Saturday, September 22, 2007

Manorama & Dhol 

Manorama Six Feet Under

Any filmmaker impressed by the noir genre, would probably use Roman Polanski’s Chinatown as one of his text books.

In his first feature film Navdeep Singh takes his inspiration and several plot points from Chinatown, but makes a uniquely Indian film, capturing the suffocating ambience of a small town as very few contemporary urban filmmakers in Hindi cinema have. The characters look and sound like people we may have met on trips to Rajasthan.

The barometre is rising both outside and inside his house, as Satyaveer (Abhay Deol), junior PWD engineer, just suspended for taking a bribe, has to put up with his wife Nimmi’s (Gul Panang) relentless nagging. Satyaveer is also a failed novelist—his book Manorama sank into oblivion with just 200 copies. He fulfills his literary cravings writing articles for small local papers.

Into this atmosphere of seething frustration, enters a woman (Sarika), who offers Satyaveer a big sum of money to spy on her philandering husband, who happens to be a minister (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). She can’t go to a real detective, and anyone who can write a jasoosi thriller, she reasons, can do the job. He is also flattered that she actually read and liked his book. After he delivers the film roll, he discovers that the woman was not who she claimed to be. She briefly returns, delivers a cryptic message and the next thing she knows is that she is dead – run over by a truck.

Despite warnings from his genial brother-in-law (Vinay Pathak) who is a cop, Satyaveer sets out to investigate the mystery woman’s death, and opens a can of worms. His justification for butting into what is none of his business, is that it would validate his meaningless life. His wife storms out with their kid. He encounters Sheetal (Raima Sen), who was the dead woman roommate and is attracted to her.

The mystery deepens—and here the film too ties itself up in knots-- everything from political corruption, to a land scam, paedophilia, murder, blackmail and the works are thrown in, which makes the second half of the film slow to a crawl.

Shot so well (Arvind Kannabiram) that you can almost feel the temperature, Manorama Six Feet Under also has a fabulously understated performance by Abhay Deol, who is emerging as the dark horse of his generation. Gul Panang and Raima Sen, playing small town behenjis in frumpy clothes are surprisingly good too. This may not be the comedy-seeker’s idea of entertainment, but a film lover would appreciate its merits.


Some of Priyadarshan’s remake comedies have worked at box-office, so he has set up his own factory, churning out funny films, and hoping one of the many will hit the target.

Just how tired his formula is getting to be is emphasised when contrasted with a fresh, frothy and intelligent comedy like Loins of Punjab Presents releasing the same week.

Recycled from an old Malayalam (In Harihar Nagar) and Hindi film (Parda Hai Parda), Dhol, looks like it came out of a particularly battered mould, simply because a lot of the gags have been seen before, and how many films about the misadventures of four good-for-nothing dudes can the audience take? Last week’s Dhamaal got the cup to overflow.

In Dhol, a get rich scheme of four friends (Tusshar Kapoor, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Khemu, Rajpal Yadav) backfires, and they are in desperate need of money. They decide that marrying a rich girl is the quickest way to wealth, and start wooing Ritu (Tanushree Dutta), next door. She lives with her grandparents (Om Puri-Farida Dadi), who get pulled into the guys’ desperate manoeuvres, when all their attempts to be helpful end in disaster. Ritu is blissfully unaware of their existence, so when they cook up a story about being her dead brother’s friends, she falls for it.

If the comic scenes are flat, the thriller part even more so. Arbaaz Khan who appears in the opening scene and then vanishes (so you even forget he was there) returns; there’s a mysterious girl called Sophie (Payal Rohatgi) and a gangster called Zicomo (Murli Sharma) looking for a missing dhol (drum).

In the past Priyadarshan made comedy stars out of Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar (in Hera Pheri), and got the best out of Om Puri. What happened to him here? All the actors seem to be sleepwalking thorough the film. The mystery, if any, is what happened to the quarrelsome landlady’s daughter, who pouted in a couple of scenes and a song, never to be seen again.

Like all Priyadarshan comedies, this one too ends with an all-cast free for all. Who get the girl? Do you really want to know? Then see Dhol at your own risk.


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