While one would like to congratulate Thala Ajith for his 50th film, one cannot quite tell him well played. And though an improvement on his last outing, the disastrous Aasal (2010), let's just say Ajith has been part of far better films in the past.
Somewhere, Mankatha flounders in no man's land as director Venkat Prabhu is not able to convincingly bridge the wide gap between the two genres the film encompasses - a taught, noirish thriller involving a heist and its aftermath with duplicity and double crosses at one end and an unabashed star vehicle entertainer befitting his hero and his landmark film at the other. To be fair, the director's task is not easy as the two genres' very elements are at loggerheads with each other. While one demands a clever plot with well-fleshed out and interesting shaded characters, a tight narrative flow with edge-of-the-seat thrills, a cracker pace, solid twists and turns and be loophole free, the other genre demands 'items' like the hero's entry, the action and song sequences larger than life - logic be damned and dialogues that are whistle worthy. Consequently, you feel that the star has hijacked the film and key sequences like the heist itself fall flat as the priority becomes making the sequence big enough and full of silly illogical action (what was the need to ride the bike on one wheel for???) at the cost of a smart but ingenious method of stealing the loot. The film consequently fails to engross as it should with several let ups in its pacing. Also, a thriller needs to be clever with the twists genuinely shocking. Unfortunately, here a regular thriller watcher would easily see them coming a mile away especially the final one. And on top of that, there are certain loopholes that still leave you less than satisfied.
Sadly, the 'items' too leave a lot to be desired be it the hero's entry in a flying jeep (yes, yet again!) followed by a fight sequence and then a song (yes, even that yet again) or the non-happening songs which fail in all three departments - composition, picturisation and choreography. This has to be one of Yuvan Shankar Raja's weakest scores, the picturisations are ordinary and do nothing for the film - the song with the background changes only makes you to see what's happening in the background forgetting that Trisha and Ajith are dancing in the foreground - and the choreography for the entire film is uninspired! The cat and mouse game between Ajith and Arjun never rises to any great heights and the action sequences too are not really gasp-worthy.
Of course, there are sequences that do work well but even here it looks like Venkat Prabhu has probably not heard of that golden rule - enter a scene the latest you can and leave it the earliest you can. The scene just before the interval is great on conception but is milked and milked and goes on for so long while being so obvious in its treatment that it gets on your nerves beyond a point. In fact, much of the film tries desperately being superficially stylish (the shot with the various Ajiths when he is supposed to be planning the heist) as the content is clearly not heavy. The other scene that works really well is the one where Trisha comes to visit Ajith at his place and he has just managed to get Lakshmi Rai, with whom he has slept the night before, out of the way but is hunting for her bag that she has left behind so that Trisha doesn't see it! It has to be admitted it is great that Venkat Prabhu has invested in characters in this tale that are morally grey, the end to the hero's love story being extremely unconventional. And the end titles are bound to go down extremely well with Ajith's fans.
Of the performances, 'Action King' Arjun scores as the investigating officer. He looks smart, dashing and is entirely believable that he can indeed kick ass! And, he looks far more trimmer and fitter than Ajith whose double chin and stomach are a big no-no. In fact, Ajith looks a mite laboured with all that weight in the action scenes and dances, even more so as he is surrounded by the youngsters who are obviously trimmer, fitter and more energetic. There's no doubt he still has tremendous charisma and compensates by performance as he lifts several scenes with his towering screen presence alone while seeming to really enjoy himself in the film, but even here it has to be said that he has overplayed the manic bad man in the second half, getting into ham territory more times than one. The girls are wasted though Trisha comes off best, short and sweet, Lakshmi Rai is glam no doubt, Andrea barely makes an impact while Anjali shows some signs of the fine actress she is even though it is almost a blink-and-you-miss-her type of role. Jayaprakash is adequate enough but somewhere Venkat Prabhu's usual suspects come off best except Premgi Amaran clearly (and expectedly) playing to the gallery but irritatingly all the same.
The technicalities are disappointing and even shoddy for an A-1 film like this. Leave alone the songs and some of the action sequences - even the production design is a letdown with some of the sets positively tacky. Since the story is set in Mumbai, the film has underutilised the city with just essential exterior shots and maybe a little more and it shows. The background music and sound design is loud as hell and one has honestly had enough of bone creaking sounds as a character shakes his neck. The editing pace is inconsistent and the film is too full of 'Anthony cuts' - jumping the plot and then cutting to a flashback to reveal what happened and this palls after a point.
All in all, Mankatha finally falls short as neither is it an all out entertainer, nor is it a high-concept, exciting enough thriller. Still, the film has been marketed with enough hype surrounding it, which might help it sail through at the box-office (certainly the initial is bound to be huge) but there's no two ways about it - it is a disappointing watch.