In Manoharam, directed by Anwar Sadiq, a talented artist struggles to find his place in a changing world. Manu’s (Vineeth Sreenivasan) old art studio stands as an odd entity in a village square that is constantly undergoing a makeover. He and his bosom friend (Basil Joseph) do hand-painted hoardings and take up low-paying advertisement work for a living. Manu has no fancy fine-arts degree or a healthy bank balance. People around him hardly takes notice of his art. When his fiancée walks out on the previous night of their wedding to marry a more successful man, the young man’s self-esteem sinks to the rough bottom. In the heat of the moment, he takes up a challenge to learn Photoshop software, open a digital printing shop in the village, and prove to the scoffing villagers that he isn’t a failure in life.
Manoharam is thematically interesting. The conflicts that Manu faces are most relevant. A montage in the early part of the film intersperses visuals of people working with hands – making earthenware, sowing seeds in a field, cutting grass and painting walls – with images of different machines. The world is slowly eliminating human labour, but human intellect and artistic talent can never be replaced, the film argues.
Interestingly, Anwar doesn’t portray his protagonist as a stickler for the old-fashioned way of life. The gaze is sympathetic. Manu resists learning digital art software for a long time, because he is intimidated by technology, thanks to his humble background. The film doesn’t go over the top in its portrayal of Manu’s relationship with Sreeja (Aparna). Her existence in the film as an individual is only secondary to her status as a bone of contention between Manu and his archrival Rahul (Deepak Parambol). Yet, she isn’t treated as an absolute eye-candy.
Vineeth Sreenivasan excels in a generic Vineeth Sreenivasan role, of a likeable mousy man whose sternest expression of rage is a stare. When in his comfort zone, Vineeth is quite a good actor whose sincerity shines through. But, none of these positives really matters as the film comes across as a long-winded and un-engaging work that inadvertently betrays the very core ideals that it preaches. For a film that speaks for analog artists, Manoharam has a clinical texture. It discards instances of silence or self-reflection, and employs far too many fast-cut montages. The visuals appear washed-out and flat. In a flashback scene, a bunch of children mouths poorly-written dialogues that imagine them as full-grown adults.
Towards the climax, the film starts to resemble a video game – a dull one at that – where Manu’s heroic ascend is continuously hit by complications. Some of the plot techniques used here can be found in Anwar’s debut directorial Ormayundo Ee Mugham too. There are no definite villains in the story. The protagonist’s efforts to cover up his mistakes become the root of all problems. In Manoharam, it appears badly convoluted and, in parts, unintentionally hilarious. For one, Manu has to repair a machine at short notice. But the car ferrying the mechanic is caught in a traffic jam, so he gets down to doing the intricate engineering work by himself. It is followed by a fake buildup of tension – characters wait with bated breath as Manu switches on the machine. No prize for guessing how it all ends.
Most of all, the film turns into a boring conformist in its final sequence where it resembles a motivational video for artists who want to get rich. Manu’s conflicts are solved in an utterly superficial fashion without raising uncomfortable questions. He happily adapts to the modern world, and walks into a sparkling corporate work space with a beaming face. This part of the film works like some sort of an antithesis to films that pit artists against corporations. Embracing the giant is better than rebelling against it, says Manoharam.
The Manoharam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.