Renowned director Venkat Prabhu’s films comes with unexpected twists. Following STR’s Maanadu, Venkat Prabhu had a bumpy first day screening for Manmatha Leelai, with theatres starting from noon shows only due to technical glitches, as confirmed by the producers.
Marketed as “A Venkat Prabhu Quickie'', Manmatha Leelai was shot under a month during the COVID-induced lockdown, with limited cast and locations. The film is backed by Rockfort Entertainment and Prabhu’s Black Ticket Company, and features Ashok Selvan, Samyuktha Hegde, Riya Suman, Smruthi Venkat and Jayaprakash in pivotal roles.
Written along with one of his former assistant directors, Manivannan Balasubramaniam, Manmatha Leelai rolls back and forth between two timelines - 2010 and 2020. It draws parallels from the playboy protagonist’s one night stands, delving into what happened then and what happens now. The film is a comic representation of extramarital affairs, with the story revolving around Sathya (played by Ashok Selvan) and his three love interests - an online girlfriend, a hot stranger and his innocent wife.
The first half of the film is a very usual take on the adult genre, since it uses the age-old slow motion and close-up shots of the women by objectifying them and trying to score brownie points for catering to the “male gaze” to titillate a section of the youth audience - the men. Like most of the Kollywood films, Manmatha Leelai alludes the female sexual desire. The comic sequences, where the hero is cheated by the women, are a laugh riot.
However, in an attempt to insult the women who cheat, the protagonist, who is a womaniser himself, uses symbolic cuss words which are obviously beeped and derogatory to sex workers. While the intent is to show how the womaniser will react to the situation, the dialogues, which are intended to generate laughs, are offensive rather than funny.
However, if we look past these flaws that hinder the film from reaching its full potential, there is a refreshing and an interesting twist in Manmatha Leelai that switches gear and the film veers towards a dark dramedy. The interval is noteworthy as it leaves the audience hooked.
The second half of the film is totally unexpected. The background score and music, composed by popular comedian Premji Amaren, who also appears in a cameo, are superb.
Ably supported by Venkat Raajen's sharp editing, Prabhu proves that he is a master of his quirky craft in the way he deals with a non linear narration. The performances of the lead actors are mature and laudable. While Manmatha Leelai oscillates between representation and glorification of a playboy, it is a peculiar and an engaging entertainer that will take you by surprise ride if you walk in with the assumption that it is a pure adult film.