MASTER filmmaker Kamal Haasan hands the reins to director Ramesh Arvind to tell a tale of the blurring between the real and reel world of the Tamil film industry, with all its politics and behind-the-scenes lifestyle.
The result is a compelling story as ageing superstar Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan) gets the news from his doctor Arpana (Andrea Jeremiah) that he has a short time to live due to a brain tumour.
Manoranjan decides to use his limited time to make amends for a whole range of decisions earlier in his life. These include his decision to forego the love of his life, Yamini, to marry Varalakshmi, the daughter of famous film producer Poorna Chandra Rao (K. Viswanath), who makes him a bigger star than Manoranjan’s original mentor, Marghadarsi (K. Balachander).
While still battling the emotional turmoil of relationships with his overbearing wife and estranged son, Manoranjan learns that Yaamini, who has since died after marrying someone else, has also borne a daughter from their relationship.
Against this environment, Manoranjan approaches his mentor to patch up with his arch-rival in the industry and allow Marghadasi to make a last film with Manoranjan.
The film within the film is an absurd medieval comic drama of kings and demons and the quest for immortality, highlighting the struggles in Manoranjan’s life in a different way.
Kamal Haasan plays Uttaman Villain, the main protagonist in this drama, who is mistakenly believed to be immortal. The drama allows Manoranjan to revisit the skeletons in his cupboard, and decide new priorities in his remaining life.
There is no doubt that Kamal Haasan, renowned for making innovative films, has again had a hand in the script and story development as he embarks on yet another style unused in Tamil cinema.
He is excellent in the two diverse roles he plays in the film, even if he does overdo the few comic scenes in the drama.
The presence of two great directors of Tamil cinema — Viswanath and Balachander, who passed away recently, lends a greater credibility to the movie. Veteran MS Bhaskar gives a moving performance as Manoranjan’s long-suffering manager Chokku, covering up for him at all times.
By the climax, the audience is left with empathy for Manoranjan as he realises the folly of a life of naked ambition in deference to what he would really have liked to lead.
Fakir Hassen ****
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