‘Oh Manapenne’ movie review: A feel-good romance that feels refreshing despite its contrivances

It is just a boy meets girl story. But how they meet and how that meeting changes their lives makes it heart-warming.

(Disclaimer: I have not watched Oh Manapenne’s original, Tharun Bhascker’s National Award-winning Pelli Choopulu. In a way, that is good because, with remakes, the film-watching mostly becomes an exercise in comparison.)

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Despite its Telugu cinema roots, Kaarthikk Sundar’s debut film, Oh Manapenne, reminded me of Malayalam cinema. The feeling of warmth it attempts to evoke through simple, no-frills storytelling we have now come to associate with filmmakers in Kerala. There is hardly anything that does not serve the purpose of the plot. No unnecessary action sequences. No independent comedy tracks. No narration-pausing songs. And, there is nothing extraordinary at stake, too: it is just a boy meets girl story. But how they meet and how that meeting changes their lives makes it heart-warming.

The film opens with Karthik (Harish Kalyan) and his family and friends hurrying to get to a girl’s house for matchmaking. They struggle to find their way. Meanwhile, at Shruthi’s (Priya Bhavani Shankar) house, her room door has an issue with its lock. Karthik, then, finally makes it to Shruthi’s house. At the doorstep, he sees her and introduces himself as the "payyan" (boy) before telling her his name. She says she is the "ponnu" (girl). Just then, her pet pigeon shits on his shirt. So, he has to go to her room to wash it. And, Shruthi’s cousin, a little boy, shuts her door by mistake. The "girl" and the "boy" meet this way. They happen to get stuck inside a room. So, they start talking without formal introductions. Just as they get to know more about each other, the door opens. Karthik’s father tells him that they are at the wrong house! Shruthi is not the girl they were supposed to meet.

Oh Manapenne

  • Director: Kaarthikk Sundar
  • Cast: Harish Kalyan, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Abishek Kumar, Anbuthasan, Ashwin Kumar Lakshmikanthan and others
  • Storyline: A good-for-nothing guy changes his ways after meeting an enterprising girl
  • Duration: 140 minutes

However, at the end of the film, we realise that Shruthi is the girl Karthik was supposed to meet. All the little mishaps on the day of their meeting, including the pigeon shitting on his shirt, were serendipitous.

These happy coincidences flow one after another. But soon after, the film starts feeling contrived. Writing seems to be the prime suspect. There are oft-too-seen Tamil cinema character traits. Karthik is trying to clear his arrears in BE, so he does not even know how to spell ‘thermodynamics’ when his dad asks him to. Karthik’s friend, who is also a wastrel like him, has to behave like an alcoholic. He says something along the lines of "Dry day naale sogam dhaan da. Bloody unprofessional drinkers." Karthik’s ex-girlfriend is a sponger who forces him to pay her parlour expenses. At one point, Karthik calls Shruthi’s idea of a food truck business "restaurant on wheels". The latter, an MBA gold-medallist, is super-impressed he called it that. It is difficult not to doubt Shruthi’s copywriting skills. The ending was also a little too convenient and slightly over-the-top.

Yet despite these contrivances, the second half has a lot of moments that make it likeable. Harish Kalyan appears convincing as a good-for-nothing guy who slowly amends his ways because of the girl he meets. The character reminds one of Siddharth Mehra (Ranbir Kapoor) from Wake Up Sid.

I, however, liked Priya Bhavani Shankar’s character and performance more. Considering female characters in Tamil cinema are mostly insignificant and "strong female characters" usually keep mouthing lines about women empowerment, Shruthi was refreshing. She is enterprising but also real with her flaws and vulnerabilities. When Karthik tells her he is okay to marry someone for dowry, she does not lecture him about the evils of dowry; instead, she makes him realise how he does not respect himself. When her ex-boyfriend who dumped her without notice returns to apologise, she slaps him. "This is not for breaking up. But for not doing it properly," she tells him.She is soon back on her feet, trying to start a business. Though Karthik mends his ways because of her, Shruthi is not merely his redemption arc. One hopes to see more such women on screen.

Oh Manapenne is streaming on Disney+Hotstar

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