Writers:Ram Abbaraju and Bhanu Bhogavarapu
Cast: Satya, Sundeep Kishan, Aarjavee, Sudarshan
Using humour to process collective trauma is always an interesting and brave choice. Interesting, because even if it fails to succeed as a film, it will still have something relevant to say about a particular moment in time that we are all a part of. Brave, because not everyone is willing to laugh at their pain. But if anyone knows how to make light of a serious situation, it's Telugu cinema. Even if Prashanth Varma's Zombie Reddy has the popular 'Go Corona Go' song, the pandemic is, at best, an afterthought. So, a film like Vivaha Bhojanambu is a long time coming. From CM Jagan's comments to the tedious message we've been hearing every time we call someone, from home remedies to faulty Chinese products, the film works wonderfully as a highlight reel for that godforsaken period in time. As such, it is prolific, if not poignant.
The premise of this film is twofold. One deals with Mahesh (Satya), a fiscally responsible man (he insists that he isn't a miser), and his handling of his wife's family living in his house during the lockdown, just after the wedding. Another is, basically, a comedy trope. A good-looking, wealthy woman (Anita played by Aarjavee) falls in love with a poor and not-so conventionally good-looking man, and everyone in her family is stumped. Except for her father, who is both stumped and angry.
Satya is a star. In every film he's been a part of, he will figure as one of the reasons to watch it. Mathu Vadalara and Gaddalakonda Ganesh are recent examples of this. So, it is surprising to no one that he works wonders with a meagre script. Even if dramatics aren't his strong suit, he makes do. The rest of the cast, Sudharshan and Srikanth Iyengar among others, are great as well. Sundeep Kishan, who also produced the film, has a cameo in the film that is as unnecessary as it is charming.
Ram Abbaraju and Bhanu Bhogavarapu, who wrote the story and screenplay together, start on a promising note. The body shaming that you expect from a film like this is present, but it is present in the people that are anyway wrong/bad. Mahesh isn't written as an insecure character. He never feels the need to explain himself, not to Anita or her father. It's Anita's family, based in Vijayawada, who cannot seem to fathom the idea that not all people are born to wealthy parents. The dynamics of this family where the sons—one of them waits for his father to take a step so he can follow, the other cannot even count without involving his fingers—call their father 'Naanaaru' less out of love and more out of sheepish reverence is wonderfully portrayed. The old man, who is nice to you as long as your surname aligns with his, is a simplified yet sufficient amalgamation of the every wise old man in a panche we often see in cinema.
While the social commentary is richer than you'd expect in a film like this, it is still flawed. I understand that to show bad people you also have to show them being bad, but when you add a "funky" BGM while a rich man looks through someone's house with visible derision, you are making the viewer an accomplice, and that's just bad filmmaking. The pleasantly subversive take on the cliche 'a beautiful girl saved my life, so I have to pay her back by falling in love with her' also comes at the cost of someone's body-shaming, even if it's subtextual and slight. There is a counterpoint though. I've seen countless aerial shots of Hussain Sagar and Buddha, but none with a Namaz playing in the background. Maybe this is what progress looks like. Maybe it's okay to overlook a few missteps, if the intention to do better is also there to see.
That said, in actual film-making, the form leaves so much to be desired. The songs are totally unnecessary and aren't enjoyable enough to justify the break in what's already a weak screenplay. The film is also longer than it needs to be and after a point, it loses its focus. It's blasphemous for a film set during the pandemic to not have a single joke/shot of the hand-washing ritual, isn't it?
We have all heard the news of a marriage party stuck in the bride's village due to the lockdown. It was hard enough to be stuck with the people you love, so to imagine a group of strangers navigating the discomfort and awkwardness of having to live together in close quarters can lead to something magical. This is what I expected when I learned about this film. The film, to its credit, does try to bring out the claustrophobia. But the conceit feels more like an epilogue to Aadavari Matalaku Arthale Verule rather than a unique story facilitated by a once-in-a-lifetime circumstance. We don't mind the family bullying Venkatesh's character because at least he's got Trisha. But what's the fun in watching a group of morally bankrupt people insult the hero who isn't allowed to speak back?