Manjummel Boys Movie Review: Chidambaram's tense thriller is elevated by supreme technical prowess

Chidambaram S Poduval
In Jan-e-Man, Chidambaram proved incredibly adept at handling emotions and the fun and nuances of male-male bonding. The same goes for Manjummel Boys.
Manjummel Boys Movie Review

Manjummel Boys Movie Cast & Crew

Cast : Soubin Shahir,
Production : Sree Gokulam Movies,Parava Films
Music Director : Sushin Shyam

In an early scene in Manjummel Boys, two characters casually discuss faith. One is a believer; the other is not. When the other, Subash (Sreenath Bhasi), asks the believer, Prasad (Khalid Rahman), what God means to him, he replies, "Like a light from above," a response met with ridicule. Hours later, Subash would be trapped underneath an unimaginably perilous cave and encounter a light from above, the nature of which I don't want to reveal at the moment.

My point is there is a purpose for everything writer-director Chidambaram does in the early portions of his extraordinary follow-up to his directorial debut, Jan-e-Man, a pandemic-era smash hit. When writing a survival thriller, we need to have at least some level of emotional connection to the characters in it. Their friendship, camaraderie, loyalty, conviction, determination and recklessness should look convincing. Chidambaram succeeds at this; he creates enough situations to demonstrate these qualities.

For example, the above conversation I mentioned, though so mundane on the surface, resonates strongly considering everything that happens later. The same goes for showing us that these friends have a penchant for tug-of-war. Why? You'll see it later. Even the situation that kicks off the film's central incident is one we don't see coming. Manjummel Boys is a survival thriller not in a hurry to get to the main events. Chidambaram's screenplay is quite economical at establishing the characters and the settings before introducing us to chaos.

Though I wished for more emotional investment with regard to Sreenath Bhasi's character, that is a very minor shortcoming. Perhaps it doesn't matter. At least we buy that he means so much to his friends and that, to them at least, his survival is of utmost importance. They have nothing to gain from him; it's a simple act of selflessness. The film gets into a higher plane the minute they make up their mind not to abandon him, especially after considering the low survival rate in this place called the 'Gunaa Caves' (named after the popular Kamal Haasan film; if you haven't seen yet, you should get to it immediately), and the persistent discouragement from the authorities who gave up hope on rescuing anyone who, in the past, had the misfortune of getting trapped there. Neither did anyone make it out alive, nor were they able to find the remains, they are told.

Any 90s' kid who grew up watching a fair amount of Tamil movies from the time is bound to get hit by a strong wave of nostalgia when they see Manjummel Boys opening with a graphic novel-style recreation of a few key scenes from Gunaa (1991) while the dialogues of Kamal Haasan and Roshini as they discuss the lyrics of 'Kanmani Anbodhu Kadhalan'. The film later gives us -- no spoilers here -- an immeasurable degree of high when the song makes its re-entry in a place where -- well, let me say for now that whoever came up with the idea to do that, whether it's Chidambaram or composer Sushin Syam (once again at his peak here), is a genius! Fans of this song will have a newfound appreciation for it once they see how the team has used it here.

And do I need to tell you how good -- no, strike that -- great Shyju Khalid's camera work is? You'd know if you've seen Kumbalangi Nights, Nayattu, and Joji. With the use of an aspect ratio that recalls that of the recent Bramayugam, Shyju shoots Kodaikanal, the areas around the cave, and the interiors of the cave itself (recreated, no doubt, by the expert hands of production designer Ajayan Chalissery) in a way that gives us their complete scale and sense, while making the humans visiting them minuscule in comparison, and thus emphasising, brilliantly, the thought that man is nothing in front of nature. Editor Vivek Harshan is efficient at conveying the energy of a situation; he knows when to hold a scene longer than necessary -- the rescue attempt sequences are truly nail-biting -- and when to keep things moving faster.
In Jan-e-Man, Chidambaram proved incredibly adept at handling emotions and the fun and nuances of male-male bonding. The same goes for Manjummel Boys. While this one -- based on a true story of a group of friends, like the recent Romancham -- is relatively heavier in tone, it's not without humour, served in the right places, with the right amount of sensitivity. As a survival thriller, it sets a very high benchmark, and subsequent films in this genre are likely to be measured against it.

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