Mathu Vadalara And Moral Relativism: How A Film Uses Popular Culture To Make Its Philosophy More Accessible And Entertaining

The film, which is smarter than it lets on, merges comedy into the screenplay rather organically, even if it means the thrills are notably diluted.
Mathu Vadalara And Moral Relativism: How A Film Uses Popular Culture To Make Its Philosophy More Accessible And Entertaining

Half way into Mathu Vadalara, Babu Mohan, a delivery executive, wakes up in a daze and finds himself beside a dead body. Naturally, his first instinct is to run away, and he does. On his way out, he hits a poola kundi (flower pot) and breaks it. A few hours later, he realises that he needs to go back as he's forgotten something that belongs to him. He tries to sneak in as the door is open, and is welcomed by SVSC's Venkatesh saying, 'Nuvvu poola kundi endhuku thannav ra' on TV. If you are anything like me, you will laugh out loud in amusement. And while you are busy doing that, the same poola kundi is also used to jog Babu's memory. A joke lands with a bang, while also moving the screenplay forward. 

Telugu cinema has seen many cross genre films — horror-comedies, thriller-comedies, mystery-comedies… — notice a pattern? But most of them manage to create a hybrid by writing the genres separately. Take a horror-comedy, for example. The thrills and laughs come from two separate threads, one following the other uniformly. So, to see a film merge comedy into the screenplay rather organically, even if it means the thrills are notably diluted, is thoroughly enjoyable. As such, debut writer-director Ritesh Rana (Teja R is also credited with writing the screenplay and story) makes a film that is smarter than it lets on. 

Ori Na Kodaka, a daily serial on "Moon TV" moves along with the film's screenplay. It begins with the hero getting shot in the head and ends with his wife dying instead of him. It is almost a separate story, but one doesn't feel it interrupts. Instead, we wait for the next instalment. The film is filled with popular culture references, and almost all of them exist to serve the film. Even the smoking/drinking disclaimers are made to feel like an extension of the film's story. So is the moment when an annoyed old woman unwittingly says, 'boy bye.' It's weird, but it fits and it's funny. The news scroller at the film's end reads, 'Inkenti sangathulu' or a variation of it. The film is so easy and interactive with its form and content, most of it reads like an inside joke.

Simha as the confused and helpless Babu and Naresh as the calculative Abhi give assured performances, but the film absolutely belongs to Satya's Yesu. He plays a man who is dumb when he shouldn't be and smart about things that spell trouble. Suresh Sarangam's cinematography immensely helps when it comes to shots that demand economy. The film begins with the camera panning across the room of the film's protagonists — Kaala Bhairava's BGM is a plus, comes up with interesting shots that aren't intrusive or knowing, while also managing to introduce us to the characters and their different worlds within the small, rundown room.

Through its protagonists — Babu, Yesu, and Abhi — the film manages to talk about moral relativism rather effectively, if not elaborately. Babu's ethics are more absolute than Yesu's. He believes that what's wrong is always wrong, but he isn't too rigid to let his circumstances change his mind. While Babu feels guilt over this, Yesu doesn't. For him, morality is relative. A small-time Robin Hood, who steals from easy targets and spends some of it on charities, is rather sure that he has every right to fool people for a small amount of money that they won't miss. He prefers thaskarinchuta (stealing with smarts) over dongathanam (stealing) to describe what he does. Abhi, the man who watches Breaking Bad religiously, thinks the same way Yesu does, even if his story is completely different from these two. Even Babu, the most upright man in the group, does a happy dance when he finds a dead body where he presumes it would be. As it turns out, for him, someone's death isn't as important as being right in that situation. 

No matter how well we try and pretend, we almost always are slaves to our circumstances. Watching a "small" film, made by a young team of artistes, effectively put forth this message while not compromising on the laughs is a great way to begin the year with (I missed the film when it released on December 25, 2019). Maybe, that is also why I was a tad disappointed with the way the film ended — allotting unhappy endings to everyone involved with drugs. Even though it makes thematic sense, absolutism doesn't sit well within the confines of a film that seems to understand the subjective nature of right and wrong.

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