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Abhay Deol’s Manorama Six Feet Under: The neo-noir film that steered the actor’s career in a new direction

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It is not every day you come across a movie that engrosses you completely and makes you second-guess yourself despite its slow pace. Abhay Deol-starrer noir-detective movie Manorama Six Feet Under is a case in point. Deliberately slow in the first half, and surprisingly comical at the most simple and unexpected moments, the movie marked NH-10 filmmaker Navdeep Singh’s debut in Bollywood. If you see the poster of the movie and its trailer now, you may dismiss it as boring. As it turns out, Manorama Six Feet Under was anything but, thanks to Singh, who painstakingly draws you in and never lets you go.

Set against the backdrop of one sleepy Rajasthan town of Lakhot, Manorama the movie seems as sparse and desolate as its location. The crime thriller angle is also pulled out as almost a trick, you don’t know how gruesome and intricately things are interconnected even when the makers give you its first quietly ominous indication — the sudden appearance of a woman in her 30s, presenting herself as irrigation minister’s wife, at Satyaveer’s (Abhay Deol) doorstep one late night. She has read Satyaveer’s only attempt at being a writer, and is impressed by his novel’s detective. She wants him to do some spying in real life on her own husband, to see if he is really having an affair. Our complex, almost-bored hero accepts. At least something exciting is propelling him to take out his rusty scooter on the dusty roads of Lakhot again. He is an exhausted, nearly out-of-work PWD engineer.

Things begin to unfurl, and no one is as they seem at first. This includes the unassuming hero who is intelligent and sincere, someone who genuinely wants to help. But the wannabe detective is an ordinary man who is compelled to take extraordinary steps given the situation. It’s interesting to see things from Satyaveer’s perspective, the exhausted man who is fed up of being nagged by his wife, and his simple, dull existence. Satyaveer is not the wisest owl, it takes time for him to piece things together. He is not holier than thou either, he almost cheats on his wife by nearly kissing Raima Sen’s Sheetal.

These layered personalities, and the stories they tell to each other and themselves keeps the facade of a crime thriller alive. Manorama Six Feet Under is actually a human story of a lonely man seemingly trapped in a desert of a place.

The dialogues are exquisite. Sample this for instance — “Yeh sheher bhi mere jeevan ki tarah lagne laga tha – sukha, khushk, niras aur pyaasa…shaayad registaan aise hi bante hain.” One of the reasons why director Navdeep never uses Rajasthan’s natural beauty to enhance the loveliness of the film is because he never wanted the scenic locales to overtake the story itself. But he need not have worried, for the film’s main character Satyaveer plays on Lakhot’s barrenness by constantly drawing parallels to his own dreary life. The crimes and secrets Lakhot endured and kept buried in its womb for so long, makes it a pivotal character in the film.

Interestingly, this film came to Abhay Deol at a point when he had only done romantic comedies. But in 2007, with Manorama Six Feet Under, Deol played a version of himself that had never been seen on screen before. One that was neither lovable nor goofy; but was older, more mature and complex. After writing a whole article full of praise about the feature, it seems needless to add that Abhay was well-cast; he passed with flying colours. And maybe this was the film that made him take on a more selective approach to movies. During a making video for the movie, Abhay is heard talking about how he doesn’t want to be a typical Bollywood hero — “Honestly speaking, I don’t want to do song and dance. But having said that, a good film is a good film, if it’s well-written, well-cast and well shot, those are the elements that make up a movie, and not whether they have songs or not.”

Amen to that.

You can watch Manorama Six Feet Under on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.  

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