Updated: October 5, 2019 10:34:55 am
“Come on man, what are the chances?” You may find yourself asking this question more than once while watching director Lokesh Kanagaraj’s debut movie Maanagaram (Metropolis). But, the director was clearly not bothered about this while writing the screenplay of this film. The director-writer was not worried about the narrative logic as much as the narration itself. He wanted to tell a story about a great city where people are fast forgetting their ability to care about others as they are overtaken by fear of survival.
Now you may think, this is a familiar story. The issues of farmers, the apathy of Chennai residents have been widely and repeatedly discussed in Tamil films. In 2014, we had Samuthirakani’s directorial Nimirndhu Nil, which follows the struggles of Jayam Ravi, an “outsider”, whose hardwired ideologies make me an unfit candidate to survive the city’s uncompromising wilderness. Before that director Shankar mounted a movie on a grand scale about the growing carelessness and indifference among city dwellers. And he named it Anniyan, which is Tamil for an outsider, no less. Bollywood director Rajkumar Hirani went as far as bringing in an outsider from the outer space to investigate and understand the complex structure of our society (PK, 2014).
An outsider perspective is one of the oldest methods of filmmakers to explore a familiar situation and question our moral ambiguity. In Maanagaram, Lokesh, however, tackles the fish-out-of-water premise from a new angle. He puts a magnifying glass on certain vital elements of the metropolis that is overrun by prudent working-class outsiders.
The movie opens with a job interview, where we meet Sri (the director does not put a name on his characters barring a few exceptions). He is an unambitious youngster from a small town, who believes that a corporate job in Chennai, makes him a respectable man back home. He goes to a bar with his new friends, where we meet two more characters, a jobless man with anger issues, played by Sundeep Kishan, and a gentle and kind family man, played by Charlie. The lives of these three are intertwined by a thread called coincidence. They are all wearing a chequered red shirt. What are the odds?
Sundeep represents a Chennai native, who takes certain thing for granted like corporate employment, the magnet that attracts migrants. Charlie and Sri stand for the outsiders, who are lost in the bin and are struggling to find their way around the city.
Sri is confused for Sundeep and gets beaten up. He is badly hurt and lying on the footpath. Everyone passing by him takes a look but no one comes to help. “I don’t want to get involved in anybody’s business?” “Why do you care, it is none of your business?” “Just focus on your life, don’t try to help anyone?” You keep hearing different versions of “just mind your business, this is not your city,” in almost every scene of the film. Many people who migrate to the city for better pay, employment and status turn a blind eye to the suffering of others because “it is not their small place.” It is Chennai city and it functions differently than their small towns/villages, which is a lie told to keep the “outsiders” in check.
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Sri and Charlie have to endure police brutality, beatings from gangsters, emotional and moral dilemma to get by every day. It is too much for them to take in and even extremely difficult to ignore the plight of others. But, the city hopes that sooner or later they will fall in line. If they decide to stand up for themselves and others, they may have to shoot a cop, trash a few low-life criminals and lose a night’s sleep doing it. It is already daybreak, and their fight isn’t over yet. Because it is their city too.
Maanagaram is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
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