Along-limbed tale of male friendship across some 40 years of Indian history, “The Duo” plays like a three-hour movie with an hour cut out. Too many plot bones and not enough emotional meat make this a sometimes entertaining and stylistically interesting cadaver of a much more full-scaled movie. Recent recruits to prolific Tamil director Mani Rathnam via fest favorite “Bombay” ( 1995) are likely to be disappointed by this latest effort, which is destined for thin Western exposure.
Story follows an initially clumsy but driven actor, Anandan (Mohanlal), and a writer-turned-politician, Selvam (Prakash Raj), from Indian independence to more modern times. (Time span is vague; date captions would be helpful for non-Indian auds.) As Anandan becomes a movie superstar, and Selvam leaves screenwriting to become a leftist, nationalist politico, their friendship is cemented when Anandan lends his support to Selvam’s party, and is later strained when the actor enters politics on a populist cleanup ticket.
Rathnam’s distinctive style, pitched somewhere between commercial cinema and arthouse fare, offers plenty of incidental pleasures, especially in staged musical sequences from Anandan’s pics. (A late number, featuring his actress lover, is also surprisingly sexy.) Major fault lines in the movie are the lack of a convincing case for the friendship between the two men, who are from very different social and intellectual backgrounds, and too many underdeveloped characters in the fast-forward storyline. Latter problem is especially acute with the distaff side of the film.
Technically, pic is fine, with sharp lensing by Santosh Sivan and a propulsive Western-Indian symphonic score by A.R. Rahman. Widescreen, rather than Academyratio, would have given the movie more emotional clout, as would more musical numbers, though ultimately neither would disguise the central emotional deficit in the script.