With every other Tamil film featuring radios belting out Ilayaraja’s hits, what song would you find on the radio in a film where the maestro himself has scored the music? The answer is surprising and the most fun you’re likely to have in Kumar Nagendra’s Maranthen Mannithen (mostly dubbed from the Telugu original, Gundello Godari): Indira logathu sundari from T Rajendar’s smash-hit score for Uyirullavarai Usha. As that number suggests, it’s the 1980s. The Godavari rises and begins to flood the neighbourhoods, just as Malli (Aadhi) and Chitra (Lakshmi Manchu) are united in an arranged marriage. Everyone flees for a high-rise shelter. And there, with the waters swirling around them, Malli reveals his story and Chitra tells hers. They have stormy pasts that make Jean Valjean’s life look like a walk in a Parisian park, and you’d think the catastrophe they’re stuck in is some sort of metaphor, mirroring the turbulence they’ve been through. But no. This discussion between the newlyweds could have happened on the terrace during a power cut. Or at a railway station, while waiting for a long-delayed train. This is the kind of drama where sound and fury signify nothing.
For a while, Maranthen Mannithen looks like the kind of juicy melodrama that AVM Studios would have cranked out in an earlier age – the lines are littered with phrases like “kaama veri.” There’s a rich girl (an over-animated Taapsee, who belongs in a completely different movie) who’s after Malli. (He’s poor, naturally – a fisherman.) As for Chitra, the local doctor lusts after her, and that’s when her employer isn’t lusting for her. (They weren’t kidding about the kaama veri.) And did I mention the love of her life is impaled? Pool their tears together and the Godavari would begin to resemble a puddle on a summer street. Ilayaraja chips with some lovely music in the background, especially a guitar-based stretch towards the end. But there are too many songs, and the visuals (plaid-skirted backup dancers playing trumpets) don’t help. He also recycles his Aasaya kaathula from Johny – only this time, we have Mumait Khan shaking booty so vigorously you’re afraid her limbs are going to fly off. At least the title is perfect. That’s what the audience is murmuring while walking out.
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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