Venkat Prabhu’s quickie is a fun adventure with an unsatisfying climax

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The plot of Manmadha Leelai is interspersed with events that occur in two periods. In 2010, Sathya (Ashok Selvan), a student, invites himself to the house of Poorni (Samyuktha Hegde, who succeeds rather well in a delicate role), a girl with whom he chats online. With his “father” (Jayaprakash) leaving town, he plots to get fucked. Meanwhile, in 2020, the same Sathya, who is now a great fashion designer, invites Leela (Riya Suman, effective as a femme fatale), a computer scientist who wrongly ended up on his doorstep, into his home. His wife Anu (Smruthi Venkat, again playing Miss Goody Two Shoes) has gone to visit her parents with their baby girl, and Sathya sees it as the perfect opportunity for a one-night stand.

Venkat Prabhu shows us how these two nights play out for its protagonist, cutting alternately from one to the other. The smooth editing (by Venkat Raajen), informed by the confident writing, ensures that there are no jerks in this non-linear storytelling, with scenes flowing from one timeline to the next seamlessly. Venkat Prabhu writes these scenes in such a way that they mirror each other. Both of these events occur on a rainy night, involve drinking and changing clothes. As in adult comedies, the gaze is distinctly masculine. Sathya is built as the Predator, who deftly makes his moves to ensnare women and achieve what he wants – sex. Tamilazhagan’s camera lustfully roams the two women’s bodies, capturing every curve and flash of skin. And the tone of Premgi Amaren’s somewhat insistent background score is celebratory in these moments, with nadaswaram and mridangam, reflecting Sathya’s joy. That said, the first half is more or less fun.

The film reaches its intermission point when the missing family member unexpectedly returns in these two timelines, leaving us with a situation on the edge of the siege – will Sathya get caught? Venkat Prabhu continues in the same playful tone, giving us tense situations in which his protagonist is so close to being exposed. And one begins to wonder how the director could tie these leads together, with a wide range of possible directions he can take. It even gives us a halfway twist that turns the tables on its ego-piercing protagonist in one of those timelines.

Unfortunately, the director – who pulled off an even more complex narrative with Maanaadu – chooses the route often traveled here. What was a tense adult comedy turns into an unimaginative crime movie with a practical ending and a predictable twist. Even tonally, the film becomes something flashy and larger than life. And it’s up to Ashok Selvan – who is terrific as a soft-spoken womanizer who works with determination to hit his target, which makes his frustrations amusing to us – to drive this transformation. The actor tries, but with the writing letting him down, he barely manages to keep this quickie from climaxing on an unsatisfying note.

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