"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemingway
While I punch the keys on my laptop to write about the Telugu film Manam, my feelings are similar - instead of blood, I have tears in my eyes. Tears that refuse to stop long after the show got over. Tears that seem to emanate from a complex set of emotions triggered by nostalgia, sadness and joy - all at the same time. It is as if the movie has done some kind of black magic on me. The only way for me to make sense of all those tears is to write this blog post. Who knows, you might be feeling the same way too after watching the film.
One basic assumption before watching Manam is that this is a film about glorifying the decades old ANR legacy which starts with Akkineni Nageswara Rao in the 1940s to his son Nagarjuna starting in the 80s and then onto his grandson Naga Chaitanya starting in the new millennium – all of whom star in this film. It is an easy temptation for the film makers to fall into a trap of over the top hero worship but Manam pleasantly surprises and almost shocks everyone with its approach to storytelling.
Manam isn’t just a film about glorifying the legacy of one family but is a mirror to the existence and continuity of life beyond the pendulum of life and death!
Very rarely do we come across films that tie in the elements of deep philosophy and love while retaining the essence of glorifying a legacy. Manam is that rare gem which achieves the impossible, and this is why it made me cry…
Dynasties and Legacies
Throughout history there have been many dynasties. Be it the era of the Mughals or the British monarchy. There is an element of aura and mystique that surrounds them. Dynasties survive on their ability to leave a legacy, a legacy that can continue to live on much beyond the ones who originally started them.
In current times there is a certain disdain towards anything that has the word dynasty attached to it. It is especially true for politics where we have recently seen a political dynasty come to its knees. Merit they say is more important than belonging to a family. Yet, what many people don’t consciously realize is that legacies are not just built on the basis of merit but on a basis of continuity – a feeling of things moving forward seamlessly.
Change is something we are skeptical about and legacies provide us the comfort zone to think that everything is normal with the world. It is true of brands and it is true of dynasties, be it political, business or filmy ones, which also includes film franchisees. It isn’t the lack of opportunities for others that see the rise of star kids as the next superstars but it is a bias we as an audience have - we accept legacies far more easily than outsiders. Even in the case of outsiders who eventually succeed, say for instance a Shahrukh Khan or a Sachin Tendulkar, there is a confirmation bias that comes into play. I will speak more about that in a bit. By the way, both SRK and Sachin have unknowingly become a part of a future legacy, where we have already placed faith in the abilities of their children to follow in their father’s footsteps.
Let’s go south
Coming back to the ANR family, they aren’t alone in this legacy thing. The legacy business in the film industry is very strong down south, especially in the Telugu film industry. There is a very strong NTR legacy carried on by his son Balakrishna and grandson Tarak who now calls himself NTR, a Superstar Krishna legacy carried on by his son who is incidentally now called Superstar Mahesh Babu, a Mega Star Chiranjeevi legacy that seems to have sown the maximum number of seeds with his son Charan and nephew Arjun turning out to be bankable box office stars, and his brother Pawan Kalyan turning into a box office tsunami of sorts who now far exceeds Chiranjeevi’s charisma.
All these legacies sustain and survive on the power of the support of fans, who treat them like demi gods. The word fans might bring to mind pictures of people pouring milk over hoardings of Rajinikanth, etc. They are one type, but there are many others who are ordinary folks like you and me, busy with our daily lives yet willing to watch the first day first show of our favorite star’s movie. I am sure you are one too.
The easiest bait these stars have is to excite the fans. Like they say, play it to the gallery. It is very rare for them to come out of a set pattern and rejection is an option that isn’t easily digestible for both the parties. That is the main reason most of our movies follow a formula. Forget our movies, look at Hollywood, they seem to be trapped in a formula of sorts too, the only difference is – the legacies over there belong to comic book characters, the Spiderman and the Batman kinds. No wonder we see one sequel after another or reboots of successful franchises from the past. That reminds me, Kochadaiiyaan which has a 3D avatar of Rajinikanth is nothing but an attempt to continue his legacy in a new format. The legacy has to go on, that’s what sells tickets.
I am sure you are now wondering - all this is fine, but where is the scope for tears that I speak about at the start of this post? Where does Manam come into the picture?
To make sense of Manam, I need to first speak about life and death, and what it means to me.
Life & Death
The mysteries of life and death have always fascinated me. On a few occasions I wrote about them on my blog too – Death: My new best friend and Earth is an Aeroplane being two of them. I often wonder what happens to us after we die. I wondered more so after I lost my father while I was in college. There isn’t a convincing answer yet that mankind has for that question but we have unique ways of dealing with death.
For every loss of a loved one we tend to fill that void with another person’s presence. It might not be even death, this happens when we move to new cities and make new friends – we look for patterns. We tend to find replacements to people we used to know earlier. Even a Sachin Tendulkar started as a mental replacement to a Sunil Gavaskar. A Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and a Salman Khan are like the Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand of the past. We love to fill the void left by those before us.
Young men and women knowingly or unknowingly look for partners who are like their own parents. When kids are born, we tend to look for similarities – he looks like me, she looks like my mom, my grand mom, etc.
We are constantly on a match the following spree to keep our legacies going!
We tend to depend on it as a shield, as a mechanism to face the uncertainties of our existence. We crave for continuity in life and the glue that binds this life and death situation is LOVE. Without love there is no meaning to either life or to death. Love is the thread that keeps this pendulum swinging. This is where the core of the film Manam lies too.
X, Y and Z axis of Manam
Manam deals with the subject of life and death in the form of an innovative reincarnation story. Reincarnation stories are not new to us, but they are usually one dimensional - between long lost lovers, like the X axis on a graph; or parents, like the Y axis on a graph.
Manam traverses the X and Y axis together by intelligently intertwining romantic love and parental love in the same reincarnation tale. It very strongly reinforces beliefs that we didn’t know existed within us. Manam fills a void in our hearts. It makes us believe that the ones we loved and lost are somewhere out there; it is just a matter of time before we come face to face with them again. The tears are just a byproduct of this realization.
Manam shoves death in our face, yet gives us hope that life will eventually win!
There is a Z axis to the movie too, which makes it even more special. It is an advantage that a possible remake of this film might never have.
The three generations of actors from the same family portraying the lead roles – that is the Z axis in the movie which kicks in the elements of a continuing legacy. Interestingly, even the romantic pairing between Naga Chaitanya and Samantha and Nagarjuna and Shriya have elements of a continuing legacy from their successful pairing in earlier films. Needless to say, there is terrific chemistry between all of them and sparks fly right off the screen.
Sum total of all this is an extraordinary amalgamation of emotions, mysteries of life and star power, each tugging at our hearts from the X, Y and Z directions. It is a concoction that I wonder how the film makers arrived at - by design or by accident, because I have never seen anything like this ever.
My salutes and heartfelt thanks to the team that made Manam possible - they have not only managed to continue the legacy of the legendary ANR by making us believe that ANR Lives On but also in making us believe that Life itself Lives On!
Kartik Dayanand Boddapati
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