Every time a movie comes along that tells the story of a teacher who is determined to bring about a distinct transformation in his student's lives, you think of Robin Williams and the Dead Poet's Society. It need not be because the two films are noticeably alike; rather the Peter Weir film has managed to set definite benchmarks in the genre, that overriding it is bound to be an uphill task.
It should be admitted that the Welton Academy is a far cry from the Govt. High School at Vannanmala, that is literally falling to bits and pieces. The school, with Headmaster Karunakara Kurup (Nedumudi Venu) at its helm, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons; a cent percent failure in the SSLC exams, being just one of them.
Things seem headed for a change, with the arrival of Vinay Chandran (Prithviraj), a young and sprightly teacher who has sought his first appointment at this decrepit school, for reasons of his own. He takes charge of the tenth grade; a small group of twelve students consisting of seven boys and five girls. The girls waste no time debating as to who will ultimately win the charming lecturer over, and get down to business. And the boys, focus their binoculars even better and keep a watch over the girls.
The rich character study that Mohanan offers is what makes this film appealing; at least for the major part. The headmaster who has conveniently started using the class rooms to store fertilizers, Pavanan (Kottayam Nazir) who is teacher by the staff attendance register and real estate dealer otherwise, SK(Anil Murali) the trade union leader who teaches less and preaches more, Chandni (Samvrutha) the egg vendor who is also the physical education tutor and Aziz (Anoop Chandran) the much married teacher who sleeps through out the day irrespective of whether he needs to be in class or not. Surprisingly, its Vinay Chandran who suffers, because his character is eventually reduced to a meek revision of the inspirer teacher role that we have been familiar with even before.
People are really good and susceptible to change in Mohanan's film. He doesn't deny the average human the goodness that is more intrinsic than other wise, and the local Sub-Inspector (Suresh Krishna) vouchsafes this fact. And everyone, be it the wayward kids or the rebellious teachers or even the vile parent (Jagathy) decide to turn a new leaf, when the truth dawns and sense prevails.
After a charming first half, that briskly passes by, the film grinds to a halt. It gains no further momentum, and the story advances little ahead, which turns out to be a snag. Add to it, flashbacks from Vinay Chandran's past and an ill fitting romance, and in an hour 'Manikyakallu' turns out be a far cry from a splendid film that it could have been. Many instances in 'Manikyakallu' would remind you of Mohanan's previous film 'Katha Parayumbol'. The dramatic sequences that unfurl before a microphone should make you think of the striking denouement of the directors' first film. And there is even Salim Kumar leading a song, just as he did in the former flick.
Prithvi has been continually delivering solid performances, and this film could be yet another proud addition to the list. Samvrutha is getting better with each film, and one other actor who deserves a standing applause is Anil Murali. Here is an artiste who could put others on the scene into the shade within moments, and as the regretful teacher who doesn't mind admitting that he was wrong, Anil is terrific.
'Manikyakallu' is an uplifter film, no doubt, and has its share of heartrending moments. But it breaks no fresh ground in the theme that it undertakes, and the middlebrow manner that it adopts halfway through makes it an uneven piece of work.