'Martin Luther King', produced by YNOT Studios and Reliance Entertainment, was released in theatres today (October 27).
The story is set in a hamlet named Padamarapadu, whose small population is deeply divided between the Northerners and Southerners. The rivalry is rooted in the caste system. It is time for local body elections when the village president Kasi Viswanatham is paralyzed. His two sons from his two wives, Jagjivan Rao (VK Naresh) and Lokamanya Tilak (Venkatesh Maha), vie for the post by contesting on two different symbols.
Smile (Sampoornesh Babu) is a Dalit cobbler in the village who has been ill-treated all his life but is pampered by the two political rivals in the run-up to the election. What makes Smile so indispensable? What does Smile, who has been renamed as Martin Luther King, do with the attention he gets? That's what the political comedy is about.
The film was touted to be a tribute to the power of the common man in a Universal Adult Franchise-driven democracy like ours. Here is a marginalized cobbler who is torn between two political rivals, both of whom can turn violent in their quest for power and pelf. The Tamil original, 'Mandela', has been remade faithfully and that's where the problem lies.
Granted that this is a satirical comedy where the focus is expected to be on the central message. But that is no excuse for writing convenient scenes that are derived from a singular screenplay idea. The two half-brothers, played by VK Naresh and Venkatesh Maha, are equally incapable of tact. They think alike and are mysteriously on the same page in terms of gimmicks. Their emotional intelligence, their IQ - everything is at the same level.
They both arrive at the same spot (in two or three scenes) at once with surgical precision! What are the odds of two individuals converging in the same place every time they need to? This is all the more silly because, in one of the early scenes, one of them is shown to be stupid enough to promise a Goa trip to his friends if he were to win the election. The other candidate is smart enough to promise a cash transfer (for that's what today's leaders are doing, he says with an evil grin). You would expect the second one to pull himself ahead but, as the story progresses, he is clueless/intelligent to the same degree as the other candidate. They approach their father to seek a vote at once, not a minute late or early. One of them holds an election drill and the other one arrives at the place in no time. All this makes you wonder if the film has any other screenplay idea at all to offer.
Also, casting Maha as Naresh's rival was a bad decision for the simple reason that Maha is not as popular as Naresh. Slow-motion shots aside, the montage songs are absolutely basic and are fit to be in an Indie film made on a shoestring budget. One of the songs feels like a choir sung in a Church.
The whole idea of an educated woman (played by Sharanya Pradeep) enabling Smile to secure an identity card is a done-to-death cliche. Why could it not have been a male person doing it in return for a bribe or a gift? Why does it always have to be a caring woman? Is it because it allows for a platonic or semi-romantic relationship to take root?
Sampoornesh Babu is moving in a scene in the second half. Naresh is at his usual self. The rest of the cast hardly behave like the characters they are playing.
'Martin Luther King' has a thoroughgoing storyline. However, the remake is flawed and unintelligent in a number of ways. The writing department simply surrendered to the vision of the director of the Tamil original. Just not done.