Maamanithan Movie Review: A useful story, but not a riveting film
Noble intentions fail to make up for the lack of novelty and entertainment in this Seenu Ramasamy directorial
What’s greatness in a man? Is it when he turns conqueror? Is it when he achieves the heights of fame and fortune? For some time now, I have believed that greatness is when a man, any man, does the right thing, even when circumstances, body and mind compel him to do otherwise. Seenu Ramaswamy’s latest film, Maamanithan, tries to convince us that its protagonist, Radhakrishnan (Vijay Sethupathi), is one such man. Radhakrishnan, an auto-driver, suffers a spell of misfortune and loses reputation among family and society, and yet, he’s a man unshakeable in his determination to do his duty. The film, in a sense, can be seen as a homage to those who are content to remain in the shadows while unselfishly providing for others. It’s a story that aims to show us that greatness is possible in everyday life—and yet, unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite move you as it perhaps does on paper.
Even at a duration of around two hours, it feels rather sluggish. And after substantial reflection on it, I can confirm that my impatience isn’t necessarily on account of recent hits like Vikram and KGF 2 hurtling breathlessly from one entertaining moment to another. Maamanithan just takes a bit too long with its set-up, with many of its mundane scenes. For instance, there’s the long scene of Radhakrishnan helping Savithri (Gayathrie) find a house. There’s the whole introduction to his Muslim friend (Guru Somasundaram), and there’s the flashback that lets you learn the not-so-eventful circumstances surrounding the marriage of Radhakrishnan and Savithri. These are testing portions that should have been so much more.
Director: Seenu Ramasamy
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Guru Somasundaram, Gayathrie
By the time Radhakrishnan’s life gets affected—and it finally seems like some semblance of momentum could be in the offing—you have already been subjected to quite a bit of uninspired, even if well-intentioned writing. Even after the big development destroys Radhakrishnan’s future, the film doesn’t quite pick up steam, still lumbering from one laborious development to another. In theory, Radhakrishnan and family are in the deep end of danger and poverty—and of course, reeling under familial separation as well. And yet, look at how it plays out in the film. Its way of having us notice that Radhakrishnan is suffering is to have him clean toilets for a living. Its way of having Radhakrishnan be respected in his new neighbourhood is to have him save a girl from sexual harassment. The film takes refuge in these obvious ideas, and it doesn’t help either that we never truly get too close to Radhakrishnan, let alone his wife, Savithri. Radhakrishnan comes across as a bit of a hermit and a loner. He had no family before his marriage, and we don’t learn a whole lot about him except that he’s a ‘do-gooder’. What are his flaws? Was he wrong in wanting better education for his kids? Should he have remained content with what he had? What prompts his unselfish behaviour? Where does he draw such mental strength and self-sacrifice from? As for Savithri, I’m not sure we get much that even lets us form questions about her. All we see is a face that seems rather annoyed from start to finish—which may be an indication of what she thinks about her life—but it is hardly enough to help us invest in her.
And yet, credit where credit is due. Maamanithan does get into some interesting spaces towards the end. It raises some profound questions from out of nowhere. Why is it that some families suffer so much? Why does tragedy pick only some? Is there a grand plan that governs us all—or is everything simply chance? Is there any point trying to make sense of life around us? Vijay Sethupathi’s Radhakrishnan reconciles with his helplessness by surrendering to the chaos—as evidenced by that scene in which he smokes up and lets go. Maamanithan may raise all these grand questions, but the film itself never shows any sign that it’s emotionally rich or well-written enough to be able to engage in any real reflection about these questions. Had this been a better film, I might have been tempted to point out that much like the film seems to be in search of some answers, so are its characters. Radhakrishnan escapes his hometown in search of someone. The police, meanwhile, are engaged in their own search. Savithri and family are eventually in search too. It’s a recurring pattern throughout the film, but does it really matter when you are also searching… for novelty and entertainment?
The film is also a bit too keen to celebrate its protagonist as a selfless saint. Perhaps he is one, but it feels like there are other characters who deserve as much acknowledgement. Radhakrishnan’s Muslim friend is a bit of a saint himself. And why, even Savithri, who has endured hardship all her life, has done a lot for their children. And yet, it feels like she doesn’t quite get her due. But as I said, these are nuances, and in a film that never really has you riveted in its universe, does it matter? It’s a pity because we don’t get a lot of these films that speak of how greatness in our world is often found in the most unassuming of people, who quietly sacrifice themselves, so people around them can live better lives.