Manu is a mystery romance thriller film starring Raja Goutham and Chandini Chowdary in lead roles. Aberaam Varma, Mohan Bhagath, John Kottoly, Srikanth, Ravi Teja etc played other prominent roles. The film was crowd-funded, with limited budget and with a limited cast. The film was written and directed by Phanindra Narsetti who shot to fame with his short films. It was released worldwide on 7th Sep, 2018.
Neela (Chandini Chowdary) offers drink to Manu (Raja Goutham) and appreciates his art. However, she leaves after a small misunderstanding. Later in the same bar, Manu saves a middle-aged man from a group of thugs lead by Akbar (John Kottoly). The film switches to some independent scenes of Manu catching rats in an abandoned island of Arabian Sea, Akbar moving to a new flat after he sees an ad from Neela, and Manu cluelessly roaming around in search of something etc. Neela rents her flat to Akbar as she plans to move out within a few days. Akbar plans to intoxicate and rape her. What happens next forms the crux of the story.
Manu is a strange film on many levels. It is quite easy to label it a boring flick or an average film but Manu deserves appreciation for bringing in many elements that are alien to Tollywood. First of all, the screenplay is neither linear not reverse but is rather fragmented. The scenes are arranged in an order that the audience have to be alert for the complete runtime and keep ordering the scenes in their mind. This is something regular Telugu audience find difficult to cope up with. There are no establishing shots anywhere in the film. This is something the filmmaker has done out of overconfidence or arrogance. The screenplay is already complex and the majority of the film has no dialogues except the voice over. So, it becomes difficult to perceive the location of the indoor scenes as everything appears to be a single location.
The story can be split into 4 parts with each dealing with thriller, horror, romance and philosophy. The film starts with thriller and the initial scenes are gripping, and then it moves to surreal supernatural elements, and post-interval the love story begins, and towards the climax the film becomes philosophic. The story would have been even more interesting if it’s linear with the thriller and mystery part in the later half of the film. The film loses its purpose towards the climax and becomes preachy.
The story has a lot of scope to be within 2 to 2.5 hours but the director forces it to be long and preachy. Almost all the subtle elements of the script have been explicitly discussed in the film. The philosophy behind ocean, the purpose of black color and in fact the screenwriting technique used by Christopher Nolan popularly known as ‘hiding in plain sight’ were discussed in the film. Generally, some novels follow such author’s comments that deviate a little from the main plot to explain the symbolism for better understanding but doing the same in a film spoils the whole purpose.
Raja Goutham delivers his career best performance. This is an acid test for him to prove as an actor and he is successful in the role of an artist. Chandini Chowdary portrays the role which has multiple shades and her performance is impressive. John Kottoly is good in a negative role.
The central theme is interesting but the screenplay is a mess. The dialogues are expressive but overly done throughout the film. Some irrelevant scenes and dialogues test the patience of the audience. The production values are decent but the film requires at least 3 times the budget to get any shape. The cinematography is top-notch and the lighting is well planned. There are some epic shots and the one that stays with movie lovers is where Manu stands below a bridge at night while the train passes over the bridge. The camera work is bizarre and sometimes the camera movement is haphazard. The director should share the blame as such shots need reworking to get better. There are many instances where retakes could have improved the shots. The background score elevates the mood in many scenes and the sound track is memorable. Some scenes had inconsistent sound track, for example, the first fight has melody which may not be intentional. The art design is superb with a complex setup of props and backgrounds. The stunts are choreographed using the ancient Chinese martial art, Wing Chun. But there are no references of martial arts background of Manu in the film.
The editing of the film is disappointing. The purpose of editing is not to decide scenic order or runtime but to create a flow of the shots. The film has a lot of repetition and unnecessary shots that have increased the runtime. The directors who edit their own films rarely get a quality output as they couldn’t get rid of shots or scenes. The attachment and hard work involved in shooting forces them to keep maximum footage. In fact, with a senior editor, the film would have been much simpler and linear with 2-2.5 hours runtime. The direction is good but there are many issues with it. First of all, the film appears like the brain of an introvert with social anxiety. The film doesn’t establish its story world anywhere in the film. The film will give a panic attack if the audience have claustrophobia. The interiors are suffocating and the ambience doesn’t help the story much. In fact, the loneliness is better reflected in the beach. Some random shots are unnecessary and were done simply because they could. The camera movement doesn’t convey anything. Overall, in an effort to be different, they have made many shots lifeless.
Manu is a film that struggles to be different without knowing what exactly it wants to be. However, it is successful in being different to the existing Telugu films. It has more European form and style. Watch it for its uniqueness and non-linear narrative structure.