Our titular character here is a local hair stylist in a small village in Tamilnadu, called Soorangudi. The caste system is deep rooted in Soorangudi and when its long-serving and unopposed President Periya Ayya is bed ridden, his sons decide to fight it out in the next election. They are half brothers who belong to different castes and the villagers are split behind them equal in numbers on the basis of caste lines. This leaves the one final vote all important for a victory and the deciding vote falls to Mandela.
The newly appointed post-woman at Soorangudi, Thenmozhi is the one who gives Mandela his name in an attempt to give some dignity to a person who doesn’t have many complaints even under severe caste based oppression. He is called Ilicha vayan or smile by the villagers and he doesn’t even remember his original name. He does all the difficult jobs for the villagers without any complaint, from arranging food and groceries to clean toilets, with not much payoff in return. His life takes a rollicking turn when he becomes the deciding factor in the upcoming election.
The narrative is entwined together with plenty of funny and heart warming instances while convincingly discussing relevant topics like the present issues in our democracy, the value of a citizen’s vote, power of a citizen in democracy etc. Some of the scenes are hilarious and the same time asks us questions; the scene where election campaigners teaching Mandela how to vote for instance is a hilarious one and at the same time asks people why they are lazy to go and vote if the procedure is this simple!! The naming of Mandela, The auction scene etc contribute to some of the most uniquely funny instances in my recent memory as well.
Writer-director Madonne Ashwin has captivatingly developed the screenplay with visuals of Vidhu Ayyanna and cuts by Philomin Raj contributing brilliantly to the absorbing pace of the movie. Bharath Sankar’s tracks and score were equally impressive and stands out in the technical department. He has used quite rooted sounds and techniques in the score and the songs, and quite brilliantly has even added an African flavour to some of it paying homage to the name Mandela. Ela Mandela is my favourite of the lot with Yela Yelo sung By Arivu not far behind.
Yogi Babu owns the role of Mandela with roller-coaster of a performance and is aided by each and everyone in the supporting cast, with even the ones with limited screen time making their mark.
Mandela is a political satire which brilliantly discusses the deep lying problems in Indian democracy; from caste based politics to money for vote and the freebie culture, but at the same time reminds us of the power of democracy with some very measured writing, execution and Yogi Babu in stellar form!