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Mandela movie review: The timely political satire is a must watch this election season

Mandela movie cast: Yogi Babu, Sheela Rajkumar
Mandela movie director: Madonne Ashwin
Mandela movie rating: 3 stars

Director Madonne Ashwin’s latest film Mandela debuted on Netflix on Monday, a day after its television premiere. The Yogi Babu-starrer is an allegory about the weakness and strength of our political and democratic structures. It, in fact, feels like a ready reckoner about the importance of voting without prejudice amid the high stakes Tamil Nadu assembly elections.

While cash for votes is one of the menaces that has plagued the electoral process across the country, its prevalence in Tamil Nadu is quite pervasive. State politics is notorious for the political parties doling out freebies and cash in the run-up to the polls. In the Netflix satire Mandela, director Madonne throws light on what happens when electors fail to grasp the significance and full power of their right to vote, and get seduced by such freebies.

The film is set in the backdrop of a remote village where the number of eligible voters is less than 700 and they are divided by caste lines. Rathnam (G. M. Sundar) and Mathi (Kanna Ravi) are half brothers but they belong to different castes.  While Rathnam heads the north part of the village, Mathi lords over the south. Their father, however, is a decent and honest man, played by Sangili Murugan. He is the head of the village panchayat.

When he falls sick, he refuses to pick any of his sons as his political heir, but that doesn’t stop Rathnam and Mathi from contesting the elections. They are also tempted by a Rs 30 crore corporate offer, earmarked for the new village president if he gives permission to set up a factory. Boosted by greed and inflated egos, the brothers stop at nothing to win the election. And a deeply divided village makes their job utterly easy. All that the brothers have to do is to stoke up the caste hatred among the people and make them choose their pride over the collective development of their village and progress of their individual lives. The real challenge comes when a village nobody, played by Yogi Babu, ends up wielding the power to decide the political fate of Rathnam and Mathi.

We meet Yogi Babu’s character as a man who is mistreated and exploited by everyone in the village. He even forgets his own name as people call him using various insults. It all changes when he meets Thenmozhi (Sheela Rajkumar), a good-natured postwoman, who named him Nelson Mandela after the great South African leader. Mandela’s life drastically changes as he becomes the most important elector of the village overnight.

The village is engrossed in the drama as leaders use corrupt ways to lure Mandela and get his vote. But, the villagers don’t pause for a minute and think, what makes Mandela’s vote so valuable. Madonne hopes that the audience will do so while watching the film, besides laughing their guts out.

The film exposes the deep-running fault lines in our electoral process — from caste division to poll freebies. The politicians turn everything into a matter of pride, including who gets to defecate first at a newly built public toilet.

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