A decade of Eddelu Manjunatha: serious laughing matter

Eddelu Manjunatha was a brilliant character study of a lazy and aimless individual who becomes a societal liability.

When the quirky teaser of ‘Ranganayaka’– starring Jaggesh and helmed by Guruprasad – was released earlier this month, the response from the young brigade of Kannada cinema was
noteworthy.

Rishab Shetty, Suni and Pawan Wadeyar seemed thrilled by the surprise announcement of the film. They are among a bunch of directors who changed the face of Kannada industry
with their fresh ideas and distinct style of filmmaking.

Yet, with their support for ‘Ranganayaka’on social media, they were showing genuine interest in an actor-director duo that made a huge mark in the 2000s, a time when Kannada cinema
was plagued by unexciting stories and outdated filmmaking. This speaks volumes about the combination that gave us ‘Mata’ (2006) and ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’ (2009).

‘He/she offers something different’ is the most overused line for a director but it’s an apt one to describe Guruprasad’s works. On paper, a bold story that questioned people who see institutions such as mutts as sacred would have been a risky storyline for a debutant. But Guruprasad made a roaring entry to Sandalwood with ‘Mata’. He then passed the proverbial litmus test for a one-film old director with his sophomore flick ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’, which was also successful.

Guruprasad’s no-holds-barred realism came as a welcome relief for the audience. Both the films had a strong touch of black comedy, a genre seldom attempted in Kannada. With
‘Mata’and ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’ gaining cult status, the excitement around ‘Ranganayaka’ is natural. The timing of Ranganayaka’s launch couldn’t have been better as 2019 marks a decade of ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’, undoubtedly Guruprasad’s best work in his four-film old career.

It spoke about the perils of unemployment at a time when the recession was making headlines. The film was a brilliant character study of a lazy and aimless individual
who becomes a societal liability. With the one-liner ‘Maneg obba Manjunatha made in India’, Guruprasad tried to drill home the point that there is a jobless and arrogant prick in every house of the country.

Manja’s (Jaggesh) irresponsible living can be compared to Srinivasan’s character Vijayan in ‘Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala’. Like the 1998 Malayalam hit, ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’ is hard-hitting yet entertaining. The film shows how alcohol addiction and finding short-cuts to making money are natural side-effects of unemployment. However, Guruprasad’s eccentric style of filmmaking prevents a feeling of déjà vu.

‘Eddelu Manjunatha’ is also a sharp reflection of how women have internalised patriarchy. Gauri (Yagna Shetty), Manja’s wife, has convinced herself to stay in a struggling marriage that forces her to be the sole bread-winner of the relationship and bear the mental and physical torture from her husband. In a striking scene, Manja, in his indifferent tone, offers Gauri the solution of divorce only to see her dismiss it in tears.

The film, like most of Jaggesh flicks, has a good dose of double entendres. But with right placements and sensible writing, the director proves that such dialogues can enhance the story. ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’ is a laugh riot and even today, the film’s dialogues are used as metaphors in every-day conversations and are in great demand for memes.

“We live in the 21st century. There is no point in talking in hushed tones. Cinema is nothing but life,”Guruprasad had once told in a promotional video. Guruprasad isn’t much of a technical director; writing is his strength. In his movies, he doesn’t bank on fight
sequences, songs or exotic visuals. His taut writing was rightly rewarded when he won the Best Screenplay State award for the film.

Only towards the end, ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’runs out of battery. The abrupt climax was criticised at that time. But by then, the film had done its job of providing laughs and topics to think about.

With his jaded mannerisms and inane dialogues, Jaggesh was a fading star when ‘Mata’and ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’resurrected his career. But it’s a pity that after that Jaggesh wasn’t seen in roles that won him acceptance from all sections of audience, save a ‘Neer Dose’(2016). Instead, directors remained in the hangover of the character ‘Manja’. Manjunatha ‘BA
LLB’ (2012) and ‘Melkote Manja ‘(2017) were unoriginal efforts that tried to use the popularity of the character but to no avail.

With how things stand today, ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’has a lesson or two for its own director. “Directors kill a film due to their greed and overconfidence. It doesn’t matter how hard you work for a film. What matters is how strongly you connect with the audience.”With such dialogues in the film, Guruprasad had taken potshots at Sandalwood directors at that time. Ironically, Guruprasad’s career then went astray with the director gaining the unpleasant reputation of an egoistic artiste.

It was his self-indulgence that brought about the downfall of Guruprasad, whose next two flicks – Director’s Special and Eradane Sala – failed to make the right noises. He got into public spats with the producers and even the lead actor of both the films, Dhananjaya. His antics in the Kannada reality show Big Boss further dented his image.

Guruprasad was expected to become the Kannada equivalent of Anurag Kashyap (Hindi) and Sasikumar (Tamil), two filmmakers who revealed uncomfortable truths with their movies
in the 2000s.

A chance meeting with the director gave me a glimpse of his passion for writing. “I write every day and watch a lot of films in various languages. I have immense respect for Tamil and Malayalam industries because they give utmost value to script,” he had said. His book 'Director’s Special' is a collection of those short stories that couldn’t be made into films. The engaging book is an example of Guruprasad’s innate storytelling skills.   

Having learnt harsh lessons, Guruprasad now has a great opportunity to be back in the game with ‘Ranganayaka’. For now, as we wait for the verdict of the audience, let’s celebrate ‘Eddelu Manjunatha’— still one of Kannada cinema’s finest films of the decade.
 

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