There could be a plethora of OTT platforms, but nobody should underestimate the power of YouTube. That is perhaps the only place where creators can find out instantly if their product is a hit or a miss. This mantra works even if viewers indulge in hate-watching, as the numbers still go up.
YouTube is the home to creators of all kinds, that's where writer-director Subbu K has released his Telugu series The Software DevLOVEper. The pun in the title is deliberate, and if you try too hard to pronounce it the way it has been written, you might end up with a clenched jaw.
The show is silly and substandard, but if you're reading this piece, you may have already watched bits and pieces of it. Some of you may have invested your time in following the Shannu-Vaishnavi (played by Shanmukh Jaswanth and Vaishnavi Chaitanya) love story — well, it's more a story about love and obsession.
The success of the show might leave veteran filmmakers and showrunners boggled, because what this young team has achieved is no mean feat. The views range between six and 10 million for each episode (in total, there are 10 episodes), and it's fair to assume that number will go up in the coming weeks. You might not be able to fathom the popularity of this show, but it has struck a chord with a large chunk of the Telugu population. And… a large chunk of the Telugu engineering population. This is also a wonderful place to remind you of how a generation of Telugu kids got fooled into thinking that engineering would be a cakewalk after watching Sekhar Kammula's Happy Days (2007).
The Software DevLOVEper begins with a boy-meets-girl scene and takes off quite quickly about how beautiful and irresistible Vaishnavi is. Again, she's the sort of woman that Telugu filmmakers usually love to portray. She's conventionally pretty and has a lot of Hasini-like qualities (Genelia in Bommarillu, a typical manic pixie dream girl). The camera captures her innocence and stupidity, and doesn't try to distinguish between the two.
While Shannu has Manohar (Prithvi Nagarapu), Don (Pruthvi Mukka) and Harika (Sripriya Iduri) to confide in, Vaishnavi gets only a life-sized teddy to act as her confidante. The latter doesn't even have other friends. The director is clearly uninterested in delving into her psyche and offers just a couple of customary glances at her inner life, and that, too, only when Shannu's actions are involved.
Most of the episodes seem to have been shot in less than a day or two. By applying the reverse chronological formula, you can deduce that the writing was also done in a jiffy. And that's why the regular settings come down to the bare-bones — an office floor where engineers work, a fire exit, a conference room, and Shannu's unlived house (there are no signs of his belongings anywhere). Of course, the fact that the show was shot and edited during the pandemic may have restricted the creators.
However, this curtailed-freedom cannot be an excuse for lethargy. When TVF came up with their shows more than half-a-decade ago, they somehow inserted the brands they were advertising into the storyline. But, here, they all seem out of place. Shannu just doles out information as though he's been made to do that at gunpoint. Plus, the main problem with Shanmukh, as an actor, is that he's not convincing enough. To put it mildly, he needs acting classes. His face is expressionless, and for a person who has earned followers on YouTube through dance videos, that's a bummer. There are ample scenes where Shanmukh has to feel sad and angry — he merely skates along the borders of those emotions. After a point, it becomes increasingly annoying as only the music reminds you of what his character is going through.
If the face is the mirror of the mind, and if the mind is in a well of turmoil, shouldn't the face at least look a little haggard? Look at Shruthi (Srividya Maharshi) who plays the HR person. Even though her screen time is limited, she's the pick of the cast. She doesn't let the music, or the vacuum around her characterisation define her. She deftly takes charge of her scenes and gives them a spin. Why couldn't Shanmukh emulate that?
To give credit where it is due, the rest of the cast members gladly reach the shore. They keep telling the hero how selfless and large-hearted he is. If only they had added that the world does not revolve around him, and that it is okay to feel miserable sometimes.