Miss India on Netflix, With Keerthy Suresh: A Strong Woman’s Story Is Diluted By Weak Writing, Film Companion
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Director: Narendra Nath

Cast: Keerthy Suresh, Jagapathi Babu, Nadhiya Moidu

In Narendra Nath’s Miss India, everyone speaks like one of two things: a PowerPoint slide, or  a motivational poster. Consider the scene where Manasa Samyuktha (Keerthy Suresh, whose styling is the best thing about this movie) gets a gift from her brother. She opens the box eagerly. It’s a watch. She’s thrilled — way more thrilled than a grown woman should be upon getting a watch. It’s just what she needed, she says. Her brother, however, summons up his inner Swami Vivekananda (or Confucius, or whoever) and tells her something like: Time is the most important thing. This watch is to remind you of it. Is the poor woman consumed by some ghastly disease that has her thinking about her remaining lifespan? Is there, inside the watch, a bomb that needs to be defused before the minute hand meets the hour hand?

No. It’s just something the writers bung in to remind us, periodically, that we are in a movie about establishing a business. It’s like the scene where Manasa Samyuktha  (who might have been better named Manasa Brinda Annalakshmi, which at least acronyms to MBA) tells a colleague: This is your life. You are the owner, founder and sole proprietor. It’s like the scene where she does a SWOT analysis with her gal pals. (For the uninitiated, that’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, the last-mentioned being movies like Miss India.) When not spouting business-ese, Manasa Samyuktha spouts scripture-ese. During a dinner (she insists it’s not a date), she explains the difference between charity and humanity. At one point, I think this dinner companion offers her coffee just so that we can get the line: Coffee is not my cup of tea. That’s bad script-ese.

I loved the core conceit, though. Why not make a rags-to-riches, against-all-opposition story with a heroine? Why not besiege her with smarmy corporate types, who laugh at her homespun wisdom and will later be ground to dust under her feet? Why not give her the shot where the car door opens and her well-heeled foot lands on the ground, followed by plenty of slo-mo? Why not give her the “punch” moment, where she appears out of nowhere and (metaphorically) kicks the villain in the nuts? But the film doesn’t commit wholly to this tone, and we are left with a terribly watered down story of Manasa Samyuktha’s efforts to establish a chai empire in the US. The film has had a lot of hype, but it is my duty to report that it’s not worth the brew-haha.

Miss India is t-oolong, and overstuffed with the worst cast of foreign actors. Even the bigger names (like Jagapathi Babu, whose introduction scene is unintentionally hilarious) are left stranded by the simplistic writing. There’s a bit where Manasa Samyuktha’s mother (Nadhiya Moidu) remarks that the girl has a tendency to gaze at her feet when she lies. I thought it would be a major plot point, but it’s just something random and advice-y, like her father telling her that good grades don’t matter if you don’t have a goal. And he doesn’t even have the decency to look at his feet, given the country we are in, where good grades are everything. I liked exactly one scene, where Manasa Samyuktha’s mother shouts at her for declining a marriage proposal (You won’t get a better boy!) and she replies, “You always think other people are better than your own children. Why not say: The boy won’t get a better girl!” There’s a solid kernel of truth in this line, which is found often with Indian parents. Otherwise, the film proves that (to put it in chai-ese), a miss is as good as a chamo-mile.

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