Cast: Naga Chaitanya, Samantha Akkineni
Director: Shiva Nirvana
Ninnu Kori, the director's maiden project, is a film about love, heartbreak, marriage, and love after marriage. Majili is no different in the sense that this story is weaved around these familiar themes. If Pallavi gives up Upma to forget Uma in the former film, Poorna takes up alcohol to drown his pain. Or rather, drown in it. While Uma's grief threatens to ruin someone else's marriage, Poorna's pain creates a chasm in his own. But the similarities, thankfully, end there.
Majili is about two stubborn people in love. Poorna (Naga Chaitanya) wouldn't forget his ex- girlfriend Anshu, even though she has been gone for years. Sravani (Samantha) would not give up on her love for Poorna. She marries him knowing his past and she still stays with him despite his stone-like behaviour. Will one of them budge before it all comes crumbling down? Is there hope still? [Spoiler alert: Of course, there is.]
It's easy and natural to compare this film with the many Mouna-Ragam-esque films that came before. But calling this a mere role reversal wouldn't be fair as there is more to the film than what meets the eye. Shiva Nirvana, the film's writer-director, probably knows that the comparisons are inevitable, so he tries his best to veer his story away from the expected. He makes Sravani the family's breadwinner—if she is taking everything silently, it's only because she wants to. He writes an evolved and open relationship between Poorna's father and Sravani—her slave like submissiveness is allotted to Poorna alone. Similarly, when Poorna is about to be surrounded by goons and the power goes off, we expect a brilliant fight sequence, but his girlfriend comes and rescues him in her car. Minute details, yes, but they stop your mind from taking the plot for granted.
That said, if the film manages to strike an emotional chord with you, it is mostly because of the honest performances by the lead pair. Sravani is a multifaceted woman—a strong working woman who shrinks herself to make more space for her husband's grief. A scene in the film even alludes to this dichotomy, where a co-worker calls her out by calling her a 'pilli (cat)' in front of her husband, but a 'puli (tiger)' otherwise. You can see clearly that Samantha gave it her all to portray this woman. You can feel it in her face the minute she makes her entrance—a slo-mo shot of her getting down from an auto rickshaw to enter a police station.
Poorna, on the other hand, is a weak man who can't fathom his pain all at once, so he takes it in slowly, day by day. Naga Chaitanya always had an awkward energy about him as if he isn't enjoying what he is doing. But here, he is much more present and open, which translates into a great performance. Divyansha Kaushik, as Anshu, is adequate and so is the child who plays her daughter.
The supporting cast helmed by Rao Ramesh and Posani Krishna Murali—they both can probably play these roles in their sleep—does a great job as well. Special mention to Suhas who plays the loyal friend, but his baritone voice and sharp features are made for bigger things. Another reason this film feels fresh is Gopi Sundar's music. The film breathes better when his music is by its side. Especially the song 'Priyathama Priyathama' through which we get to know Sravani's side of the story. The song holds so much emotional ground as it tells us about Sravani's character not just through the words and pictures, but with the melancholy it carries as well.
The filmmaker in an interview called this film a love letter to Vizag. And no love letter to Vizag is complete without shots of its beaches, churches, night lights, and roads that suddenly turn into hills. This film is no different, but the nonchalance helps. We see places as part of the plot's road map and that just makes the city seem as intricate as it should be in any story. Vishnu Sarma's cinematography captures the easy beauty of the city rather impressively.
Majili is a love triangle, of sorts, that burns at all ends. It's impossible to be unpredictable with an ending that needs to be happy, but Shiva manages to succeed, even if partially. That said, the ending feels rushed and its resolution lacks meaning. Poorna's character changes suddenly without much motivation and it almost feels as if he had to because the film is coming to an end. As a viewer, I needed Sravani's character to get more than what she is allowed.
Not just that, the film's idea of love is bothersome. Look at the way Sravani touches Poorna's feet in the flashback. I understand wanting to touch a man you love, but why bring the hand back to your head? A teenage girl in love isn't going to think about patriarchal traditions, and even if she does, it isn't romantic. At one point, Sravani even says, 'We are only scared of the people we love.' Are we supposed to be? Submissiveness to the extent of slavery isn't love—Sravani tells the kid to never question Poorna—and the film's insistence that it is stopped me from embracing it fully.