Chinatown was a classic and Navdeep Singh remade it into a film which I believe would over the years define the Indian film noir genre. Manorama Six feet Under was released in 2007 when I was in the first year of graduation. That was a time when we enjoyed whirlwind entertainers and watched a lot of Chinese action flicks which had nothing to do with logic or gravity for that matter. Noirs were not exactly a splash in the pan for us at that time but the trailers of Manorama sparked a lot of curiosity for the project.
We were always updated with the latest offerings but took our picks of which film to watch or not and Manorama unfortunately ended up on the “no watch” list until years later its came out on home video and I decided to give it a go. Watching it again years later and reviewing it feels just as nostalgic as thrilling for this is a film which really opened up my eyes to the film noir genre. It did so at a time when I didn’t even know what “Film Noir” was.
The film chronicles the journey of Rajasthan-based Satyaveer Singh Randhawa (Abhay Deol) who works as a Junior Engineer with Lahkot Municipality’s Public Works Department and lives a middle-class lifestyle with his wife, Nimmi (Gul Panag), and son, Raju. The region faces drought and extreme temperatures, with the local Irrigation Minister, P.P. Rathore (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), making tall promises of diverting water from Haryana and Punjab via a canal that is being constructed on a controversial site. Satyeveer, also authored a fictional novel ‘Manorama’ that sold only about 200 copies. To make matters worse he accepts a motorbike from Seema Constructions as a bribe, is apprehended, and suspended pending an inquiry.
Now out of a job, he is approached by Mrs. P.P. Rathore (Sarika), the wife of the Irrigation Minister, to collect evidence that her husband is having an extra-marital affair for a fee of Twenty thousand rupees. Satyaveer accepts this offer little knowing that he will soon be thrust into a web of lies and deceit, which will not only get him in the bad books of Rathore, assaulted by his goons, but also implicate him in the murder of two lovers compounded all the more by the sudden death of Mrs. Rathore who turns out to be someone else going by the name of Manorama Shukla and the disappearance of an orphan named Deepti. To help him in his endeavor he only has the company Sheetal (Raima Sen), a girl who was Manorama’s friends and is now threatened by the same people who might have killed Manorama.
Following closely on the lines of Chinatown, Manorama Six Feet Under is deliciously intricate and webbed. Every character has more to them than what meets the eye. The story starts from a simple inquiry of a wife about her husband and soon turns into a murder mystery which is as much about Satyaveer sniffing out the guilty and clearing his name as about him proving himself worthy of the manhood that he has been so desperately seeking to regain. Satyaveer has had a troubled life to start with and has always remained under the dictates of his elders. Even after his marriage he seems to be short on words in his feisty wife’s presence. With the case heating up and Satyaveer getting dragged into it for all the wrong reasons, he must now find the guilty if he is to have a peaceful existence.
The film boasts of a superb plot thanks partly to Chinatown, but Navdeep makes his own set of changes to turn the tale into his own. The cinematography is consistently brilliant throughout which adds a dash of charm to the narrative. The editing is in strong keeping with the content of the film and never for once falter at any point. Abhay Deol slips into the skin of Satyaveer effortlessly. He not only looks believable and vulnerable as the character but also oozes with confidence in a role which could have had the better of him very easily. The whole story unfolds through his eyes and he does exceedingly well to emote and behave in a way that conveys the right emotions to the audiences. Raima Sen has an important role which she essays with confidence. She looks the part and by the time we reach the climax and her motive is revealed, the audience is bound to be left perplexed. Sarika dazzles in a brief role. She not only looks alluring but is hypnotic in her essay. Gul Panag and Vinay Pathak are perfect. I couldn’t help but notice Nawazuddin Siddiqui as one of the henchmen in the film. He was making a humble beginning as it might seem but his brief role has the trademark Nawaz style that we now associate with him.
Overall Manorama six Feet under, is a terrific thriller which is reminiscent of the glimmer of hope for a change from the crass masala potboilers that Bollywood has come to be known for. These are films which keeps the blood flowing through the veins of Bollywood which otherwise has glitz coursing through. It is a film which can be watched and re-watched just for the beauty and material of it. Highly recommended.