Courtroom dramas have become a rarity in Kollywood these days and Manithan, a remake of the Bollywood film Jolly LLB, is a welcome relief in this age of ghosts and guns. The film with a hit-and-run and then the action cuts to Sakthi (Udhayanidhi, convincing), a struggling young lawyer in Pollachi. He is in love with Priya (Hansika, OK-ish) and to convince her father, who's also a lawyer, that he is worthy of her, moves to Chennai to practice at the high court. But he continues to get a break until he files a public interest litigation seeking to reopen the case of Rahul Dewan, the scion of a wealthy family, who was behind the wheel during the hit-and-run that kicked off the film.
Soon the film turns into a battle of wits between Sakthi and Dewan's high-profile lawyer Adhiseshan (Prakash Raj), who is corrupt, commanding and also chummy with the judges. There is a fine twist early in the case that is genuinely shocking for both Sakthi and us, the audience. Initially, Sakthi, whose motive behind the PIL was to get into the media spotlight and increase his business prospects, thinks he hasn't lost anything despite having become a pawn in another man's game. But thanks to Priya and Moorthy Annan (Sangili Murugan), the elderly canteen owner on the court premises who has his own axe to grind against Adiseshan, he develops a moral centre and decides to fight for what is right. But can he stand up against Adhiseshan's deviousness and win this battle?
Given that its source was a well-written drama, it would have been a surprise only if Manithan had not worked. But as he showed in Endrendrum Punnagai, Ahmed is a steady hand when it comes to handling light-hearted scenes and he takes care of the film's momentum. And in Prakash Raj and Radha Ravi, he has two seasoned actors who can elevate even a standard scene with their histrionics. While Prakash Raj chews the scenery with gusto (given that the character is more a caricature, the over-the-top performance feels just right), Radha Ravi does a fine job playing the superbly-written character of the genial judge handling the case (Saurabh Shukla who had played this character in the original won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor) and walks away with the acting honours. Some of the dialogues are bang on target and make you want to cheer: Uniform potavangale kaineetum podhu sattaye illama irukkaravanga enna seiyya mudiyum. Santhosh Narayanan's uplifting score and Madhi's elegant visuals are also a plus.
But things get less interesting during the time the director spends on the romantic track between Sakthi and Priya. The decision to not localise the accused's family is also baffling; not only do the filmmakers retain the same north Indian names, but the patriarch is also played by the same actor who played the character in the original — Mohan Agashe. And the director overdoes some of the emotional scenes that make the film feel slightly manipulative. Still, the crowd-pleasing climax of the powerful being held accountable for their wrongs, ensures that we leave up with a sense of optimism.