Bommarillu has a special place in my heart. I watched it in the theatre when it came out and several times afterwards, and each time, it has entertained me thoroughly. A few years after its release, it gave me solace when I moved to Chennai for higher studies – homesick eyes would fixate on the familiar locations of Tank Bund and Punjagutta when Siddu was looking for the love of his life on the streets of my home city of Hyderabad.
Bommarillu is one of Telugu cinema's finest examples of the commercial movie done right. It has laugh-out-loud moments, a fun soundtrack, and completely normalised male-female friendships with Siddu's (Siddharth) college gang. But at its core, it is a non-preachy commentary on the average Indian patriarchal family. Aravind (Prakash Raj) is a hard taskmaster both at home and in the office. He controls every aspect of his children's lives, but he is vain enough to assume that his children and their friends can talk to him about anything openly, like he is one of them.
One of my favourite things about Bommarillu is its exploration of the effects of patriarchy on a family, particularly on its men. Aravind's youngest daughter is free to dabble in her interest in running a salon as long as she only offers beauty services at home, but the sons are expected to join the family business and run it exactly as Aravind does. He is a rich man who maintains a middle-class patriarch's tight leash on the family finances. His sons' desires for new mobile phones and vehicles can only be realised after bargaining with him.
He is not a bad parent though. He is always shown as doing what he does with love. There is a scene where Siddu has just returned from drinking with his friends, and he lies, saying that he had some milk while he was out. Aravind tells him to avoid drinking milk outside, as it is likely impure. It is a simple scene but establishes Aravind as a soft man underneath the tough exterior.
Contrast Aravind handpicking each item of Siddu's wardrobe with Hasini (Genelia D'Souza) asking her father if she should wear the blue outfit or the green one to college as a process of elimination. She picks the blue option because he liked the green better. In fact, when Hasini asks Siddu why he likes her, he says the reason is that she does whatever she wants, a luxury he has never enjoyed.
While it brought them together, this fundamental difference between how the two of them were raised also eventually drives them apart. When Hasini spends a week at Siddu's house, she finds that he is a different person around his father, no longer the lovestruck boy who wooed her in front of a bus full of her college mates. The things about her that used to charm him now embarrass him instead. This is something orthodox people often point out on a cautionary note about love marriages, that the person you wake up with every morning is not going to be the person who sent you sweet good-morning messages when you were courting. But Bommarillu is not out to warn its viewers; it is simply depicting a truth for what it is.
One scene worth talking about in some detail is the wedding of one of Siddu's friends in a temple. It has the groom's father lamenting over how he had always dreamt of having a grand wedding for his son but had to settle for such simplicity because it was a love marriage. It turns into a whole discussion on how parents are forced to give in to their children's whims. There is a parallel conversation among the youngsters, and the accusation there is thrown at the parents, wondering how many of them would accept their children's choices without question. It is quite sweet when both Aravind and Siddu look up from their respective conversations and reflect on how the other has been more accommodating than they have given them credit for.
The final showdown in the climax after Hasini's departure from Siddu's family is relevant even today, as the movie turns 15. From Siddu plucking up the courage to point out the flaws in his father's parenting to his mother finally breaking her silence of decades before the patriarch – it is telling of how every home has its internal politics, no matter how peaceful it may be on most days. Eventually, individual discontent goes from simmering silently to reaching a boiling point, spilling over as one big mess. There is a crack in Hasini's home too that needs repairing. After lying to him about her whereabouts for the week she spent in Siddu's house, she has to rebuild her father's broken trust and become the obedient, well-behaved daughter she never was. Clearly, the quantum of drama in a family is not dependent on its size.
I have been back in Hyderabad for a few years now. In this time, OTT platforms have made movies from across the globe available to us, with a lot of exciting work happening in the cinema of my mother tongue, Malayalam. It is perhaps due to all these factors that I have not watched Bommarillu in a long time. But now, with its 15th anniversary on the cards, perhaps it is time for a rewatch.