Romantic comedies in Telugu cinema have almost always been formulaic films. Mohana Krishna Indraganti's Ashta Chamma was one of the few films that broke the cliche, banking on situational comedy instead of slapstick humour. The film stars Swathi, Nani, Srinivas Avasarala and Bhargavi, and when it released in 2008, the premise, performances and the humour was refreshing and relatable.
September 5 marks 12 years of Ashta Chamma; coincidentally V, which marks the return of the same actor-director combination releases on Amazon Prime Video the same day.
Let's take a look at why Ashta Chamma is a romcom many revisit.
The film marked the debut of Nani, Srinivas Avasarala and Bhargavi. Swathi has already starred in a few films before this. The performances of the primary ensemble felt fresh. Nani, as the initially composed and cool guy who becomes a frustrated and confused person amidst chaos, was all charm and energy. Srinivas Avasarala struck a chord with his gesturing and physicality. Swathi brought alive the bubbliness of Lavanya without making it seem annoying and Bhargavi fit the part of the innocent but naughty village girl. Jhansi and Tanikella Bharani shone too.
The original play is a comedy of errors involving one of the protagonists leading a double life under the name 'Ernest' and his love interest Gwendolen being smitten with his name. The film takes the same concept but makes it a lot more interesting and fun by making Lavanya (Swathi) obsessed with Superstar Mahesh Babu. The film begins with the news of Mahesh Babu getting married and all his female admirers being heartbroken. Lavanya deals with the news, and ultimately decides to get married only to someone whose name is Mahesh. Eventually, her childhood friend Anand (Srinivas Avasarala) takes up the task. Eventually Anand finds Mahesh/Ram Babu (Nani) and sets him up on a date with Lavanya.
The series of events that take place after Ram Babu's story about him leading a double life are hysterical.
The film has a third person narrative style that starts with the narrator yelling at someone for inserting the wrong reel in the projector. It almost feels as if we've gone to a play where the host is setting up everything before introducing us to the characters. Every primary character, except Mahesh, and most of the secondary characters are introduced to us through voiceover. By the time the film moves to the interval, the characters take over. So, Anand breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audiences during the interval stretch made sense. This kind of narration was new to the audiences too.
Ten minutes into the movie, Anand reassures Lavanya's aunt that he will take the responsibility of finding the perfect 'Mahesh' for Lavanya. Until this point, we only know that he is Lavanya's neighbour. In the conversation that follows between Anand and Lavanya, he recollects a flashback that suggests that Lavanya is the one who inspired Puri Jagannadh to write the famous Pandu gaadu dialogue for Mahesh Babu. We then realise they are childhood friends.
The pre-interval block is about Anand learning that Mahesh is actually Ram Babu. Ram Babu narrates his life in the village, and this is shown almost as a parody of all the movies where the hero is the virtuous and pious head of the village. We learn about his life, his love for his sister and his frustration of living up to his father's name. But it is all hilariously over-the-top.
Even the final flashback with the big revelation about Ammaji where she loses an infant in the railway station and the reason why it happens (Super Star Krishna, Mahesh Babu's father, arrives at the railway station) is cleverly written.
Most of the humour in this film comes from the dialogues. The high-decibel comic punches and comebacks are pitch-perfect. There are multiple movie references throughout the movie. In one of the scenes, Mahesh and Anand communicate about a situation entirely using movie titles. Rhyming sentences, witty metaphors and movie songs are sprinkled throughout the screenplay.
Kalyani Malik's music, especially the song 'Aadinchi Ashta Chamma', was all the rage. The picturisation also made for a compelling watch.