Review - Manorama Six Feet Under: Sleaze, corruption, and intrigue in small town India.

wogma rating: Buy the DVD already (?)



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As the largest film making country in the world, we have not had indigenous versions of the Noir genre of films on our screens except for a short period in the fifties. More power to debutante director Navdeep Singh for having the courage and the vision to give us what is possibly the finest noir film in an Indian language.

Yes, in the fifties we had them for sure, notable amongst them being Baazi and Aar Paar, both directed by Guru Dutt, but they suffered from the fact that the mores of film making in India did not really allow the chief protagonist to be cynical, morally ambiguous, and deeply pessimistic about the world: a world that was jaded and characterized by an acute loss of faith in ‘universal’ values of love and justice.

The Noir (French for night, literally and figuratively standing for ‘black film’) genre gave us such Hollywood films like The Maltese Falcon and The Asphalt Jungle in the forties and fifties, and more recently the conventions of the genre have been reworked in neo noir films like the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

So what does the director do here? Navdeep Singh has crafted a film dripping with nuances of life in a small desert town, and has used the metaphor of the desert to suggest the aridness and sterility of the life of the chief protagonist, Satyaveer Randhawa, underplayed superbly by Abhay Deol.

We have the character elements of the noir genre in ample measure: a morally ambiguous, loveless world, populated by cynical and apathetic characters each driven by their own lusts and greed, the femme fatale who is sympathetic to the hero, mysterious damsels in distress, the aging patriarch with his insatiable ravenousness for power justifying his actions by appealing to the “natural order of things”, crooked cops, scummy goons, and nosey neighbors.

The script is an inspired retelling of Roman Polanski’s seventies noir classic Chinatown and to the director’s credit, he does not hide it, but instead pays tribute to it in his own way by reworking the plot and some key scenes to suit his point of view. He also throws in a direct reference to the original just to make sure you get the point.

Unlike traditional noir films, the camera work does not frame scenes in stark contrasts of light and dark, with fog and or steam cloaking people in a half light, neither is the film set in the mean streets of a city lovingly photographed to make sure that all the grittiness and grime stand out. Instead here we have the desert in all its harshness as well as in gentler moods, and scarred and pitted monuments serve as the back drop to existential ruminations and the unfolding of the plot.

The camera lingers on the characters and their reactions; it frames the characters tightly, especially inside darkened rooms, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that goes well with the dark machinations in the plot.
The cast has done a good job: both Raima Sen and Gul Panag are competent, and Vinay Pathak is simply superb as the local Sub Inspector with his cynical outlook on life.

The film does not have a climax in the conventional sense, which may leave a lot of people feeling highly dissatisfied, but a degree of redemption is achieved by the chief protagonist. Satyaveer Randhawa is again not a hero, he is not the good guy who is absolutely honest and incorruptible, but as the film proceeds, we understand that he is corrupt too. Evil is not vanquished in the end, neither does justice triumph. Evil is something that is at best lived with, because it resides in us and not in the "villain". All that we can do is to come to terms with it and with ourselves.

For those who are looking for a typical "thriller" film with the "good guy" vanquishing the "bad guys", this film is best avoided.

For those who like their life complex, their characters morally ambiguous, and would like to ponder on the workings of fate and existence, this is a film that you must see.

This review is by guest reviewer Anand S. Anand lives in Pune and is a Miscellaneous Culture Vulture. He is deeply interested in music, food, books, films, and intelligent women. He views himself as a Falstaffian figure, who does his best to indulge his appetites.

Manorama Six Feet Under - Movie Details

Manorama Six Feet Under - Trailer

Comments (7)

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Piu Sur:

!!! Major movie spoiler in this comment !!!

Cinema always depicts life and to a certain extent tells the truth. Abuse of the girl child has been woven as a key element that surrounds mystery. Though it gives a negative view of social work, the topic of abuse of the girl child is very relevant.

The film confirms that child abuse is a manifestation of patriarchal power structure in which the girl child is seen as vulnerable, voiceless and agent less object. A 2006 small sample study reported that nearly one out of six boys and one in four girls in India are victim of sexual abuse. Almost 80% of the sufferers are children below 17 years of age, 20% below eight and almost 50 % of them are below 12.

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Hi Anand,
I just saw this film, and then read ur review. I was very impressed that our newer directors and writers are making these sorts of films in India.
Such complex and realistic characters with their own drives and motivations and such a dark plot and awesome pacing really made this a delicious film to watch. I hope we have more of this noirish films made.
Deol's performance along with the other actors in the film was fantastic; and I am glad there were no songs or hero whooping villain ass anywhere.

Your review was on the dot.


rightly said. the difference, as you spotted is a morally corrupted hero ( an absolute no-no for bollywood) and a vague ending that indicate at the idea of fate, destiny, consequences of karma. nice mention of the desert and it's relevance. Is this navdeep Singh's first movie?


@ Ram, there is a HUGE section of the audience who thoroughly enjoys this dance and song on pure white and lush green topography. Only when the size of this section of the audience starts reducing are we going to see more films like Manorama out in the open. And the beauty is, it's happening. Slowly but surely...


Well, prashant, this review is by Anand, I'll pass on your compliments to him.

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