It’s a homecoming when NTR first enters the hallowed portals of ‘Janatha Garage’. Unknowingly, something draws him in. He knows the reputation that precedes the place — it’s a haven for anyone in trouble. This problem-solving place, he believes, may not be the supporting force behind an environment-damaging quarry. His first meeting with garage owner Satyam (Mohanlal) has the two characters engaging in a brief, smart exchange of words. It’s one of the few highpoints of the film, steering the story in a new direction.
As the scene unfolds, you wait for a few more magical moments. Yet, when the inevitable happens and Anand (NTR) is handed over the reigns of the garage, there’s an underwhelming feeling of it all happening too easily. This despite Mohanlal and NTR giving their best to their roles. NTR, in particular, delivers a fine performance in the portions where he discovers his past and has tough decisions to make. This actor who romances the camera with such ease has been waiting, for a while, for a good script that will lend itself to a memorable film. The search continues.
Koratala Siva’s Janatha Garage has a hero with unflinching love for Nature. He slows down to smell the flowers and cringes at the thought of losing lung spaces to rampant industrialisation. He’ll take up cudgels against projects that disturb ecological balance. It’s only a matter of time before he meets someone who cares about welfare of people (Mohanlal) and discovers his true calling.
Once he does that, the film falls on a familiar track and doesn’t keep you engaged, because the opponents are too weak to actually matter. The glib-talking industrialist (Sachin Khedekar) and Raghava (Unni Mukundan) are no match for Anand and Satyam and ideally it shouldn’t take that long to put them in place. There was scope, to infuse something more sinister in the drama, since Raghava is Satyam’s son, but that thread too isn’t fleshed out well.
The biggest undoing of Janatha Garage is the way it keeps viewers at an arm’s length. It’s as though you watch from a distance the hero harping on doing his bit for the environment and the team at Janatha Garage meting out social justice. The drama doesn’t pull you in.
The actors rise above the limitations of their characters. Some of the best moments happen between NTR and Mohanlal and it’s a joy to watch them together on screen. The film has a huge supporting cast, from Brahmaji, Banerjee and Ajay who go about their roles with a quiet intensity to Suresh, Sithara and Devayani who make a mark. The most disappointing parts belong to Nithya Menen and Samantha. Forget their limited screen time, there’s absolutely nothing to talk about their roles.
Cinematography by S. Thirunavukkarasu and music by Devi Sri Prasad deserve a mention. Thiru revels in using warm, ambient light wherever possible, effectively bathing the frames in a play of light and shadow.
The team should have looked closely at the tagline ‘Ichatta anni repairlu cheyyabadunu’ (all repairs will be done here) and ironed out problem areas in the script. At 163 minutes, riding on a predictable story, Janatha Garage gets tiresome. A few scenes involving Mohanlal and NTR, and the episode involving Rajeev Kanakala and GHMC staff are the only moments worth rooting for.