To set the record straight, Manmadhudu 2, despite the title which evokes memories of the cult hit predecessor, is a Rahul Ravindran movie, and it has the Chi La Sow vibes - women who are not mere caricatures, no misogynistic jokes, no cheap thrills or crassness. The only problem is how the film was marketed. It is not really a love story of an older man and a younger woman, to begin with.
Manmadhudu 2, the remake of a French film, is about Samba Siva Rao (Nagarjuna), a perfumer (brownie points for creativity in profession) beyond his middle age, who doesn't believe in marriage, just flings. But, he is pressured by his three sisters and mom (Lakshmi) to enter wedlock, given he is well past his prime. In order to solve the problem, he enters into a contract with Avantika (Rakul Preet) - paying her to act as his girlfriend for a couple of weeks. She is then supposed to abscond on the day of the wedding, so he could use the disaster as an excuse to be left alone by his family. Unfortunately, that plan doesn't work as expected, and Samba is forced to continue the charade.
Avantika, for her part, wants to adopt her deceased sister's kid, but needs a bank balance and security - Portuguese rules, where the movie is based - to be able to do so. The rest of the tale is not hard to predict.
I liked the angle, but the film needed a deeper script to justify the way it proceeds in the latter half. The love doesn't play the central angle for a long time. So, the film has to depend on other things - chemistry/wit/characterisation/back stories. But some of that wasn't done satisfactorily.
The movie has its moments, like the time a packet of weed gets thrown into the fireplace and the whole family is high because of the fumes (was it a good decision to turn that event into an emotional chitchat session, when it could have been a laugh riot?).
Vennela Kishore playing Samba's employee and friend is hilarious with his trademark humour and accent. There are many funny bits in the story, but the movie runs up and down, high and dry. It gathers momentum at times, but then goes flat a few moments later. All of this is largely because of the absence of a tether in the story. The protagonist is shown to be emotion-less, but such a person need not be a total bore. However, Samba is. He is not a charmer like the one in Manmadhudu was, per se. It is hard to understand why women swoon over him the way they do in the movie when not much is built into his character.
On the other hand, Avantika's character has more potential; she has the wider emotional range and likability. Unfortunately, that role doesn't reach its fulfilment owing to the simple contradiction - a person needs reasons to fall in love with another. Stronger the female protagonist, more is the need to invest in the character of a person you want her to fall in love with. A deviation from the cliche was expected here because a person like Avantika, who is so good with a male protagonist's family, so sure of her decisions and emotions - will also have expectations from her man.
Rakul Preet does well, and she looks the part of someone who can play bigger roles, not just the doe-eyed beauty dying off for the alpha male - but at times, it feels like her character is boxed way too much - fear of backlash from audiences which cannot take a wild/reckless female vagabond, maybe? You can see that the makers are itching to cross a few barriers (like the blurred kiss between Rakul and Jhansi, playing one of Samba's three sisters, the addressing of sexuality in women who have been married for a long time - something our movies don't touch). And yet, the makers tread carefully because of the expected restraints and constraints. That costs Manmadhudu 2 to a certain extent - the disadvantage of experimenting with established heroes with an existing image.
Thanks to the locations, the film is beautiful and easy on the eye. The actors are pleasant to watch. Lakshmi, continues the Oh Baby high and is brilliant as always. But, it is Nagarjuna who disappoints a little. He is a charming actor, but somehow he doesn't feel like he is being himself. The movie tries to take the right approach by cracking a lot of age-related jokes. So, his role, as accused by many, is not age-inappropriate. He is just an older guy women are attracted to, and who lives that kind of a loner-lifestyle. And I don't think we complained about Richard Gere romancing JeLo. We can be progressive enough. The only downside is that Richard Gere looks comfortable in the skin of a protagonist, who plays his age. Nagarjuna doesn't seem comfortable - at least, the not-so-well-done makeup and costumes don't suggest so. You expect the protagonist of a story such as this to be classier, more sophisticated. And I never thought I would ever say this, but Nagarjuna doesn't look sophisticated enough for the role. Usually he is more than what is needed. This time though, not so much. Part of it is because his role, unlike the women's in the movie, is a caricature.
The movie benefits from a pleasant soundtrack by Chaithan Bharadwaj. The camera work brings in all the right colours and shades, a bright happy palette. Overall, it is a movie that will not bore you. There's the emotional quotient, there are some decent conversations. But, it could have been a little more. There was room for the story and characters to breathe. There was an opportunity for the movie to be a little more honest about what it wanted to say, but left unsaid.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.