A dubbed film can be disconcerting. Especially when the dialogues aren’t in sync. Transplant the setting to Chennai, even though nothing resembles anything in Tamil Nadu, and we’re left with glaring glitches. Maybe the makers of Namadhu, the Tamil version of the Telugu film Manamantha, could have pitched it as the story of a Tamil family in Hyderabad. Maybe that would have worked.
Nevertheless, it’s the Telugu debut of one of the finest actors of our times, Mohanlal. So watch it, we must.
Namadhu is about four people whose lives follow different paths in the span of a few days. Four emotions are at play – greed, envy, pity, and self-realisation. Money evokes a different response from each character.
Mohanlal plays Sairam, a manager at a departmental store. He is the quintessential middle-class man who desperately wants to climb the career ladder and make more money for his family. Gauthami plays Gayathri, a housewife with big dreams for herself and her family. Due to her financial situation, they remain dreams. Viswant plays Abhi, an intelligent college student who falls in love with a girl richer than him. This makes him feel inferior and prompts him to make bad decisions. Raina Rao plays Mahitha, a 12-year-old school girl who wants everyone to be happy. She wants to educate a small child, the son of daily-wage earners.
Namadhu is about how their lives quickly spiral out of control.
With the plot revolving around middle-class protagonists handling their economic situation, we expect the film to be melodramatic and sentimental. That’s exactly how Namadhu turns out to be. Nevertheless, the clichés are enjoyable because of some extraordinary performances. In one hilarious scene, Gauthami and her neighbour Urvasi decide to go to a store far from home, so they can buy their monthly groceries at a cheaper rate. “We can save up to Rs. 400 a month,” they tell each other. In the end, they’ve spent an extra Rs. 500, thanks to the commute. In another scene, Mohanlal signals his friend who works at the grocery store. The friend pretends to fall over vegetables, and calls them damaged so that Mohanlal can take them home.
Some scenes are more far-fetched. The 12-year-old Mahitha manages to get a uniform stitched for her friend Veer, and brings him to school. Every day. If that wasn’t improbable enough, there’s a scene in which she coolly walks into a nightclub to meet the Minister’s son.
Abhi’s story is even more trite. It’s another case of a simple guy selling something valuable to make himself look rich. Here, he sells his laptop to buy a smartphone. All to impress the woman he likes. There’s also the usual stalking and general creepiness. It’s not clear whether director Chandra Sekhar Yeleti wanted us to feel sympathetic towards him at the end. Because we don’t.
The most interesting stories are those of Mohanlal and Gauthami. And they, being great actors, coasted through their scenes with ease. For Mohanlal, doing this character is like eating a piece of cake. Every time he plays a struggling middle-class man, he has had something new to offer. In scenes towards the climax, as his character feels suffocated because of the issues around him, we feel trapped too. When he confronts a young girl in one scene, he leaves the audience in awe. It would be odd but fitting if he won an award for ‘Best Debut’ next year. This man does his job effortlessly. As always.
Gauthami’s character goes through multiple emotions. Her desire for the good things in life borders on greed. But we root for her. We want her to get all those things. Her performance is such that the most cliché of scenes becomes enjoyable. It’s a great comeback for Gauthami, and leaves the audience wanting to see so much more of her.
In parts, it’s clear that the dubbed version doesn’t do justice to the original. No matter what language Mohanlal speaks in, it ends up sounding like Malayalam. We can speculate about whether giving him a Malayalam connect might have made the story work. However, ultimately the dialogues in this version sound flat, when clearly, something else was said in Telugu. Especially, with actors like Vennela Kishore whose strong point is dialogue delivery and modulation, there’s a lot missing in Namadhu.
Despite the distracting shifts in screenplay as the film weaves between stories, the ending is commendable. It’s predictable, yet gratifying to watch the characters ultimately complementing each other. Plus, we rarely see family dramas which have some suspense. The last was in Mohanlal’s Drishyam, and we know how much the audience loved that.
While it would be unfair to expect the brilliance of Drishyam in every family movie, more focus on detail and logic and less on melodrama, would have made Namadhu another winner in this genre.
The Namadhu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.