I sat agaze at that golden symbol with "Thala fifty" imprinted on it. Not because it was mesmerizing but because it wasn't an opening credit, it was part of the film, right after Ajith beats up a bunch of guys. Could you be any more self absorbed? While that thought deeply disturbed me, the remaining members of the audience were cheering and wagging their tails, surrendering themselves to the actor instead of the experience. Every single thing Ajith said about himself be it "Thala" or that he turned forty this May or taking a crack at his heroic status, these retarded fan boys felt obliged to respond, which they did by clapping, screaming, laughing and "Aiyyo". The effect they have is similar to that of canned laughter in sitcoms where you're prone to succumb to the virtual peer pressure. Here it isn't virtual, it is all around you. To me, it was watching a deleted scene from the rise of the planet of the apes.
The above series of events repeated once Arjun made his entry akin to that of a WWE superstar. He's addressed by the nickname "Action King", a title coined by the actor's fans. Then enters Vaibhav wanting to marry Anjali which shortly transports them to an exotic beach with music in the background. Arjun does the same with Andrea giving way to a dance act by Ajith and Trisha. It is a heist film; do we really need to see what romantic little lads they can be? Mankatha was marketed as an action-thriller that revolves around IPL bookies and gambling. It doesn't. IPL and gambling are only mentioned. But more than a heist film, it is celluloid homage to Ajith. If you're one of his followers and looking for a place of worship, you're welcome to be a part of it and enjoy the sense of belongingness. Yet, it is interesting that Mankatha releases not long after the forty year old actor dissolved his fan club. Stepping into an Antihero for a change isn't much of an experiment when the character's greed is glorified and his nihilistic morals celebrated by the star vehicle. And each time he mimics the Marlboro man, drinks unto memory loss, cheats his accomplices or sleeps with a total stranger he seems to reassure his boys in the crowd that they are on the right path.
Mankatha doesn't stand on independent merit; it rests on the fanboy's identity crisis- something that their thala has been treating by staying active in the film business. Venkat Prabhu, who made his mark with the honest, good-hearted entertainer, Chennai600028 has just lapsed into the commercial format. How ironic that it should have the tagline 'Strictly No Rules'.
Just before the long awaited intermission, Ajith is explaining his master plan. It is so uninteresting and inappropriate, it feels like reading the character's secret but uneventful diary. The plot is of little importance to Venkat Prabhu. He knows that the audience will swallow anything he gives. Fake suicides, death reports, revivals, twists and coincidences- he shoves them all down your throat. As a viewer, the fabricated plot insulted my intelligence and undermined my exposure to cinema. Mankatha has a few moments but as a film it fails. Ajith's lover in the film is strictly against his smoking and drinking habits but the fact that he's a corrupt policeman accepting bribes from her father is perfectly fine. The few character attributes chipped into each character don't add up to a meaningful whole.
Ajith has given the film his all and his presence on screen is arresting, even with all the phony antics. Arjun plays second fiddle and does his job well. Anjali is asked to do nothing but stand beside Vaibhav for which she's rewarded with the opportunity to cry on screen, thus making her feel utilized. Premji Amaren does here what he's been doing since his debut. And so does everyone else. The comedy is powered by repetition and pop-culture references that are brought up, not as a tribute, but to reminisce with the audience.
The music videos are eyelid batting (except for 'Vilayadu Mankatha') with 'Balle Lakka' taking the cake. It pops up at a time when the film is nearing its end and pierces through your eardrums. Even the sounds of the gun shots were more pleasant. It is indeed a Venkat Prabhu game. He knew that the fans were blinded enough by idolism to not enjoy such a terrible song. Game over.
If you've not seen the film, I'd suggest you watch the promising trailer and derive your own story from it. That'll be more fun.