Director: Rahul Ravindran
Cast: Nagarjuna, Rakut Preet Singh
Good comedy-dramas haven't been made in Telugu cinema this decade. There have been comedy thrillers, or buddy films starring newcomers, but no mainstream comedies which boast of A-list stars in the lead. They may have all fallen into the trap of being a part of masala films where they're required to devote time to every section of the audience. Whereas, the only objective of the films I'm talking about is to make you laugh uncontrollably. Of course, we're not living in the times of Jandhyala or E. V. V. Satyanarayana, but one can certainly hope, right?
Two years ago, Mohan Krishna Indraganti made that magic work in his fine ensemble comedy, Ami Thumi (without roping in A-listers). Now Rahul Ravindran has done it with Manmadhudu 2, a delicious comedy that gives room to all the cast members to have fun in the party. Even here, there's a bit of everything, but the focus is more on conveying it humorously. Kishore (Vennela Kishore) serves as the narrator and leader of the group of rib-ticklers. He's there throughout the first half of the film, as a parallel lead. It's him that we see in Manmadhudu 2 first; his broad face that houses more than a thousand expressions makes a quick appearance before the scene shifts to make way for the hero's entry.
Kishore gives a little introduction about the film's setting (Portugal) and its principal characters. And the opening lines have been written and delivered with so much care and attention that it becomes a sort of in-joke about the populating capabilities of Indians. Samba Siva Rao (Nagarjuna) is a middle-aged bachelor whose lifestyle is akin to that of a Westerner's. At least, that's what his mother (played by Lakshmi) would have said if she knew about his behavior. But she lives far removed from his planet of reality. She knows nothing about him. She thinks he's lonely and sad all the time, which is not true. He has Kishore (his assistant) for company, and he sleeps with women whenever the cards of opportunity show up.
He has three sisters – two older (played by Jhansi and Devadarshini) and one younger (played by Nishanthi). They don't live in the same palatial bungalow, forManmadhudu 2 isn't directed by Krishna Vamsi. The tropes of bonhomie in this movie aren't built on the foundations of Ninne Pelladata. Rahul's vision puts them all in one room for Sunday lunches mostly. On other days, they mind their own businesses. We're told that the sisters visit Sam's (as Samba Siva Rao likes to be called) house to cook food, dump his clothes in the washing machine, and to do the rest of the housework, but we're not invited into those scenes. They are merely dialogues that are exchanged between the characters to highlight Sam's inefficiency at performing regular chores. He's a perfumer, who's always busy in sniffing and learning about the latest smells that occupy his neighbourhood. However, he's not bothered about who does the dishes.
In these places, Rahul lightly teases the men who think that these duties are not meant for them. He doesn't take a grand political stand, though, as Sam's sisters say that if he can't handle them, then his wife should be able to do those things. You might brush these under the carpet of humor since that's how the sisters' ideas of marriage are expressed. But the director does take a stand in another scene through Sam and Avantika (Rakul Preet Singh), where the former tells the latter to give it back to her abuser. Sam goes on to tell her, on the way back home, that women shouldn't tolerate violence that's unleashed against them. He also tells her that she needs to fight back, or tell him so that he can bend her tormentors' bones. (Dear Comrade's Bobby might have been Sam's student once upon a time.)
Sam utters the lines in a matter-of-fact manner, but Avantika leans on his shoulder and takes it all in, like it's a dream she's happy to be living. That's one of the two situations where the movie takes a dark turn. I won't reveal the other one as that'd be a major spoiler. But I'll give you this tender piece of information about two people sharing a house: Sam's a person, who doesn't take his meals to the sofa, as he's afraid of dirtying it; and Avantika loves to watch the TV while relishing her pastas. There's no television in the dining room, so they move to the sofa. Sam's worst nightmare comes true (Avantika spills pasta on the pillows), but he keeps his calm.
You kind of get why Sam prefers to live alone. He's used to the humdrum of silence. He hasn't lived with anybody before as he's always stayed ten feet away from stable relationships. And this new arrangement with Avantika appears strange to him.
The best part about Manmadhudu 2 is the dialogues, as Sam's family members sometimes converse in old-Telugu (nineteenth century, if you will). There's a scene where Sam's brother-in-law uses the word lavanam to mean salt and Kishore thinks he's cursing at him. And somewhere else, Rao Ramesh's character questions Lakshmi's character about Avantika's interest in Sam as she looks like somebody who hasn't crossed the age of moodu-padhulu (three-tens) instead of muppai (thirty). These words and witticisms will remain fresh ten years down the line, too.
And the only links that function as a reminder between the classic from 2002 and the sequel, which is based on a French film, are the song, "Don't Marry," Brahmanandam, and Nagarjuna's youthful looks. As much as I whistled (in my head) while watching Brahmanandam make a sly cameo appearance, I felt a sense of loss in more ways than one upon chancing his weathered face. All of a sudden, he seems to have grown old. The beloved Brahmi, who regaled us with numerous punch dialogues and out of the box body language, is still there, but, at the same time, he's not fully there. This happens to everybody we love; however, I wish we were given some more time to get acclimatized to the autumnal years of a star.