The majority of the first half of Seenu Ramasamy's Maamanithan reads like a collection of heartwarming anecdotes from a regular man's life. We first meet Radhakrishnan (Vijay Sethupathi), a decent middle-aged auto driver who enjoys a contented existence with his devoted wife Savithri (Gayathrie) and their two adoring children. We witness the other people in his life, including his friend Ismail (Guru Somasundaram), how he came to be with this family, and why he decides to strive for a life better than his current one in a flashback that is disguised as a bedtime story that he tells to his young daughter.
He makes a deal with real estate developer madhavan (Shaji) to assist him sell his plots so he can pay for his children to attend a private school. But madhavan ultimately succeeds in tricking him, and as he has since fled, he must now deal with the wrath of his village and police action. Can Radhakrishnan find a way to keep his family together and make sure his children receive an education?
The plot of Maamanithan is similar to a refined rendition of Mahanadhi. We had a happy family man with two children as the main character in that movie as well. He merely wanted to go on to the next stage of his life, but he was deceived. But what if he had been able to avoid going to jail and had some outside assistance to make sure his family was safe? What if, instead of brutal wardens, the people he encountered on his path to salvation were upright and modest people like him? The feel-good fantasy of Vetri Kodi Kattu, in which people who are dreaming of a better future are defrauded but manage to rise again through pure optimism, effectively replaces the sorrow of Mahanadhi in Seenu Ramasamy's adaptation.
These days, vijay sethupathi may be the only celebrity bold enough to support such screenplays, and he skillfully persuades us to believe Radhakrishnan and his foolishness. Gayathrie does a good job portraying a tenacious housewife throughout. A somewhat underdeveloped character is given weight by Guru Somasundaram. They have good filmmaking to support them as well. The cinematography of M Sukumar, which is always in service of the narrative and is unobtrusive (the numerous long takes never detract from the plot), complements the first half of the movie, which has some of the best filmmaking in this director's work. Only the music, by yuvan shankar raja and Ilaiyaraaja, is a little lacking.
Character-driven drama Maamanithan has a sense of being the last of its kind. When it finally comes to a finish, it evolves into something more—a narrative that is softly moving.
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