The scene is from the evergreen Mohanlal movie Vandanam where the character Unnikrishnan asks Gadha to say 'I love you.' The shot pans and you get to see a family sitting in front of the television, enjoying the movie. There sits two young boys who ask one another the meaning of the three words. One of them seeks help from grandfather who metaphorically denotes love to a flower (Mandharam). The little boy Rajesh is on a quest as to when his Mandharam will bloom.
If Nivin Pauly's Premam revolved around the butterfly-like romantic journey, Asif Ali's Mandharam is on similar lines - of love life ranging from the age of nine till he is in his thirties.
After a neat opening, the film travels through Rajesh played by Asif Ali and the way he looks at relationships. After he loses his childhood lover, he vows that he will never again fall for any other girl and promises to find his key of happiness in himself. Yet he helps his friends woo the girls they love. He moves to Bangalore to pursue Mechanical Engineering where he meets Charu (Varsha Bollamma) and forgets his earlier vows. But soon in his journey, he realizes that he has to move forward to find inner solace and he does after finding Devika (Anarkali Marriakar).
Asif Ali's transformation from a young teenager to a matured man deserves credit. Throughout the film, we see him grow and mature over the time. While Varsha impresses with her good looks, Anarkali takes the lion's share in terms of performance.
What the film lacks is depth in characterization. Who was Charu after all, what were her fears, how could she disappear in a haste? We are reminded of the questions asked during Malar Miss' exit in Premam. The heartbreaking episodes of Rajesh seemed tedious and his decision to move on in life looked prosaic.
Interestingly, Ganesh Kumar plays the role of Asif Ali's father and Nandini his mother in the movie. But sadly they just come and go just to pacify their son. Veteran actor Indrans too is wasted and appears just to give a piece of advice on the importance of parents.
But what works is the fun-filled moments that Rajesh has with his friends during college life. The one-liners especially among Jacob Gregory and Arjun Ashokan stand out. The music by Mujeeb Majeed and cinematography by Bahul Ramesh gel well with the tone of the movie.
Putting it short, the directorial debut of Vijesh Vijay, Mandharam is a coming-of-age rom-com with little ups and downs just like in the life of Rajesh, the protagonist.