Director: Vinod Anantoju
Cast: Anand Deverakonda, Varsha Bollamma
Middle Class Melodies, directed by Vinod Ananthoju, and starring Anand Deverakonda and Varsha Bollamma, is a film you want to quickly watch again the moment you finish watching it. This is not because the plot or its storyline is something we've not seen before — a lot of the comfort one gets from watching this comedy is from the familiarity of it all.
It's also not because it has a couple of whistle-worthy/emotional scenes that beg a rewatch. This rush comes from a sort-of worry that one might forget the many beautiful moments that make this film.
Like that shot of Gopal's (Chaitanya Garikipati) face when he bites into a sachet of shampoo during a phone call or that hilarious interaction between a desperate Sandhya (a lovely Varsha Bollamma) and a snail-paced shopkeeper who takes eons to recharge her phone. Or, how the meaning of Kondal Rao's (Goparaju Ramana) ringtone changes depending on the situation; or even the genius-level 'metaness' of casting Tharun Bhascker, the director of Pelli Choopulu, for a very specific cameo.
Taking a page off the books of Malayalam directors such as Dileesh Pothan and Lijo Jose Pellissery, we get a hyper-local Telugu film set in small-time Kolakalur where the youth dream of making it big in the big city. This big city in question isn't New York, London or Dubai. It's not even Hyderabad or Vizag. In fact, people like Raghava (a very likeable and relatable Anand Deverakonda) nurse lifelong ambitions of moving away and starting a restaurant in…Guntur.
And through his eyes, Guntur really becomes as big as New York or any of those other places. His dream too becomes as important to us, as it was when Nedumaaran Rajangam dreams of setting up a low-cost airline in Soorarai Pottru. It's this zooming in, rather than zooming out to make everything seem generic, that makes everyone in Middle Class Melodies important. For an industry that's obsessed with the star, this is a film that's finally about a galaxy.
Which makes calling Raghava this film's protagonist feel like a mere technicality because he gets the longest screen-time. Because Gopal, who plays the "hero's friend", has an inner life too, with a past, his own set of worries and a solid character arc. Even a drunk milkman, who gets all of 10 minutes, makes us feel that this movie is as much about him as it is about Raghava. And like in any well-written film, there's no explicit stating of a character's moral standing; there's no black or white, and most of the characters exist in various shades of grey.
In Middle Class Melodies, even the 'bad guys' have a heart, just like how the good guys are no saints. From having an ego and feeling jealous to a certain opportunism and superstition… it's just that our protagonists fall on the lighter side of grey. But likeable they all are, and their inherent charm makes us forgive certain loose ends in the screenplay.
One of these include a certain flashback that takes us back to their schooldays and the beginning of a love story. With lovely shots that appeal to one's nostalgia, the film does a great job in recreating a time, seen through Sandhya. But with an abrupt end to this period, one wonders what happened (or what didn't) in the time that elapsed between then and now.
Even the father-son relationship deserved some better explaining. Like in a Selvaraghavan film, we see the issue with the father thinking of his son as a wastrel. But we never really understand why this is so, except if we take that part of their past as a given. Yet these don't affect our viewing because there's always a LOL moment just a minute away.
With some excellent use of 'melodies' to take the story forward, we see a director who is always in control of his material, even if it's a scene about a total stranger who lies down in the middle of the road after picking a fight with another total stranger. And like the Bombay chutney that gets a role of its own, it's all about the love that has gone into its making that makes the difference. That way, Middle Class Melodies is triple-dipped with the only secret sauce that truly matters.