Director Ajay Bhupathi’s debut film RX 100 (2017) had shockingly bold characters and content, and it minted moolah at the box office. The film was also dubbed and remade. Payal Rajput became one of the most sought-after actors for strong, bold characters after RX 100. Bhupathi’s second venture Maha Samudram (2021) was equally discussed for the colossal failure it turned out to be with the casting of Sharvanand, Siddhardh and Aditi Rao Hydari. Ajay and Payal are coming together again in Mangalavaaram, which is touted to be a ‘never before seen bold’ cinema.
The film begins as a tale of an innocent friendship between young kids Shailaja and Ravi in Maha Lakshmi Puram village. The friendship gets broken due to a mishap, and another incident at home leaves Shailaja entirely alone in the world. After this brief episode, the story jumps forward to 15 years later. The village is now home to opportunistic people with illicit relationships and those who meddle in the affairs of other people. It is all shown to us through the eyes of Kashi Raju (Ajay Ghosh) and Puli Gadu (Meesala Lakshman), who give us an incessant commentary on everything that is happening in the village.
Prakasham Babu (Chaitanya Krishna) is the jzamindar of the village. Though his financial resources have diminished, his control over the village is firm and undisputed. His wife, Lakshmi (Divya Pillai), is god-fearing and a do-gooder, who manages all the affairs of the house. The zamindar’s atheism is a constant point of confrontation between them. As a panoply of characters fill this canvas of Maha Lakshmi Puram, the story moves to the next level.
Soon, wall writings appear here and there, describing illicit relationships in the village, and the persons pointed out end up dead, casting doubt over whether they are suicides or murders. Fingers are pointed at various people. Newly-joined Sub Inspector (Nanditha Shwetha) is sure that these are murders and works hard to prove it.
Are these really murders? If they are, who is committing them? What happened to the young girl Shailaja? Answers to these questions form the rest of the story.
Ajay Bhupathi tries to bring out the double standards and hypocrisy of society with regard to amoral sexual relations by juxtaposing them with the troubles of a sexually deviant character. The contrast here kind of works against the primary purpose. Hyper-sexuality or open display of sexuality in a woman is bound to be criticized anywhere in Indian society, more so in a village like Maha Lakshmi Puram. Having dealt with a woman who daringly pursues her desire in RX 100, his first film, Ajay, perhaps, wanted to go a step higher with this film. His ambition to outdo himself may have weighed too much on the movie. The message gets lost somewhere in between.
The director succeeds in creating a world with various interesting characters. All the actors fit their roles excellently. Ajay Ghosh, Meesala Lakshman, Chaitanya Krishna, Divya Pillai, Ravindra Banerjee, Nandita Swetha, and Payal Rajput deliver the goods. Dasharadhi Shivendra’s cinematography, particularly during the night scenes, is outstanding. So is Ajaneesh Loknath’s musical score. The production standards of the film are top-notch.
The scenes of Shailaja’s sexual awakening and her desires devised with the help of butterflies showcase her emotions well. The sadomasochism displayed through the use of rubber bands, etc, generates mixed reactions. The sexually hyper Shailaja and the innocent child we see at the beginning of the movie are poles apart and do not help in any way to understand the character properly.
Mangalavaaram is an ambitious film that gets lost in the jungle it creates. This is definitely an adult film (certified A) that is not recommended for children or home viewing. The sexual identity of men and women in society is an important discussion raised in this film. Ajay Bhupathi merits appreciation for choosing such a bold topic.
Mangalavaaram is not a film for all.
Mangalavaaram movie cast: Payal Rajput, Chaitanya Krishna, Divya Pillai, Ravindra Vijay, Ajay Ghosh, Meesala Lakshman, Muralidhar Goud
Mangalavaaram movie director: Ajay Bhupathi
Mangalavaaram movie rating: 2.5 stars