There’s an instance in Manithan when Udhayanidhi Stalin walks towards the camera in a slow-mo shot, just as a flock of birds take flight. He’s just won round one against famous criminal lawyer Adiseshan (Prakash Raj in a dramatically loud role) having just fought for justice for the underprivileged. And boy, does he emote. There’s a subtle, understated smile – neither smug nor victorious – only some quiet triumph. He also cries without the telltale red tint, works up enough anger for some impassioned speech, and manages just the right amount of trepidation to pass as a struggling lawyer. He might not have polished his skills to shine, but those little ruffled edges only add to his character, for Udhayanidhi is Sakthi is a lawyer fresh from school, who still has trouble spelling ‘appeal’.
Manithan, a remake of Jolly LLB, the Hindi court-room dramedy, couldn’t have come at a better time. The age-old political strategy of invoking a mass hero to pull all the right strings is a lovely little campaign right there. The best part? Udhayanidhi isn’t your all-white hero. He gets excited enough about making a quick buck off a deal on the sly as much as being the messiah of the masses later. What I loved about it was the lack of fanfare; granted there’s some celebration and shoulder-riding towards the end, but there are no other trappings that come with the movie of a mass hero. Or a movie that wants to make a mass hero of its actor. With a number of young stars in line to be the next Rajinikanth, Udhayanidhi instinctively does it without much ado. Or perhaps, it’s just the script – I might never know.
A hit-and-run case involving platform dwellers and a high-profile accused is what Manithan (and Jolly LLB) is all about. Adi Seshan is the corrupt defense attorney while Udhayanidhi is the lawyer-on-the-road, looking for a ‘case’ to make ends meet. Just when he’s looking to make it big (and please his girlfriend), Sakthi encounters Adi Seshan and his passionately loud arguments to defend his high-profile clients.
And just like that, Sakthi picks up the case, braves a few murder attempts, collects evidence and a few tears, and emerges victorious. With adoring masses at his back.
Quite the new-age MGR.
Aishwarya Rajesh would have made an impact as Sakthi’s betrothed, if Kaaka Muttai is anything to go by. Who else would you cast as the woman who urges her corrupt lawyer-boyfriend to defend the underprivileged than the actress who was so visually eloquent as the mother to two sooty urchins? But Hansika gets the role, and the romance remains superficial. Aishwarya Rajesh, on the other hand, is the journalist reporting on the case. A character that called for the coolly detached Hansika Motwani.
Vivek’s humour – laugh out loud sometimes – is not without the occasional poke at someone’s physique, and a lingering 90s after-taste. Prakash Raj spews passionate – and loud – arguments, matched only by the sagely Radha Ravi as the judge who offers humorous counsel, ringing for tea when inappropriate, and making some hilarious court room commentary. Santhosh Narayan’s music nudges the proceedings with lovely retro-flavoured score that respects – and allows silence(s) as much as it allows music.
And that makes all the difference.
The Manithan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.