Cast: Manikandan, Ashok Selvan, Nassar
Director: Vishal Venkat
Director Vishal Venkat’s Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal is a film with an obvious beginning and an obvious ending. Right from the time we see a long take with Nassar walking through a crowded street lined with TNHB apartments, we know that his mild-mannered good deeds will not go unpunished. We also sense this level of obviousness when we’re introduced to four flawed men (Ashok Selvan, Manikandan, Abi Hassan and Praveen Raja) and what the events of this film will do to them. Set up with the sophistication of a moral science lesson in an NCERT text book, the film doesn’t even try to claim any intellectual superiority or even a basic level of coolness.
Instead, it unabashedly pushes its simplicity with so much earnestness that you cant help but let your guard down. And that’s when the film begins to work because it’s seldom trying to impress, even with its multi-narrative format. The film expects the audience to be familiar with the way it juggles multiple storylines so it doesn’t have to go the extra mile to do anything gimmicky (like the recent Kasada Thapara) to remind you of its cleverness.
This gives it the space and time for each of these four characters to matter and for their flaws to become complex enough to feel real. In a neatly-structured screenplay that flows smoothly, we see men grapple with a sin of their choice, covering pride, envy, anger and sloth. Take for instance the house-keeping staff played by Manikandan. Right at the onset we get a glimpse of his work ethic and the manner in which he wants to get around by doing the absolute minimum. He blames his thankless job and his managers for his lack of progress, but he expects to get ahead even though he doesn’t bother to write his own resume.
This is true of the character played by Praveen—a man so worried about what people think of him that he’s forgotten to feel anything for himself. Obsessed with big brands and the perceived value it brings him in others’ eyes, he finds himself choked by pointless materialism. But it’s not just these four strangers or their problems that take the film forward—it’s how the aftereffect of their combined flaws end up hurting someone inherently flawless.
Which means that this big event—set around the midway mark—isn’t just where these individual transformations begin to take place. It also gives the screenplay the space to see just how far these flaws will take them.
The film also does something a little cool with the way the higher values of this flawless person gets passed on to the people who needed them, kind of like how Will Smith’s organs get passed on in Seven Pounds. That’s why Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal remains engaging despite it obvious setup and ending. It’s like the writers saved the best bit of writing for when we think the film will become the weakest, like a match that gets exciting around the 32nd over.
All of this contributes a lot to how we want to overlook an overall lack of finesse that could have been fixed with a bigger budget and a stronger supporting cast. We also want to excuse how underwritten Abi Hassan’s portions feel and the dialogue writing here, even though it deals with a fascinating idea for a separate short film. But despite these flaws and its generally flat making style, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal is a nicely-written drama about screwed-up people and how a singular event presents all four of them with a chance at redemption.