Review: Manorama Six Feet Under

23 September, 2007


A pair of aviators embedded in the sand, backlit by the dusk. A mustachioed Abhay Deol riding a Hero Honda CD 100 on a never-ending Rajasthan highway. A rugged-looking Deol standing in front of a wall plastered with political posters, and giving a knowing smile. Abhay Deol and Vinay Pathak sitting under a chhatri and drinking whiskey quarters from chai glasses. Two sleazy goondas beating Deol mercilessly on a sand dune. A stone-cold-smooth politician who will stop at nothing. And a haunting, eerie soundtrack playing throughout the movie. And this is what stays with you, makes your hair stand at their ends, till the movie is over.

SV, a.k.a. Satyaveer Singh (Abhay Deol – VERY good, VERY convincing) is a suspended PWD engineer, on charges of corruption, in a small district of Rajasthan called Jhunjhunu. SV is not happy with his life, since he always wanted to become a thriller writer, but his first full-fledged attempt Manorama sank without a trace, and he has resorted to writing cheap stories for a sleazy crime magazine. He has a wife Nimmi (Gul Panag – very convincing, though sometime her convent English slips through, but that’s negligible) and a four-year-old kid. The wife constantly reminds him of how she could have easily married someone with a lot of money, and how stupid he is to be tangled in corruption charges.

SV has a worldly-wise brother-in-law Inspector Brijmohan (played by the very talented Vinay Pathak, no more introduction necessary) with a passion for malpuas who sympathizes with him, and even gives him a word of wisdom, every now and then. SV and Brij often spend their evenings on the outskirts of the city, drinking cheap whisky, smoking cigarettes, and discussing married life and such things.

One night, SV is approached by a mysterious woman (Sarika – unbelievably beautiful after all these years, and looks the part – with the proper accent and mannerisms) who claims to be a big fan of his disastrous debut Manorama, and the wife of a sitting M.L.A. She wants him to spy on her husband, since she suspects he is cheating on her. SV is taken aback and unsure, but takes the job up anyway, since it will give him a chance of redeeming himself of his failure as a novelist. Nimmi does not really approve, but she can’t stop her highly motivated husband.

And so, SV daringly and stealthily enters the M.L.A’s bungalow, and clicks some pictures of the politician arguing with an unidentified woman. He gives the negatives to the mystery lady, takes the money and gets on with it. A job well done and well paid, he takes his ever-complaining wife on a ‘second honeymoon’ to Jaipur on the suggestion of his brother-in-law.

All is going well, till he spots the mystery woman in Jaipur, who refuses to acknowledge him, and disappears in the crowd. SV is very intrigued now, and discusses this with Brijmohan over a few drinks, who advises him to stay the hell away, and mind his own useless business. The same night, SV meets the mystery woman, visibly scared, but he is too drunk to acknowledge the danger. The woman whispers, “My name is Manorama, and I am 32. Remember, that if something bad happens to me”. SV just goes home, and sleeps it off.

Next morning, SV finds out that the mystery lady has committed suicide, and is immediately intrigued. Thus, he starts an investigation; his wife and
Brijmohan do not approve. He quickly finds out the following things: he is not invulnerable, the mystery lady was not who she claimed she was and the politician is knee-deep in many dark deeds. I shall not say anymore because I’d be giving out the entire story.

Navdeep Singh as a debutant director comes out a winner. His direction and an eye for detail are everywhere. From the small government office employees, pesky neighbors, the subdued background noises (at one point we hear “ arre chunnu ke pappa, jaldi aao, chunnu ne fir se tanki mein tatti
kar dee hai”
), the public shots, nothing looks unnatural. The actors do exactly what they are supposed to do – look the part! And no, you cannot tell that they are actors. The actors BECOME the characters (which I have seen after a LONG time, maybe the last movie to achieve this was Khosla Ka Ghosla.)

Abhay Deol (SV) is a pleasure to watch. The guy just blends in the background, when he is supposed to. For instance, there is an on-location scene in the movie, and you actually have to look hard to spot him! Also, his dialogue delivery, expressions, and mannerisms do look like he belongs to a small town. The mustachioed look, the leather jackets suit him to the T. His voice is a tad too soft, but that really is not important. The guy delivers, and I have always maintained that – he was really impressive with his other two movies – Ek chaalis Ki Local and Honeymoon Travels. This is one actor who will go a long, long way, as long he keeps doing ‘meaningful’ cinema.

Vinay Pathak (Inspector Brijmohan) is one of the best actors to emerge in the last couple of years (much like his counterpart Ranveer Shouri) and impresses with every scene; when he is the complaining brother, or a man who has seen it all, or a Police inspector in a godforsaken small town. He is far, far ahead of any other actor who has ever played a small town Rajasthani cop (with the exception of Sanjay Dutt in Eklavya: the Royal Guard) and his personal research (if any) shows!

Gul Panag (Nimmi) is very charming as the small town housewife running a beauty parlor. She wears ordinary clothes, always covered with a home-knit
cardigan, cribs whenever she gets a chance (not annoying at all), and is protective of her husband at the same time. True, the movie belongs to Abhay Deol, but Gul Panag does prove again that she is an actor (Dor and Dhoop).

Raima Sen (Nitu) is a delight to watch, again. Though I can’t remember her doing a bad job ever, and again, she doesn’t have much to do in the movie except a lot of eye-play, and look drop-dead gorgeous, she succeeds in doing what she is supposed to. Kulbhushan Kharbanda (politician) is menacing; cold, and suave, all at once.

Overall, Manorama Six Feet Under is a brilliant movie, in my opinion. Yes, the movie lacked pace in the second half, somehow, even dragging its feet at times, but it had me and others in the audience glued to our seats in apprehension nonetheless. Arbind Kannabiran as a cinematographer shows what he could not in Loins of Punjab, and makes ample use of the dusty streets, barren deserts, and crowds. Simply brilliant, and shot as it should be.

This is one movie not for the masses, since it has a complicated plot, and intelligent dialogue, and no masala. I’ll even go ahead and say that if ever I
was to be cast in a movie, I’d want to be in a movie like this.

‘nuff said.



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