Manam, a rarity you witness in films that has bigwigs, sticks to its tale and has the guts to travel beyond its cast-adoring formalities. It respects the story as much as the smaller details that you often tend to miss in such films, as minute as the hair style to the clothe-designs to the age-old car models. Most of them are designed to be messengers of destiny and they being a representation of the circle-of-life is targeted at that. As much as it is embedded with the reincarnation motif, the director has a taste for recreating the atmosphere to bring that very necessary supernatural connect and in fact underplaying the same.
There are occasional touches of slapstick comedy where Posani, Ali and Brahmanandam do their bits well. But, for every such aberration to the purist ambitions of Vikram Kumar, there is enough subtlety in the characterisations and the relationship sketches of the lead actors. The initial awkwardness where they don’t realise the connect beyond the times is artfully used to weave humour where the lines are coventionally happy-go-lucky in nature and the hidden undertones lying within them are only elaborated later.
The focus is on building a connect and is generally in tandem with the light-hearted tone that it sustains consistently. Manam never lets the philosophical references diminish its intentions of being an entertainer or a soul-warmer. That’s the biggest achievement in the sense of it never being over-serious about its theme and is instead satisfied in letting the characters drive the narrative sans possible melodrama.
The name-play with the three characters of Nagarjuna, ANR and Naga Chaithanya as comical as they sound help us enjoy their chemistry even more. Samantha’s screen-time for a film that might have gone gaga about its male characters is one of the biggest strengths of the film too. She plays the doll-like foolish girl that most of the contemporary filmmakers restrict her to but the spontaneous depth on display from the actress lends her part an adorable touch.
Shriya’s portions are strictly basic and just when you crave for more of her appearance after the flashback, she is unbelievably sidelined. The film since then is in a hurry to end on a high. The eye for details is suddenly lost and the happy ending tag gets the bulk of the attention. Building a near-perfect foundation with the first half, the focus drops in the latter. The positivity is retained but there’s a sense of incompletion.
However, the maker doesn’t stumble in switching between the times. As it is mostly a semi-periodical, Vikram Kumar only paints the 1920s and the 80s with a few basic elements and leaves it at that. He also doesn’t spoon-feed you with all the essences and is in no mood to give it a classical topping either. The character-sketches are extremely likeable. Be it Nagarjuna’s weakness for cars or Chaitanya’s for a bottle of beer, they are only in place to establish crucial links.
The magic in the moment where Nagarjuna and Shriya see each other in a marriage is an example of how the little things can genuinely elevate a film. Manam has aplenty of that. The wholesome, developed and nurtured core extracts a wonderful act from Naga Chaitanya, who is probably the film’s biggest find as an actor apart from Nagarjuna’s bankable performance, even if you can’t blame yourself for being surprised with the presence of Akhil in the last frame.
Anoop Rubens compositions are very much in-tune with the film’s soul too. ANR’s swansong is a humble and an unadulterated tribute in times where stories are only manufactured and aren’t felt. Go watch this, the Akkinenis have packed their lunch well with enough variety and lots of love.