'Mandharam' review: This romcom has a fun first half, but falters midway

While the male characters are believable, the women are poorly written.
'Mandharam' review: This romcom has a fun first half, but falters midway
'Mandharam' review: This romcom has a fun first half, but falters midway
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In a really distant, broad and squinting view, Mandharam might remind you a tad bit of Premam and an even lesser bit of the Hindi film Rockstar. Which essentially means the hero is going through different stages of life, and romances.

Sometimes, the simplicity of everyday lines and getting right the senseless conversations between friends can make a script quite enjoyable. That’s what Mandharam does for most of the first half. Unfortunately, the promise of the first half fades away in the second.

Rajesh (Asif Ali) is a pretty romantic boy even as a child - he wants to know the meaning of ‘I love you’, a line that he hears Mohanlal say in a movie. For a while, you might think this is yet another Mohanlal fan’s movie, with more ‘Lalettan’ lines coming into the conversations, and Lalettan songs being sung. Luckily it doesn’t harp on the actor (as a recent Manju Warrier film did) and we get to know more about Rajesh, mostly through his narration.

His grandfather tells him that the key to his happiness should always be with him, not another person. Rajesh learns to do that when his first love fails. But those few minutes leading to it are shot adorably, Rajesh and his friend finding the meaning of 'I love you' and competing with another boy in class who also ‘has the I love you to the new girl’. We identify Rajesh as one of those boys then - cheesy, obsessing over girls, falling easily in love.

He loses the ‘key’ again when he grows up and does mechanical engineering, living with three friends – Jacob Gregory playing one of them. Director Vijesh Vijay again gets it right when he puts insignificant but all too relatable lines spoken between friends, into the script. The lies, the catching of lies, the thoughtless overreactions, all coming out right. Asif, Jacob, Arjun Asokan and Vineeth Vishwam do not go overboard, even when they have a drunken night out.

But just when you begin to laud the simplicity of the script, it seems to lose its way around and takes zigzag paths just to reach the end. Varsha Bollamma, playing one of the heroines, is also characterised neatly in the first few scenes (despite the dramatic first meeting between the hero and heroine that involves a stunt sequence). But suddenly her character seems to have taken lessons from heroines of 30 years ago, not syncing with whatever we saw till then. There is an odd scene when Rajesh blurts out his feelings and she reacts with the ‘are you this cheap’ line that you might have heard in older movies – the ‘just because I gave you freedom’ line. Because someone you know for a while telling you they have feelings for you, just has to be cheap, isn’t it?

She then goes on to lose all depth, all character, and becomes something of a keyed-up doll.

From here, Mandharam loses focus, and seems to be in a hurry to fit in certain incidents before the 137 minutes of the movie gets over. Some travel, new appearances, a new girl (Anarkali Marikar), old friends, all come in to take the movie to its end. The smoothness of the script just falls apart. The lines are not easy on your ears anymore. 

What could have been a refreshing change in the characterisation of a hero too falters. Asif's is a romantic, a softhearted character who cries multiple times, once falling into his dad’s (Ganesh) lap. It’s welcoming to see a man cry over lost love, and not having to go through a bunch of fights to show he’s turned into a manly hero. But after a while, it appears like a replay.  Here the dad narrates a flashback of his own, with actor Nandhini appearing on the screen after years, as the hero’s mother. But this feels forced, like an extra piece trying to fit into an already messed up script that doesn’t know where to go.

Anarkali’s bike-riding talkative character appears in this part, but seems to have been written as an afterthought.  Vijesh, who is pretty sharp in creating his male characters, does not seem to know how to write women characters. Asif pulls off the cheesy young man in the first half, but neither of the leading women give noticeable performances.

What doesn’t fail through the movie is the music by Mujeeb Majeed, the background score and the songs, easily complementing the varying moods. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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