'Manorama...' - brave representation of avant-garde cinema (Review)

Film: 'Manorama Six Feet Under'; Cast: Abhay Deol, Gul Panag, Raima Sen, Sarika and Vinay Pathak; Director: Navdeep Singh; Rating: ***

Sunday, September 23, 2007 | 1:29:13 PM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Film: 'Manorama Six Feet Under'; Cast: Abhay Deol, Gul Panag, Raima Sen, Sarika and Vinay Pathak; Director: Navdeep Singh; Rating: ***

Dereliction isn't just a state of mind. It's also a condition of being and feeling that determines the quality of human existence beyond the transient needs and urges of the individual trapped in the monstrous mundaneness of the moment.

The best thing about debutant director Navdeep Singh's oddly entitled 'Manorama Six Feet Under' is the sand-swept Rajasthani ambience. Once, there was the grandiloquent Rajasthan of J.P. Dutta's cinema and now there's the telltale, accusing, culpable and guilt-laden Rajasthan of Singh's cinema where crime coalesces into grime to create a kind of brackish brittle but sturdy concoction that Quentin Tarantino would approve of and Alfred Hitchcock would find hard to recognise.

Moving away from the stylised cinematic symposium of the noire-thriller genre, 'Manorama' plays it by the ear. The heat of the desert is coolly questioning. The narrative is propelled forward, if propelled is the right word for what the director does with his outwardly-disembodied material with the brutal inevitability of those small-town machinations generated by an evil or just a plainly-bored design.

The characters are familiar small town people, not as continually menacing as they were in Vishal Bharadwaj's brutal and merciless 'Omkara', but funnier and more lethargic, more prone to be insensitive and outright silly than they were in the hands of the other noire-makers in the past.

The brutality, when it comes, is swift, sudden and violent. The goons quickly bring the protagonist down to his knees and break his fingers. It reminded me of Jack Nicholson's broken nose in Roman Polanski's 'Chinatown'.

Abhay Deol plays the splintered protagonist, failed writer, semi-successful spouse, indifferent father and an aspiring sleuth - with a mixture of sloth and spirit.

He looks bulkier, less lean but as mean as he did in his earlier films. His portrait of dereliction is purposely unfinished.

A very fine performance comes from Gul Panag as Abhay's wife. She fills up the screen with her casual elegance bringing to the land of the awry a sense of calm charm and obfuscated order.

Another winner is Vinay Pathak. Portraying the mindless and honest corruptibility of a small-town cop, Pathak furnishes the dusty environment with a wry almost invisible humour.

The comic element is generated from that sly synthesis of awkwardness and brutality that governs life in the backwaters of north India where existence is more of a matter for the accounts-book than philosophy.

The technicians behind the film work in an unselfconscious spirit, as though they were part of a reality that goes beyond cinema. Arvind Kannabiran shoots Rajasthan as a mute but never dumb witness to the protagonist's ironic persecution.

Editor Jabeen Merchant jumps ahead of the narration to formulate visual evidence of thoughts before the characters express them. And the director knows he is looking for a strain of cinematic experience that has no specific target or relevance.

'Manorama Six Feet Under' is a brave, if somewhat dry, representation of avant-garde cinema where the characters look more into themselves than into each other's eyes for answers to questions that leave a lot to the imagination.

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