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It takes just about a couple of minutes into Maanagaram to realize that Lokesh Kanagaraj is not your average Tamil film director. His command over the visual language is striking and the film moves with a purpose. By the time the brilliantly executed credit sequence rolls through, Kanagaraj has already cemented his arrival of one of Tamil cinema’s brightest upcoming talents, the rest of the film just serves as further proof of that.
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Maanagarm is an intricate hyperlink tale which finds it’s common thread in the city of Chennai. The main players are a young man (Sri) who comes to find work in the big city with the promise of a better paying job, an aspiring, incompetent thug (Ramadoss) who wants to make a mark in the city, an unemployed graduate (Sundeep Kishan) who can’t stop running into the wrong side of the law, and a cabbie (Charlie) who moves to Chennai to make sure his ill son is able to get better medical treatment. The opening scene, which takes place in a local ‘wine shop’, sets up a case of mistaken identity, which ignites our crime thriller into motion. For the next 48 hours, our characters’ lives drastically change for the worse.
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The characters in Maanagaram are living, breathing reflections of people found in Chennai. These average Joes get trapped in extraordinary circumstances in this story and how they react to these events is one of the reasons that make Maanagaram so organic. In particular, Charlie shines as the out of town cab driver who wants to make sure he fits in. This is someone you can probably expect to meet on your ride out of the cinema. Chennai is populated full of drivers like Charlie in Maanagaram, to see them represented on the big screen makes this tale grounded and gives us a peek into a type of person who is such an integral part of everyday Chennai life. So is Shri’s character, the mid 20s IT professional who are found dime a dozen in the city. The promise of an air conditioned room and 5 figure salary brings people like Sri’s character in to the city in droves.
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As important as New York is in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) or After Hours (1985) or Mumbai in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly (2013) and Raman Ragav 2.0 (2016), Kanagaraj’s Chennai is also as significant as any of the characters in the film. The city portrayed here is an uncompromising, capitalistic cesspool which breeds violence, corruption and anger. Corrupt police officers, acid throwing goons and kidnappers are part of the package in Kanagaraj’s Chennai. In a great moment in the film, an RJ can be heard declaring how safe Chennai is, while what we are seeing unfolding on the screen serves as a brilliant counter juxtaposition. But just like the humidity in Chennai, the city sticks to these characters like sweat they just cant wipe off. By the end of the film they all find (or make up) their own idealistic reasons as to why Chennai is home.
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Maanagarm feels as long as it’s 137 minutes of running time. It mostly unravels at an engaging pace but a romantic number and a forced love story between Regina Cassandra and Sundeep Kishan’s characters feels shooed in and holds back the pace, especially with an unwarranted ‘love track’. While Ramadoss’s arc hits a home run on the comedic front, those portions eventually start feeling a little bloated. Otherwise, Kanagaraj’s screenplay has more nuance and dexterity than most of the films that hit the screens in Tamil Nadu. Selvakumar SK’s cinematography is right on point as it captures the kind of murky Chennai that Kanagaraj has envisaged.
2012 can be considered a beginning of a new chapter in Tamil cinema’s Indie scene with the arrival of CV Kumar, who brought along Pa. Ranjith with Attakathi and Karthik Subbaraj with Pizza. Maanagaram is a superior debut to both those features and heralds the arrival of a terrific talent in Lokesh Kanagaraj. He’s here to stay.
Tamil, Thriller, Drama, Color