Director: Maruthi Dasari
Cast: Santosh Shoban, Mehreen Pirzada, Ajay Ghosh
I would bet on the fact that like most funny people, director Maruthi suffers from the fear of not being taken seriously because he always wants to convey a message through his films. He wants to be silly and goofy and make a film loaded with pop-culture references but he tries to add depth. Take a sermon, sprinkle a few emotionally manipulative sequences and marinate it with a character whose flaw is either transformed or accepted and voila, you have a Maruthi film.
In Bhale Bhale Magadivoy a comedy of errors ensued because of an absent-minded protagonist's attempt to find love. In Maahanubhaavudu a comedy of errors ensued because of a neatness freak's expectations on the world around him. In Prathi Roju Pandage a comedy of errors ensued through children whose aging father was treated as a burden.
You get the picture…
Here the flawed protagonist is a pessimistic and fearful father Gopalam (Ajay Ghosh) who is easily influenced by others and he projects these fears onto his daughter Paddhu (Mehreen). But she's in love with Santhosh (Santhosh Shoban) whose sole purpose in life is to fill the large 'heroine' shaped hole in his life and have a successful love story. When Gopalam objects to his daughter's love, a comedy of errors ensues.
Maybe Maruthi's films in the future can become a landmark for the cultural and pop-cultural references to the year his movies released in – because there are references to WhatsApp forwards, memes, popular TV serials, other big budget films, and Santhosh Shobhan even manages to sneak in a reference to his older films (it's like watching a 14-year old boy twirl a moustache that sprouted yesterday).
Usually, the elevator pitches for Maruthi's films are so short that a ride to the first floor would leave some space for awkward silences but this film has an even thinner plot. So, you'd expect Maruthi to pad the film with phenomenal gags as he successfully did in Bhale Bhale Magadivoy, and to an extent in Mahanubhaavudu. Even in Prathi Roju Pandage he attempted dark humor despite a few scenes seeming too macabre. But here he plays too safe as if instead of writing scenes with dialogues he's constructing frames for memes. Some of the moments are definitely funny, especially in the second half when Santhosh Shoban takes charge of affairs and goes on a mission to iron out the flaws in Gopalam. People around me enjoyed and laughed at a few moments too (even the slightly insensitive COVID jokes) and let out a cackle or two at a few references. But as the film neared its end there was the familiar groan of 'now the lecture begins'.
Santhosh Shoban is clearly attempting to increase his market size and he's become better at selling the 'dance-fight' part of his Hero persona. But I couldn't help sense that he was imitating Nani's nasal twang in the comedy portions and even the way his body avoids the camera as if to stop it from catching him do something embarrassing is straight out of the Nani playbook of comedy. Mehreen seems to have walked out from one film set to another to perform the same role and it's hardly her fault that there isn't much for her to do and I actually thought she is getting better at playing the one note part.
Protagonists in this film (and in most Maruthi films) don't have back stories because of their extreme relatability. As an audience, we fill in the backstory with our own stories or the people we know. And that works for 'Hero' and 'Heroine' because they don't do much other than progress the plot forward and utter lines and take part in gags.
But this lack of an interesting backstory and a roundedness to the characters does the most disservice to Ajay Ghosh who shoulders the film as a protective but pessimistic and gullible father. He is supposed to be the 'every' father and yet he is supposed to stand out as flawed. It's a brave call to cast him in a character otherwise saved for the likes of Prakash Raj and Rao Ramesh and he's phenomenal too. Raja Raja Chora showed that Ajay Ghosh is capable of evoking empathy when given a non-villainous part but given that he's the protagonist of this film he needed to be written better. The film can't wait to get to crack jokes on him and then sprint to the emotional beats. It suffers from being too predictable and his motions and expressions get repetitive and the same principle can be applied to the actors playing Koti and Moorthy who are constantly influencing him. I also wondered what hell would break loose on Telugu cinema screens if all the 'character' actors were cast in parts that would truly use their potential but I guess the good days that this film promises are yet to come in that aspect.
I wish Maruthi would stick to making goofball comedies about flawed people than message-y films because sometimes making an audience recovering from traffic jams, EMIs, and a devastating pandemic laugh for 140-minutes straight is a noble and serious task.