The screen lights up with shots of the vast desert, a lone water tank. The dryness is later joined by the wryness of the voiceover, Lakhot is a small town in the Indian Desert the voice informs us and it is in the news only a couple of times every year and that too not for reasons its citizens could be proud of.
Chinatown is one of my favorite movies and it is also the first movie that comes to my mind if some poor soul comes to me and makes the often committed mistake of asking which film I would suggest. Those people never usually come back to me for more recommendations, either they are irritated with the film or the person who suggested it. I am no expert on movies, but I do take my movies quite seriously and I wish to dwell among them, think about them and smile knowingly when something is going to happen. Chinatown is that sort of movie in which you feel the weight, the layers and the length which makes you feel to view the film again, at least in parts.
Manorama Six Feet Under borrows much from the above mentioned film, but in a way in which makes you happy and not make you shudder with limitless disgust, which is the normal reaction when it comes to remakes and rehashes.
A viewer’s demand for an original script is a legitimate one, but how much should the viewer’s demands be considered during the making of a film is an even more legitimate question. If we are a dedicated and rational audience, we would get better films every following Friday. So the debates blurs at that point, and the only conclusion we can come to is by assessing a film by its worth. All that matters is that whether it is good film or not.
Certain movies, by mere mention of a thought of a remake are censured. To re-kindle the memory, the recent uproar by both people and critics on the decision to re-do Sholay, although such a thing was done it was not received openly. Similar instances have prevailed even in the west, when attempts were done to colorize classics like Casablanca.
Manorama may lack the smoky trumpet jazz of Chinatown or the world weariness of Jack Nicholson’s performance, but it makes up for it in spirit and sincerity. Satyaveer is a suspended engineer in a nondescript desert town with writerly aims, his first book Manorama not going down too well. The humdrum of his life is brought to life by a mysterious lady in need of a detective.
Manorama, like Chinatown works on two fronts, the social and the personal. The social theme of the drought and bringing water to the desert and on the personal theme of betrayal, and like the sub-title goes ‘In the desert, nothing is what it seems’.
The director is clearly a devotee of the 1974 film and goes on to reference it in a matter-of-fact way, in places where he could have ripped off scenes without humility, Navdeep Singh decides to take a slightly different path and necessarily Indian, say like how there is not a proper concept of ‘a private detective’ in India and how every working man is tied down to his family and immediate circle of expecting in-laws and the importance of Diwali and every day humor even among thugs. Navdeep Singh scores in these parts, making the movie more accessible than its parent.
Chinatown itself hark backs to the film noirs of the fifties, Robert Towne’s immortal scripts dives into the sick minds of the people who walk the sun-light streets of LA (picturized expertly in color) shown from the view of a flawed but wise-cracking protagonist, the movie made critics come up with terms like neo-noir to define it.
Manorama Six Feet Under is a commendable film, not because it leaves us with no option but to compare it with its predecessor but because it achieves exactly what it sets out to achieve, in my opinion viz an Indian version of Chinatown.
I think Manorama Six Feet Under is a must watch, not just for people who grumble about the ‘heaviness’ of Chinatown but for everyone who loves a good mystery.
Meanwhile, you can listen to the love theme from Chinatown