his daughter. Who'd have thought Manobala could be a villain, even if just for humour? I smiled a bit wider. The film then moves on to its better-written portions where the hero is now transported to a fantastical heaven of sorts, which actually looks like a discarded set from the production of Irandam Ulagam. I couldn't stop smiling at the various personalities Anand meets in this heaven. You get to see MGR spout dialogues about the recurring Sri Lankan issue. You get to see God lamenting to Anand about how Hitler is conducting meetings in heaven without obtaining the necessary permit. How can you not smile at God turning a river into a reddish brown intoxicant?
Cast: Ma Ka Pa Anand, Suza Kumar, Vathsan, Manobala
Then, Pasupathi is sent back to Earth and is reincarnated (giving us immense Athisayapiravi deja vu) as a baby, who is orphaned soon enough but will receive a special boon when he turns 27. By this time, I was even laughing at places. I completely bought this outlandish concept, especially aided by some smart lines written by writer-director Martyn of Naalaya Iyakkunar fame.
The first of three well-composed Dharan Kumar songs introduces us to the major plot point of the film. Maaniik (Anand) and his friend Jack (Vathsan) try to earn money to buy the then banned Chennai Super Kings team. Another outlandish idea that prepares us for some good-natured humour from this film, especially considering the CBFC rating and the director's claims that the Censor Board officials were impressed with his "clean" film. I was ready for a laugh riot.
I could not have been more wrong.
From this moment, Maaniik becomes an inherently problematic film. From an unnecessarily erotic leggings/half-saree-wearing mystic who only talks to men, to a series of gags involving Maaniik's boon, the film becomes a train-wreck with few redeeming qualities.
While Maaniik's boon — the father of any girl who says 'I Love You' to him dies — gives him riches, problems ensue, not just for him, but for the film too. Now I know humour is highly subjective, and there might be someone who has fits of laughter watching Maaniik. However, even if the dialogues are funny in places, I just couldn't stomach a 27-year-old Maaniik manipulating impressionable under-age girls to mouth those three deadly words that will sound the death bell for their fathers. I don't find 30-year-old adults wooing school children and calling them "white as a Rava Ladoo" or resorting to the "avana nee" sort of jokes to be funny.
And in between all this, you have Keerthy (Suza Kumar), a teacher from the same school as these hapless girls, who falls in love with Maaniik because he can throw a bonda with amazing precision. See, that's the problem with the film. It has such ingenious moments that subvert popular tropes, but falls back on lazy humour, which is so cringey that it makes you feel guilty for enjoying a well-meaning joke in the previous scene.
There is also a murder-loving gangster Keelavasagam (Arul Doss), whose antics, while amusing at first, become tedious as the writing in these portions is filled with double entendres and suggestive gestures. Would I have been less critical of these scenes if the certification was anything but 'U'? Some scenes, yes. But most others, not really.
One of the more sensitive portions of Maaniik is when his 'target' is a transgender woman, and this love track is treated ordinarily without any forced or lowbrow humour. I liked this sensitivity and was thinking of how Maaniik could have been so much more if only it had cleaner humour, and didn't resort to molestation jokes about men in drag.
Maaniik's promotions promised a 'romantic fantasy love story'. The fantasy portions are noteworthy, no doubt, but everything else, including the humour, is mediocre at best. I am pretty sure no one wants to leave the theatre with a lasting image of Anand and Vathsan trying to molest Manobala in drag.