Opinion
Manju’s silence about several issues to do with the WCC has been disappointing; however, it’s devious of Shrikumar to tie that with his film.
Facebook/Manju Warrier

Odiyan director VA Shrikumar Menon has been on the defensive ever since the film opened on December 14 to mostly negative reviews. Starring Mohanlal and Manju Warrier in the lead, the film was made on a lavish budget but failed to live up to its promise. 

And according to Shrikumar, the fault lies squarely with Manju. Not the hackneyed plot (which, as several have pointed out, is almost the same as the 2005 film Chandrolsavam), not the unskilled direction, not the badly written characters, not the weird make-up on poor Prakash Raj. And oh, not the overselling before the film’s release which people on social media labelled as ‘Odiyan Pushing’, saturated as they were with Shrikumar's marketing. 

No, the fault lies with Manju, even though Odiyan was sold as a Mohanlal film, and the superstar has been struggling with his form at the box-office, thanks to a series of recent duds. Shrikumar believes that Manju should be answering all the criticism because she’s responsible for the film sinking, though he was the captain of the ship all along.

Puzzled? Let’s stop beating around the bush and lay out what exactly Shrikumar is getting at. Shrikumar appears to believe that there is a conspiracy to tank Odiyan because Manju was once married to actor Dileep, who is now an accused in the actor abduction and assault case of February 2017. To be fair, Dileep does have a reputation for interfering in other people’s films if those people are in his bad books – there have been stories of how he got actors he didn’t approve of removed from projects, and one wouldn’t put it past him to unleash his PR machinery when the whim strikes him.

However, it’s quite absurd to claim that all the poor reviews are entirely because of what Dileep allegedly did. There have been Malayalam films in the past that have been subjected to organised trolling campaigns on social media – Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi, for instance, released when the Kasaba controversy was at its peak, and several claimed that they wouldn’t watch the film (Aashiq is married to Rima Kallingal, a vocal member of the Women in Cinema Collective). The film, however, received great reviews and struck gold at the box-office, despite it being a crowded Christmas release date.

Parvathy’s film My Story was trolled because of the same controversy. However, while this film, which received bad reviews, flopped, Koode, which had the same lead pair and released a week later, went on to become a hit. Not only did Koode have Parvathy in the cast, it was also directed by Anjali Menon, another member of the WCC.

The bottom-line is that the Malayali audience has almost always embraced a good film, irrespective of the controversies surrounding it. Given the kind of hype built around Odiyan before its release, it would have been a formidable contender at the box-office if only it had been half as good as what Shrikumar promised.

But far from sitting down and introspecting where he went wrong as a director, Shrikumar is busy making hubris-filled statements in this interview to News 18 Kerala like, “I believe that it’s Manju’s luck from a previous life that gave her a strong role like Prabha in Odiyan.” Apparently, this is Manju’s most powerful role yet (where her most punchy dialogue is ‘Kurachu kanji edukatte, Manikya?’) and not an Unnimaya from Aaram Thampuran or a Bhadra from Kannezhudhi Pottum Thottu or a Nirupama from How Old Are You? or even the unassuming Sujatha from Udaharanam Sujatha and the conservative Padmini who breaks out in Rani Padmini

The condescension in his words would be distasteful when directed towards any actor, let alone the talented and award-winning Manju Warrier who is still a favourite with the audience – for her acting and dance. Not only did he shoot his mouth off about how she promoted films that ran for only ‘one day’ but not Odiyan (she did, but not to the same level as him), Shrikumar also claimed that Manju has “no market” today and that only Mohanlal is ready to act with her. It may well be that several insiders of the horrendously misogynistic Malayalam film industry don’t want to work with Dileep’s ex-wife, but does the responsibility for that fall on Manju? How is Shrikumar, who is graciously awarding himself all the brownie points for Manju’s career, helping by making such self-aggrandising statements?

It is true that Manju Warrier has not been as assertive as her fans would have liked her to be in the face of the WCC controversies that have broken out. Her silence about several issues to do with the WCC’s battles has indeed been disappointing. However, it is quite devious of Shrikumar to tie that reluctance to engage with the reviews his film has been getting.

Since Shrikumar doesn’t seem to remember a time when Manju Warrier had better things to do on screen than ask if the hero wanted kanji, here are five Manju films that we recommend he watch:

Aaram Thampuran: As the fiery Unni Maya, Manju delivered a memorable performance along with Mohanlal in this drama film directed by Ranjith. Her introduction in the red saree and her run-ins with Mohanlal, where she holds her own and talks back to him, are still fondly remembered by the audience.

Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu: Manju played the role of a young woman who is determined to avenge the murders of her parents. And so, she decides to seduce the man responsible for it (Thilakan) and also his son (Biju Menon), to get them going at each other’s throats. Acting opposite a powerhouse like Thilakan, Manju was fantastic as the bloodthirsty Bhadra.

Kanmadham: In this Lohitadas directorial, Manju played Bhanu, a bitter-tongued young woman whose brother has been murdered by the man she eventually falls in love with. Also starring Mohanlal, Kanmadham had Manju in a no-make-up look that she nailed. And oh, she was a blacksmith in the film.

Ee Puzhayam Kadannu: Directed by Kamal, Manju played Anjali, the youngest of three sisters, and the breadwinner of the family. She co-starred with Dileep in the film. Manju picked up the Kerala State Award for her performance in the meaty role and also a Filmfare for Best Actress.

Pathram: Another fiery role, this time as no-nonsense journalist Devika, who is of unquestionable integrity. In this political thriller directed by Renji Panicker, Manju starred with Suresh Gopi as the daughter of a former Naxalite and newspaper editor, who takes charge of the publication when her father is killed.

We’re stopping with five but there are several more films that deserve mention here, performances which endeared Manju Warrier to the audience and made her who she is before VA Shirkumar even came into the picture. If the audience wants to see Manju again, it’s because of the name she has built for herself, with her hard work. If yesteryear heroines are making a comeback to films after withdrawing from their careers post-marriage, it’s change we’re sniffing in the air. Not the smell of sour grapes and definitely not kanji.