As you may have read, my little dog was put to sleep this past weekend. I was feeling very sad about it and needed something to take my mind off things. I didn’t want to watch Baltimore police drama The Wire, which I’ve been working my way through and I didn’t want to watch the movie I borrowed from Netflix - Stalker, a Soviet-era Russian sci-fi movie. Glancing over a pile of DVDs stacked on my bookshelf, Moggina Manasu jumped out at me. Here was a film I purchased - sight unseen - because it won a bunch of awards at the South Indian Filmfare Awards, was produced by the same guy who did Mungaru Male, and had a strong female lead. I decided to go for it!
Well, let me tell you that Moggina Manasu is exactly as advertised - a sweet and engaging film about four friends at college. It’s structured as a series of vignettes, all loosely centered around first year college student Chanchala (Radhika Pandit). While I may not have been a teenage girl in Karnataka, I was a teenage girl in America not so very long ago and the experiences that Chanchala and her friends go through rang very true to me. Here are a few things that Chanchala and her friends learn:
* Boys who think treating women with disrespect is funny will treat you with disrespect if you try to date them. Avoid them.
* Boys who get jealous over nothing are big trouble - and on a related note, if a boy tries to tell you that you can’t see your friends anymore, dump him ASAP.
* Getting a crush on your teacher is normal, but don’t mistake it for true love.
* Being able to speak English doesn’t make you smarter than somebody who doesn’t - everybody has something they are good at.
* Wanting a boyfriend is normal but don’t neglect your studies.
* Having an abortion is an option for girls in trouble.
* Suicide is not romantic; it’s tragic. And permanent.
Recently, Bollywood has begun falling all over itself to produce films that are “realistic” - which seems to mean films that only have songs done with a montage and have either trite stories about wealthy young couples with ridiculously easy lives or “gritty” stories about “real people” (which is code for the very poor.) I don’t like either of those genres - neither of them seems all that realistic and lip sync songs are one of the best parts of popular Indian film making! I drag my feet to films without them. What makes Moggina Manasu so charming is that it does tell a realistic story about things that actually happen to ordinary girls but it does it using popular Indian film techniques. You cheer them on to make the right decisions and feel sympathy when they make bad ones and then you get a nice musical number.
In a way, it’s almost like a female version of Dil Chahta Hai - except with less focus on romance.
Chanchala (Radhika Pandit in her first role) is our audience point of view character. She is a good girl from a good family, who has sheltered her somewhat but isn’t afraid to let her spread her wings.
Renuka Devi (a winning performance by Shubha Poonja) is a country girl who gets in over her head in her rush to be accepted.
Sanjana (Sangeetha Shetty) is the most forward of the gang. She comes from a cold family and when she reaches her breaking point, is unafraid to strike out on her own.
Deeksha (Manasi) treats her boyfriends like cash machines but is less superficial than she initially seems.
One of the bravest scenes in the film comes where one of the girls comes to the others and tearfully tells that she is pregnant - and the other girls suggest an abortion. The way the scene was handled felt very emotionally real and when one of the girls explodes with anger, the camera begins to shake. You can feel her rage at the unfairness of the situation her friend is put into.
We in America think we make “realistic” films when the stories are plausible, but nothing felt more true to me than that that shaking camera expressing her rage. Maybe that is why I keep coming back to these small, middle-class Sandalwood films. The emotion in them runs so true. Even in a film like Nenapirali where I wanted to stab the lead actor in the face because I hated him so much, there was still so much else to love about the film that I could excuse it.
I did read through a few reviews on different sites that seemed to be fairly indifferent to the film - I’m not sure if it is because they were male reviewers who didn’t really identify with the characters or if the vignette style of storytelling isn’t for everybody but if you are one of those people who bemoans the lack of stories out there that focus exclusively on the female experience, I highly recommend you check out Moggina Manasu. It’s really worth a watch.
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl