Not as intelligent as Lucia nor as nuanced as Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, Beautiful Manasugalu is a middling film with social commentary which doesn’t hit the mark quite the way it wants to.
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Disclaimer: BEFORE ANYONE TAKES OFFENCE, I AM A KANNADIGA AND I TAKE PRIDE IN WATCHING KANNADA FILMS. THIS IS JUST AN OPINION AND IT MIGHT DIFFER FROM YOUR OWN. I AM ALWAYS OPEN TO COGENT DISCUSSION.
Beautiful Manasugalu is a 2017 drama film written and directed by Jayatheertha and stars Satish Neenasam, Shruthi Hariharan, Achyuth Kumar and Tabla Nani. The film attempts to explore the effects of media sensationalism and corruption on a regular middle-class couple.
Beautiful Manasugalu has a simple problem. It has no idea which of its three messages it wants to get out. There is a cavalcade of social commentary being offered up but it lacks a focused explanation. The film talks about the evils of sensationalizing the news, corruption in the police department and victimizing women (all of which are good themes to tell a story about). The undoing of the narrative is the lack of time offered to these primary plot elements which result in a rushed second half. The first half of the film is squandered with a by the numbers romantic story. A tighter edit for the aforementioned romantic angle coupled with more time offered to the social commentary could have made for a more compelling film.
The film solely rests on Shruthi Hariharan’s shoulders for the better part of 90 minutes of the 110-minute runtime. She carries off her role with elan. Her facial acting, motivations, the emotional range shown during specific character moments, deep set beliefs etc., all make for a relatable everyday working woman. As the film draws to a close, however, the worldly woman is reduced to but a shell of her former self. A singular poor judgment call on her part leaves all the good work undone. Her character stands head and shoulders above the rest (for most of the film) and the actress deserves her plaudits.
The rest of the primary cast does the job that is asked of them. Achyuth Kumar and Tabla Nani are always welcome on-screen and they form the yin and yang of the morals the film is trying to get across. Satish Neenasam is sadly given an underbaked role. The character that he has been asked to play lacks any shred of consistency as the screenplay does not offer him any sort of character development. His character makes one jarring choice after another and it is bound to leave most viewers racking their brain as to why he does what he does. The film also has a few continuity and general goofs which could have been avoided with some attention to detail but that might bother me and me alone.
This is not to say the film does not have moments to admire. There are little pockets of intelligence which come across with the intended amount of impact. A scene in the newsroom comes to mind when I say that. But alas, these moments are also few and far between. There are moments of spellbinding acting, reminiscent of Radhika Pandit in Krishnan Love Story, which the film could have built off of but the film shunts the emotional payoff with an ill-advised revenge subplot. This film has a good story lost somewhere in it. With tighter editing and more in-depth eloquent observation about its primary subject matter (because what is offered feels only cursory), this could have been a part of the new wave of intelligent Kannada films.
The film, on my first viewing, feels like a noble attempt which lacks the necessary gravitas. The film feels like more of an armchair opinion piece about social issues rather than a deep dive into why things are the way the are. It makes itself more accessible with the approach it has taken but loses a sense of unique identity by the time the credits roll.
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