Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Hansika Motwani, Soori.
Sivakarthikeyan has a terrific sense of comic timing, and his laugh-a-minute punch lines get roaring applause. He looks like a reckless romantic and is an uninhibited dancer who tries everything from Michael Jacksonish pelvic thrust to dappankuthu. Qualities that make him a sparkling boy next-door but nothing more. In the milieu of exotic Malta, flashy cars, jazz music, designer jackets and bright red shoes, he looks an uneasy misfit, and that’s where Maan Karate, that hails the story of the proverbial underdog, falters.
Maan Karate negotiates between fantasy and reality. But the fantasy part is farcical: Four friends who embark on a trip to a jungle and encounter a long bearded blue-eyed sadhu meditating underwater. They corner him to grant them a wish each and he produces a newspaper from the future. At this juncture, I plead guilty to being more enamoured by the pulsating background score (music by Anirudh Ravichandran) than their wishes. The paper predicts their company’s shutdown, hail storms (alangatti mazhai) in summer and someone called Peter winning a boxing match courtesy the four friends. And the cherry on top? They get to pocket a cool 2 crore cash prize. When the first two incidents ensue, they decide to take charge of Peter’s life.
Peter (Siva Karthikeyan) is your lovable Archie, who falls hook line and sinker for Yazhini (Hansika Motwani). She is a sports lover, who doubles up as a Virat Kohli fan and ball keeper at a tennis academy. Peter – there is a shocking lack of background about him – gamely agrees to their plan to participate in the boxing match. And then it’s a comedy of errors. Check out the scene where Peter holds a mock boxing dual with his friend to impress Yazhini shouting “boxing, Harbhajan Singh” or when he asks incredulously “boxingum sports thaana” or his first boxing match that earns him the sobriquet Maan karate Peter! But it is the scene where he tries to win over Yazhini’s dad (Sayaji Shinde) by reciting Thirukkural that stands out. That’s when the stand-up comedian (incidentally his first job before he became an actor) takes over the actor. Hysterical! Having said that, it is agonising to watch the talented Shinde in such an irrelevant role. The scenes between the IT friends and Peter are a riot, wittily written.
Until the interval, the humour and foot tapping music keep the film moving along at a breezy pace. Then it loses momentum especially after the introduction of an ominously deadpan boxer – Peter the killer – a shoddily written caricature who savagely knocks off his opponents, resulting in bloody noses. Ah! Then a volley of clichés starts hitting you. You have Peter the default champion taking on the real one. It’s the final boxing match and Peter needs to win the match to save his love. And predicting the climax won’t be rocket science.
Ironically, the biggest plus is also the biggest irritant in the film- the songs. There are far too many to count and all at the most improbable situations. Peter’s opening scene is laughably hackneyed- a typical hero welcoming celebration song, something you see in a Vijay film. The Peter-Yazhini romance, though adorable in parts, still feels scrappy and uneven. Every time their eyes meet, a song follows and it gets awkward after the first one. But Sunidhi Chauhan is at her robust best in Darling Dambaku.
Though the film primarily rides on Sivakarthikeyan, he looks out of sorts at the most critical junctures. Like the time he tries to shrug off his silly act and turn serious. Hansika Motwani’s role is not well-etched but she does justice to it while looking flawlessly turned-out, while the idea to rope in Soori for a cameo doesn’t work at all. Maan Karate tries to be a little bit of everything: a rom-com, a sports film and a fantasy and ends up an unsatisfying mishmash.