The super hit forest dacoit of the 80s is back. Thiagarajan, the man who made Mambattiyan a rage in Tamil Nadu almost 30 years back passes the baton on to his son Prashanth. Considering the need to revive Prashanth’s career, bringing back a popular character from the 80s was a smart move, barring the fact that what worked in the 80s may or may not click today. So, does Mambattiyan click?
The story of Mambattiyan is a familiar one. That is, not only to those who have seen the original, but for all who have followed Tamil cinema of the 80s. You have the honest layman, the greedy landlord, some feudalism, injustice and a few reels later a local Robin Hood is born. Here, the Robin Hood is played by Prashanth. Of course, the fact is that Robin Hood tales always fascinate us if told in the right way. One must admit that the tale of the rise of Mambattiyan is told fairly well. It is the subsequent portions that let you down. That he is on top of the most wanted list of the local police is fine. But, the excitement of the hide and seek between a forest dacoit and a strong police force is not shown well.
The serendipitous rendezvous of Mambattiyan and his lady love, Meera Jasmine, under very peculiar circumstances is quite interesting and the subsequent development of the relationship also looks good. But, it does not have much bearing on the story and thus fails to earn a lot of attention. Mumaith Khan has a few important scenes. While the movie meanders with the police scouting for Mambattiyan and him doing services to the struggling public, it gradually reaches the climax. And, this sadly, is the most disappointing part of the whole affair. Ideally, a story like this could have built up into an exciting action packed finish within the forest. Instead we get the most tepid of endings we can see in a ‘robin hood’ style film.
The problem with Mambattiyan prima facie is that it is about a forest dacoit. If that concept worked in the 80s, it was because it was relevant during that period. There was Phoolan Devi and the Veerappans. Highway dacoits were still a reality in the south. Now, almost a decade after Phoolan Devi’s death and quite a few years after Veerappan’s saga ended, such a story seems out of place. This is a different age and young audience connecting to Mambattiyan is quite difficult. It could have clicked if Thiagarajan had chosen to place the film in the same period as the original. But, he strangely chooses to show it as a contemporary story which robs its credibility. One presumes it is to show some automatic weapons and helicopters in fight sequences. But, that is a costly exchange as those effects are only for a few seconds, but a dedicated period setting would have given an invaluable rustic charm and rough edged excitement to the movie.
The major challenge faced by Prashanth in the movie is that he has to play a character that is still remembered for the way Thiagarajan played it. It is tough to see anyone but Thiagarajan as Mambattiyan. Ironically, the success of the original character comes in the way of its remake. In spite of all his honest efforts, we are not able to accept Prashanth as Mambattiyan whole heartedly. And, Thiagarajan could have used Prashanth’s talents more effectively. Meera Jasmine does fit well into the role of a village belle, but there is not much asked of her. Mumaith Khan unfortunately isn’t convincing as the village dancer, there is sophistication uncalled for by the character. Prakash Raj walks through another cop character, while Vadivelu’s long pending comeback fizzles into nothingness. Senior performers like Vijayakumar and Kota Sreenivasa Rao are as apt as ever.
The strongest point of Mambattiyan is its camera and choice of locations. Visually, the movie appeals throughout, hats off to the crew! The music keeps reminding us of the original without matching up to it. Other technical aspects of Mambattiyan pass muster.
With Mambattiyan, Thiagarajan brings the period forward to the present, but doesn’t make enough suitable changes. Result, a film that lacks contemporary feel and looks jagged. Mambattiyan could have been so much better if the period setting was maintained in the 80s or if the characters were moulded to suit current times.
Verdict: Jungle bandit – a bit outdated for 2011!