Sano Mann is a clichéd terminal-illness drama, but it has its momentsThe storytelling is inconsistent and the acting is too subdued or over the top.
The new film Sano Mann ends with a song ‘Kasto maya ho’ where Shilpa Maskey, the lead, holds the mic teary-eyed, and sings for a fairly decent CGI rendition of a fancy concert hall. You, the audience, are excited, but not because it’s the climax, or a deserving payoff to building tension. You’re excited because the film is finally going to end, and you can go home now.
Sano Mann is, by all means, unwatchable, but at two-and-a-half hours long of an overly predictable story, there’s not much holding you to your seat. The film has its moments, but it feels like an overstretched rehash of a Bollywood and/or South Korean ‘terminal illness romance’. But unlike those Korean romances, it’s no tear-jerker.
Sano Mann begins with Sanya (Maskey) who lives with her mother (Gauri Malla) in Bhairahawa. She has anxiety and is on medication. An inherent brooder, she likes to write prose and give monologues on fate and destiny. One fine day, she decides to leave for Kathmandu to find her estranged father.
Then, there’s Nirvaan (Ayushman Deshraj Joshi), an overtly loud, happy-go-lucky, well-groomed hero who has made it his life’s mission to make everyone smile. But why does he do what he does? Spoiler alert, but I’m certain you’ve already guessed it by now—he’s terminally ill.
Does this remind you of any Bollywood characters?
No, not Rajesh Khanna’s Anand (1971). Think Shahrukh Khan as Rahul in Kal Ho Na Ho (2004). So, what are the most common traits assigned to a terminally ill character in a Bollywood/Korean romantic drama? A desire to live, laugh and love while saving a naïve, seemingly unhappy woman from her demons. Oh, and also fall in love in the process. Now the tragedy of the story is that the two can never be together because of the disease and impending death. But nevertheless, the heroine is mentored until the hero’s last breath until she realises her potential.
Rahul, sorry Nirvaan, does exactly that. He helps Naina, actually Sanya, achieve her dreams, find a purpose in life, and explore the talents she never knew she had.
The Asian filmmaking juggernauts do tear-jerking very well because they are consistent in their storytelling and generally have superb actors. Sadly, Sano Mann lacks both these qualities.
First, writers Sameer Sunuwar and Suyog Gurung—the latter is also the director—seem to forget important details in their script as the film progresses. One such example is Asha’s (Gauri Malla) introductory scene where she mentions multiple times that there are guests arriving, but no guests ever arrive. This might seem like a small oversight, but it only gets worse.
Remember Sanya’s anxiety? The filmmakers forget that too. Sanya’s anxiety is introduced and built up through multiple scenes in the first half. We see her buying medicine and her mother looking for her medicine. She gets multiple panic attacks, once even getting admitted to the hospital where the doctor specifically mentions her anxiety. But then, in the second half, the anxiety is out of the window. Something that’s been built up with so much information and two slow-motion, mind-numbingly dramatic scenes deserves at least one closing mention. But no, let’s casually forget the woman’s mental health; after all, she found a man who’ll heal everything.
Sanya’s anxiety feels like a cheap plot device because you keep associating illness with one character but it’s the other one that dies. To Sano Mann’s credit, the trend in Nepali films is to reveal the terminal illness only in the third act (see A Mero Hajur 3), but here, it happens early on.
It feels like Nepali filmmakers are convinced that love stories with terminal illnesses are guaranteed success. There’s nothing wrong with telling these kinds of stories, but the impact becomes muted if the script is laden with clichés. Here’s a checklist for this genre: Is the boy awestruck when he sees the girl for the first time? Does one character overhear someone else talking about them, but remains unseen throughout the scene? A character reads a letter, with the person who wrote the letter doing an ominous voiceover? Are there random montages of characters in open spaces that add nothing to the story? Is there a long and emotional dialogue with a secondary character that reveals just what the lead is feeling? Do you get to see a tight slap ending a conversation? Does the lead run in slow motion after learning that the love of their life is terminally ill? Does she cry in slow motion with her back against a wall? This film checks all the boxes.
Bollywood has these exact clichés too, but they work because of good acting and direction. In Sano Mann, it almost feels like Ayushman Desraj Joshi was asked to watch Shah Rukh Khan and act like him. Shilpa Maskey, on the other hand, looks like she was asked to subvert her performance. As a result, Nirvaan is mean and irritating while Sanya is docile and brooding. You know they’re going to fall in love only because they are the leads and this is a romance. The dialogue doesn’t do any justice to their characters either. Do young people actually say things like, “You lack in vitamin me”?
But to the film’s credit, it spends a fair amount of time on characters other than the lead. Nirvaan’s father (Bishal Pahari) is given a complete arc. He’s a mean person and lives by strict rules—he is introduced as someone who’ll iron their underwear. But, as the film progresses he forgoes his rules for the happiness of his children. There’s a particularly poignant scene where Nirvaan’s mother (Rashmi Bhatta) finds this brash and mean father crying in hiding.
The film also delves into Sanya’s relationship with her estranged father, but here, it feels carelessly written. She goes to Kathmandu, and later abroad, to find her father. But we never actually understand why or what she hopes to achieve. We are never given enough information about him, so her quest is not very convincing and consequently, nothing much happens.
It is easy to nitpick Sano Mann. The storytelling is inconsistent, clichés are abundant, and the acting is too subdued or over the top. But the story has a scope, as do a few scenes. Also, it’s quite rare to find a Nepali film that deals with psychological challenges resulting from a troubled relationship with the father. The film wants to have a focus, but with so much going on, the screenplay is all over the place. Hopefully, Nepali audiences will get to see more films with a better focus on complex issues like anxiety, absent father, and family issues, rather than your run-of-the-mill terminal illness romance drama. It might just happen; after all, this is only Gurung’s first film.
Sano Mann ⭐⭐½
Actors: Ayushman Deshraj Joshi, Shilpa Maskey, Gauri Malla, Bishal Pahari
Writers: Sameer Sunuwar, Suyog Gurung
Director: Suyog Gurung
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