Cast: Mohanlal, Gautami, Vishwant, Anisha Ambrose, Raina Rao
Director: Chandrasekhar Yeleti
When a great opportunity comes your way, giving you a chance at a better job, more respect and (perhaps), a better life – Do you eagerly grab this opportunity or hold on to what’s dear to you and seek happiness in the small things in life that you’re grateful for? Director Chandrasekhar Yeleti leaves viewers with this question, and more, in Manamantha. Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, this film has a happy ending or one that leaves you a bit short-changed. Either way, the narration has enough depth in it for you to sit through till the end.
Manamantha is a collection of four elaborate stories weaved into one single film. Sairam (Mohanlal) is an assistant manager at a supermarket and is in competition with floor manager Vishwanath (Harshvardhan) for the manager post. Vishwanath is more qualified for the job but Sairam has more experience. As the battle for the coveted job heats up, a desperate Sairam takes drastic measures to try and land the job. Elsewhere, Gayatri (Gautami) is a middle-class homemaker , who finds joy in the smallest of things. She’s a mother of two and leads a simple life with simple values. Her son Abhiram (Vishwant) imbibes her values, in a brilliant student and appreciates his parents’ hard-earned money to buy him things he needs – until he falls in love. The film also tells the story of Mahita (Raina Rao), a school-going girl who befriends a four-year-old slum-dweller and makes it her life’s mission to ensure he goes to school.
Unlike other films with multiple characters (remember Brahmotsavam?), each character has equal significance in Manamantha. Yeleti does well to build each story and treats each one carefully. The film’s pace, however, is a deterrent. Also, the director plays the ‘emotional’ card once too often, which is also quite irritating. Several cinematic liberties are taken, which make it seem a bit unrealistic. For instance, an eight-year-old is given cash to pay his school fees (rather than the parents paying it). A man goes missing for days, but nobody informs the police. His wife is instead waiting at home for him to return, thinking that he left because they fought, and his daughter follows his colleagues to bars in search of her father. It all seems a bit over-the-top. Not to forget how Abhiram runs from Tank Bund to the airport in a matter of minutes. If that was possible at all, such a person should represent India at the Rio Olympics.
What works for Manamantha though, is the acting. Each character puts in a fantastic performance, with Gautami outshining everyone else. She excels as the typical middle-class homemaker, who’s careful with money, yearns for respect and is always looking over her children’s shoulder. Her reluctance, fear and insecurity when an opportunity comes her way, is a delight to watch. In his first Telugu film in 28 years, Mohanlal puts in a fantastic performance as sincere store manager, who finds himself in a battle with his own conscience. The other central characters Vishwant and Raina put in good performances. Anisha Ambrose doesn’t get much scope to shine, but fits the part perfectly. Vennela Kishore provides comic relief.
Manamantha has its heart in the right place, but it’s the execution that lets it down. The emotions fail to connect, the pace bores you and the climax is a bit of a dampener. Having said that, some good acting performances and smart narration, makes it worth a one-time watch.