Ambajipeta Marriage Band Review: Suhas And Saranya Pradeep Keep You Hooked In This Familiar But Intense Drama

Dushyanth Katikineni's film approaches a story as old as the hills with fresh lenses of practicality
Ambajipeta Marriage Band Review
Ambajipeta Marriage Band Review

Writer and Director: Dushyanth Katikineni

Cast: Suhas, Saranya Pradeep, Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari, Shivani

Available in: Theatres

Duration: 132 minutes

Mild spoliers ahead...

When you hear the title Ambajipeta Marriage Band, you imagine a certain kind of film. This is not that film at all. Halfway through, I wondered why the film is titled after the band — comprising members of a socially backward community — that accompanies every event, from marriages to funerals, in a village. Sure, our protagonist Malli (Suhas), is a barber who moonlights as a drummer in the titular band. However, for the most part of the first half, the utility of the band in the film’s narrative doesn’t go beyond the functional set-up and serves only as a device to briefly elicit some humour. It is in the second half where it all comes together. Seeing the band evolve into a character itself, and what it later goes on to stand, is a fascinating journey, one with an innate sense of practicality that gives its characters an edge over films that have explored oppression in the past. It’s also this practicality that stops the film, which is based on real incidents, from being a modern update on the revenge films of the ‘80s.

So what is this practicality that I’m going on and on about? Keeping reality aside, when a character in a film is placed in a situation that we have seen a thousand times in the past, there is a pre-defined way in which they react. Let’s say, if the hero’s love interest is about to get married to ‘the other guy’, you know what the lover would do. In AMB, however, the action of the lead character in a similar situation is subverted and it’s a choice that directly stems from the identity and background of the character. You might be expecting something cinematic to happen but it doesn’t, because reality is pretty grim and there are no last-second saviours or miracles like in films. Even an enraged Malli (Suhas) reminds his equally furious friend to control his anger because there will be consequences to their actions, even if it’s the film’s climax. AMB keeps subtly pointing you to the line that separates reality and films. 

Suhas in Ambajipeta Marriage Band
Suhas in Ambajipeta Marriage Band

While I wish the film had a more cinematic approach in certain aspects, leading to more satisfying moments, it then wouldn’t have been the film that reminds you of the reality that it is in this form. Do we need films to remind us of the rampant hate and prejudices spread across society? Can’t filmmakers correct the wrongs of the already painful reality at least in fiction and give us hopeful art? These are counter-questions to the fact that cinema is nothing but a reflection of society. In that sense, the beauty of AMB is that it balances the ugliness of the caste system by sticking to reality, while also offering some hope by almost dedicating its second half to the "revolt against oppression" attitude. And no, this is not a 'message movie'.

As a story, AMB is as old as cinema itself. We have seen numerous such stories taking on oppression with plot points like caste/class difference, the callous oppressor, the consequential challenges he poses to the ones he under him, the uproar and finally, the end. In this case, Malli and his twin sister Padma (Saranya Pradeep) have to take on the village’s loan shark Venkat, whose sister Lakshmi (Shivani) is in love with Malli. Throughout its first half, that’s exactly the blueprint of the film and its lifelines are Suhas and Saranya Pradeep, who keep you invested in its characters. And from a screenplay pov, the scenes in the first half are largely functional and don’t go beyond that. For example, the relationship between Malli and Padma, which is central to the story, is communicated only in two scenes. This, at times, makes the first half feel shallow as it just keeps going from one point to the other, even though it means the story is progressing constantly. I wish the film did spend some more time underlining interpersonal dynamics between the characters. Who are the other members of the band? Why do they do what they do?

A still from the film
A still from the film

The entire first half is just a lead-up towards the narrative-defining pre-interval event, and it creates a strong impact. When both Malli and Padma are stripped of their dignity, they decide to fight. Dignity and self-respect are the core themes of the film, which finds strong ways to reiterate this point. Take the beautiful scene between Sanjeev (Jagadeesh Prathap), Malli’s best friend and Lakshmi, where he subtly underlines the differences between them. And then there’s a great exchange between Padma and Venkat’s wife, explaining how the word ‘garu’ is automatically affixed to the affluent while the oppressed have to struggle to earn this two-letter word as a suffix to their name. Padma, in fact, gets the biggest hoot-worthy moment in the film in a police station and this too works not because of her physical action but because of her resilience the film emphasises. AMB keeps coming up with ways in the second half to highlight the man-made boundaries in society, and all of a sudden, the scenes don’t feel purely functional and begin to flow organically, with a newfound depth. 

AMB can be surprisingly intense at times. Two stretches in the film — the entire ‘insult’ sequence and another one in the pre-climax — hit you like a ton of bricks. It goes into some dark places you don’t quite expect it to. Initially, it feels like a gimmick to create a shock value but the way the writing commits itself to underline the ‘self-respect’ facet of the story lets you see its honesty. And ‘Ambajipeta Marriage Band’ itself becomes a sign of protest, a companion to not just events in the village but a political statement; the loud sound of the powerless, those whose voices are constantly suppressed. Well, it is definitely not the fun, lighthearted film the title suggests. It is much more than that.

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