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To begin with let me confess unabashedly that I’m a fan. An ardent one. I watched Chennai 28 numerous times and quote the dialogues in real life to annoy family and friends. I cheered for Saroja even when most of the scenes were shot in poor light; these were everyday heroes, not the super heroes whom we normally see in Tamil Cinema. The Goa towel scene earned a special mention in the humor honor roll. Now that I’ve clearly stated that I’m part of the cult - Venkat Prabhu boys-only movies, even by my standards, Mankatha was a let down.

Yes, I get it, Ajith played a baddie; but not to the standards of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. So let’s stop lavishing the praises and appreciation. He played a negative hero with a cunning mind and employed vicious tactics to con people. For that I will tip my hat in his direction. Now if Ajith’s character was in par with Kamal in Sigappu Rojakkal, I would give him credit for choosing to play a negative role. But Vinayak Mahadev is suspiciously close to Daniel Ocean (George Clooney) complete with the salt and pepper hair style. It seems that Venkat Prabhu thought of crafting Daniel Ocean and as an afterthought or on insistence ended up with Vinayak Mahadev. So let’s hold the applause.

We never watch Venkat Prabhu movies expecting picture perfect shots like Mani Ratnam, million dollar sets like Shankar, brilliant characterization like Vettrimaran or comedy like Singeetham Sreenivasa Rao. Our expectations reign at the right level, we get in fully expecting to see a Venkat Prabhu movie. Premji will make us laugh, Vaibhav will be the innocent extra and Jai/Shiva will be the blink and you will miss hero. Logic will take a back seat and there will be no super hero stunts. The female leads will be for namesake. The story will be close to real life with more than one ‘othavakarai’ boys. There will be no edge of the seat climax sequences or heartwarming romances. The movie will be ordinary like our own lackluster lives. We would laugh, clap and when we head out, we would have had the satisfaction of having watched an entertainer. Period.

So when Venkat Prabhu defied the rules of his genre and went about casting a real hero like Ajith, our interests were piqued. The movie was about betting and we thought he would handle it well. Betting was still a boys-only game. He was well within his boundaries, so Ajith would just add to the brand value. What went wrong? Was it the onus of directing a biggie like Ajith and the fact that it was his 50th?

Venkat Prabhu is a director who does not make tall claims of brilliance. Yet, Rajni and Kamal together graced the Chennai 28 100 days function and congratulated the team for bringing out the nuances of friendship with wit and humor. When the entire team of Saroja graced the sets of Coffee with Anu, questions were forgotten and we were reeling with laughter. Goa tackled homosexuality, still a very taboo and hushed topic, with enough sincerity akin to world peace. These were the boys who made us laugh, their stories were from our backyards. They were not clean shaven and chiseled sporting six packs. Premji’s costume for the most part of Chennai 600028 was a lungi. We could have ruled Venkat Prabhu as first time lucky but he was consistent through Saroja and Goa. The humor was prominent, the storyline wavering and the plot unfolds as an afterthought. We still loved them.

But Mankatha was different. It had an overload of guns and it looked like Arjun was rounding off the bookies. Premji’s computer gimmicks which were shamelessly “inspired” from The Italian Job let our jaws hanging out on new levels of low. Apparently the only rules that Venkat Prabhu stuck to was the number of boys. So we had Mahat, Vaibhav and Ashwin. We are not going to complain about the female actors. It is a Venkat Prabhu movie, so even if it did not have any female leads we would not have complained. We just wanted the humor, the sparks from Premji and the boys to click together. It’s not that we mind that the movie was about IPL betting and that it is illegal but we don’t expect serious thrillers from Venkat Prabhu. We do have Gautham Menon to dish out psych thrillers. The best part of Mankatha seems to be the Thala Briyani which we never got to taste. So yes, we feel let down. We want ordinary stories with extraordinary comedy. We want boys picked from the streets of Chennai who can make us laugh, cry and leap with joy. We don’t care for logic but we want an entertainer. In fact, we just want another Saroja Saman Nikhalo.

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