Director: Abhinav Danda
Cast: Jagadeesh Prathap, Mohna, Vennela Kishore, Raj Tirandasu
Sathi Gani Rendu Ekaralu (SGRE), on aha, is packed with enough elements to ensure a madcap ride. They all exist within the realm of a conventional crime comedy but its setting, a sunny Telangana village named Edulnagulapally, lends some novelty. Unfortunately, there isn’t much inventiveness beyond this in the Telugu comedy.
The narrative, which begins with the promise of a wacky tale, is spun around a briefcase containing something valuable. When the modest Sathi (Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari), who is in desperate need of money to treat his infant’s fatal health condition, ends up stealing this briefcase from an accident spot. What ensues is a hackneyed drama that is as flat as the two acres of land Sathi owns but is hesitant to sell off and solve his problems.
The biggest problem with the film is that without the village setting, it exudes a heavy been-there-seen-that vibe in terms of plot, and the humour works better as ideas than actual scenes. For instance, in every crime film, there’s a big boss who wants his hands on the treasure. SGRE sprinkles a pinch of quirk and makes him a vertically challenged person who hits men right in the crotch. Well, he is a crotchety character. The efforts to render the film and its characters a wacky touch are tangible in every scene but they aren’t as amusing on screen as they might have been on paper. Almost all the characters are deliberately idiosyncratic; be it Sathi’s elder son Lokesh (Rasool), Vennela Kishore as the nameless ‘Rider’ hired to recover the missing briefcase, the police officer played by Bithiri Sathi (the fact that he speaks normally, sans his popular dialect, does the trick) or even a minor character with a stammering issue. But the writing is shallow and the pacing is leisurely.
The pacing works against the story because the protagonist’s urgency and distress, even when he is put in tense situations in the latter half, are barely registered. And at times, the writing gets so desultory and begins meandering—like sequences featuring Vennala Kishore’s travails with village kids—making you wonder what the film’s intentions are. And since it operates in such a silly zone, there are no stakes. The actors, thankfully, make these joyless bits tolerable to an extent.
Integrating multiple threads into the screenplay doesn’t serve the cause of SGRE. For example, the arc involving Sathi’s estranged partner-in-crime, Anji (Raj Tirandasu), and his love interest Sangeetha (Aneesha) barely adds any value to the film. There’s at least an echo in Anji’s character graph; he has to bear the brunt of a crime he commits early in the story, but this love arc is an added burden. The Sathi-Anji dynamic also doesn’t have the charm to compensate for the depth these characters lack in writing.
Speaking of charm, SGRE comes to life when it focuses on Sathi’s relationship with his wife Andamma (Mohna). The relationship is portrayed beautifully, be it their regular banter or serious quarrels, for a few brief moments, it becomes all lively. The best scene in the film has to be Andamma angrily leaving the house after a fight with Sathi, despite his efforts to calm her down. This scene also generates the best bits of dialogue in the film; it’s between Sathi and his son Lokesh, whose pronunciation of “Daddy” is hilarious. Sathi is depicted as a vulnerable man who cries in front of his wife and helplessly admits that he has made mistakes, and it is a wonderful touch. Jagadeesh is earnest as Sathi, an ordinary being who gets caught in a web of crimes. The character has to live with anxiousness and doubt and Jagadeesh does a great job internalising them, without ever making it obvious. He is, without a doubt, the best thing about SGRE. Sangeeth Sourabh's music complements the quirky mood superbly in many sequences but the usage of sound effects (like a scream) for gags gets annoying at times.
SGRE has its moments. I'd be lying if I said I didn't chuckle even once. A funny moment features Bithiri Sathi’s cop making an assumption about Rider, who just escaped from his custody. “By now, he must have gotten around 500-600 km away from here,” the cop declares. The scene cuts to the Rider taking a dump in the fields, with a board reading he’s come only 5 km far from the village. Despite having moments like these, the film feels like a missed opportunity. SGRE could have so much more with tighter writing and larger stakes; it settles for mediocrity.