Cast: Asif Ali, Anarkali Marikar, Jacob Gregory, Vineeth Viswam, Arjun Ashokan and Varsha Bollamma

Director: Vijesh Vijay

Composer: Mujeeb Majeed

In Mandharam’s universe, everyone talks in Instagram lingo. A little boy asks his grandfather what “I Love You” means, and instead of just telling him what it is, the old man gazes at a shrub on the courtyard of the house and says, “Love is what happens when it blooms!” We get a shot of a grandmother smiling; perhaps, she is telling herself to keep a check on the man’s smoking habits. In another instance, a friend watches the hero climb a rooftop to meet his lover, and says something that loosely translates to, “Love makes people do weird things!”

It’s hard to buy any of these characters, scenes, or the movie in its entirety. The plot bears an uncanny resemblance to Premam – it traces a man’s childhood, teenage and youth through the women whom he gets close to. However, it uses exhaustively-familiar characters, scenarios and cringe-inducing dialogues that barely evoke an emotional response from the audience. Lovers wake up in the morning and head out straight to a coffee shop. The woman, when not hanging out with the guy, is always seen shopping for clothes. The men are always talking about women and the magic of romance. A heartbreak leaves the hero with wanderlust; he roams the Himalayas in expensive gear although he doesn’t seem to have a job or financial backing from home. Everything about Mandharam is skin-deep, written like a high school romantic’s autograph entry.

Rajesh (Asif Ali), a student of mechanical engineering, lives with his three friends (Jacob Gregory, Vineeth Viswam and Arjun Ashokan) in Bengaluru. One day, he stumbles across Charu (Varsha Bollamma), a fashion designing student, and falls in love at first sight. He starts stalking her on her morning walks, and gradually befriends her. The film presents her like a porcelain doll – always salon-perfect and pleasant. She keeps the man guessing. Does she like him or is she friend-zoning him?

The story is perfectly predictable. In one of the sequences, Charu tells Rajesh that it’s her birthday and that no one at home celebrates it. He smiles. We know what is going to follow. The girl is a princess in distress, and the man, a knight in shining armour – a cheesy trope that comes in handy for unimaginative writers. Remember the scene in Raja Rani when Nazriya’s Keerthana tells her lover out of the blue that she is an orphan? Bollamma’s clumsy performance makes Charu the weakest character in a  film composed of weak characters. The film never gives the audience her side of the tale, or try to explain why she is unable to have a conversation with her parents about Rajesh, who, it looks like, she loves very much.

Rajesh’s post-heartbreak transformation is portrayed using redundant shots (a  beard-sporting Rajesh walks through the crowded streets of a North Indian temple city, playing the guitar, standing by the side of a river and staring into an abyss) that start looking like stock images that mean nothing in particular. Although there is a strong Rockstar/Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya hangover in this part of the film, it lacks the impact these films had. Rajesh doesn’t transfer his grief into something creative; he roams aimlessly, until fate brings him back to his former self. It isn’t just the plot that is uninspiring, the film also fails to make use of this change in location to capture interesting visuals.

That a film like Mandharam got made is a wonder, for it has nothing remotely interesting to hold your attention. For a movie where the characters take the word “love” countless number of times, Mandharam is an unromantic movie that sticks to the formulaic mould and unimaginative shortcuts. The beard and Bullet are used indicate that the hero has grown into a wise man, while roses, coffee bars and the concept of night drives are used to represent love. There is no sign of life anywhere.

The Mandharam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.