Cast: Sharwanand, Rashmika Mandanna, Urvashi, Khushboo
Director: Thirumala Kishore
Aadavallu Meeku Joharlu (AMJ) is a very calculated film. It's clearly 'family oriented'. The theatres after the release of any new Telugu film are largely filled with young men who are the first goers to any film. This works for movies like Bheemla Nayak which are meant to titillate these young men. But gradually, families and primarily women seep into the halls to give another lease of life to a film.
While a Bheemla Nayak might not be well-received with this audience, a film like F2 which at first was trashed for its level of jokes usually found in books like '1001 Jokes to Read Before You Die', it became a monster in the hands of the family audience. The husband-wife-in-laws jokes were so well received that it's now getting a sequel and has created a franchise of its own.
That's the power of 'family audience'.
AMJ is hoping that because it's releasing a week after Bheemla Nayak it can be viewed as a family friendly alternative to a massy film while cashing in on the marriage and women related jokes much like F2 did. But F2 worked because Venkatesh's comedic timing in expressing marital frustration is unparalleled and therefore even the bad jokes felt organic to the character.
There's a reason I'm spending so much time on F2 and Venkatesh before coming to AMJ. Apparently, a version of this film was supposed to star Venkatesh in the lead role and it makes sense as to why director and writer Kishore Thirumala chose the following story line.
AMJ tells the story of Chiru (Sharwanand) who grows up in a family of dominating women and constantly finds himself in a position where he has to appease them. When he wants to get married, all the alliances that come his way are constantly rejected because the women in his life keep finding flaws in the prospective brides. Chiru is happy to bend to their whims until he meets Aadhya (Rashmika Mandana) who he is sure is the woman of his dreams. But her mother, Vakula (Khushboo) doesn't believe in the institution of marriage and doesn't want her daughter to become a victim of it. So does Chiru, much like Chiranjeevi in many films in the 80s and 90s, 'tame' all the women and get married to Aadhya is the story that AMJ wants to tell us.
Now it's evident from the synopsis that Venkatesh would have been perfect for the role. The image he has with the family audience would have made his desperation to get married funnier. His plight would have the same effect as an old diabetic uncle trying to sneak a bottle of rum before his family chides him for it. But in Sharwanad's hands the character feels much younger and the desperation seems less funny and more like a teenager who wants to smoke because it's cool.
This is not to say that he doesn't shine in the comedic scenes. He has shown these chops in Mahanubhavudu, and Run Raja Run. Here too in the scenes with the women in his life (Radhika, Urvashi, etc), in the second half with Vennela Kishore, and in the scenes leading to the interval he's a riot. But the primary tension in his character doesn't register as funnily as the film thinks it is.
And that has a domino effect which is felt in other aspects of his performance such as his chemistry with Rashmika Mandana which feels absent. It also doesn't help that the portions between them feel generic. Some thought has clearly gone into her character but none of it is explored meaningfully. It's a wise choice to make her a do-gooder lawyer. She is pro-establishment and therefore the director wants to show that she wouldn't go against the 'law' at home either i.e., the decrees set by her mother. But we barely get to see portions where Aadhya struggles with conflicts in her life and in a film that wants to salute women, it's still content cracking WhatsApp forward level jokes and pass broad stereotypes.
F2 which also had such jokes worked because Anil Ravipudi (the director of F2) is excellent at staging humor as if they were comedy sketches, or giving the oddest of quirks to secondary and tertiary characters, or writing rhythmic dialogues. Kishore Thirumala has none of these elements in his scenes or characters. So where in F2 if you didn't laugh at the lame joke, you at least smiled at the quirks like the bodyguard who has a new disease each time we meet him. But in AMJ, the director depends on actors like Urvashi and Vennela Kishore to mouth silly dialogues to help audience power through.
All of this makes me believe that AMJ will be very successful on television because it's a film where individual scenes shine bright but at a plot level the emotional connect doesn't hook you. So, if the film is running in the background and you want to peak in during the comedic bits this film is perfect. And that is in line with the film's ideology because Chiru says something to the effect of 'I don't care for an Oscar as long as my film runs in the theatres'.
The film has set itself a low bar which it clears with flying colors.