Review Of CommitMental On Aha: Not As Zany As The Original, But Holds Up Nevertheless, Film Companion
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Director: Pavan Sadineni

Cast: Punarnavi Bhupalam, Udbhav Raghunandan, Venkatesh Kakumanu

The title CommitMental itself should be enough to tell you what the priorities of the new Aha series are. It’s a rom-com where you don’t have to keep yourself awake throughout the five-episode season. You can take quick naps, or do your chores, every now and then and still be able to understand the topsy-turvy happenings between the lead couple, Anu (Punarnavi Bhupalam) and Phani (Udbhav Raghunandan).

In a way, the show doesn’t take too much of your energy. It might sound good if your mind is occupied with something else. But if you’re looking to sit down with a warm blanket wrapped around you and with a beverage of your choice, this might disappoint you a bit.

When The Viral Fever (TVF) made the Hindi original Permanent Roommates in 2014, the format was pretty new to our country. YouTube had just started gaining popularity by leveling the playing field between the giants and the newcomers to an extent. And TVF saw a great opportunity there and made maximum use of it by making branded content.

Biswapati Sarkar’s well-scripted tale, Permanent Roommates, revolved around an urban millennial couple in which a skittish man and an anxious woman tried to steer their relationship to the shore by crossing several hurdles–the man wanted to get married ASAP and the woman was unsure if their romance would survive the after effects of a long-distance relationship. CommitMental follows the same course without ever missing a beat and, in fact, relies upon the translation of the dialogues for the most part.

At the beginning of each episode, though, there’s a scene that illustrates the dissimilarities between the Telugu partners–Anu is a yoga fanatic, whereas Phani isn’t into it; however, he stretches his body as per her wishes to show her that he appreciates her. And, in another episode, Anu teaches him how to make a dish via a video call, even as her boss intently gazes at the screen.

These extra scenes are as goofy as they come. They’re not handled with care, but for a show of this sort, it fits. It’s like a loose T-shirt that you randomly pick from your wardrobe to wear on a Sunday. You know that you’re not going to get judged for it, so you let yourself be. And just like Mikesh (Sumeet Vyas) irritated Tanya (Nidhi Singh) in Permanent Roommates, Phani gets on Anu’s nerves easily.

But, there, Vyas owned the role of a cute doofus. He knew what kind of a guy Mikesh was—whether it was the non-stop blabbering, or the pauses he took to digest his girlfriend’s complaints, he got it right. Raghunandan, on the other hand, appears clueless. In the scenes where Anu confronts Phani’s lack-of-planning approach, you can see how Raghunandan, the actor, struggles to come to terms with his character’s emotions. It feels as though he’s choosing between a lost-puppy face and the demeanor of a nonchalant teenager.

Raghunandan isn’t entirely facing the cameras for the first time either. He has been starring in popular YouTube sketches for a few years now. Maybe, he needs a couple more years to get his groove. The supporting actors nail it, though. Vishnu, who was extremely good in Rahul Sankrityan’s Taxiwala (2018), stars as a low-key innocent broker here. He doesn’t attempt to piggyback on Deepak Kumar Mishra’s caricaturish performance from the original and instead makes a mark on his own. Similarly, Laxman (Venkatesh Kakumanu), as the boyfriend of Anu’s roommate, eases up to Phani by offering him silly pieces of advice.  

If there were more scenes featuring Laxman and Phani with some booze for company, it’d have certainly helped the humorous touches fly higher. The same mantra could have been used for Anu and Ritu (Namrata Tipirneni) also. It’s a shame that we don’t see these friends much. Director Pavan Sadineni seems to have not allowed any room for improvements—right from the number of principal and supporting characters to the middle ground that Anu and Phani agree upon, no changes have been made.

Of course, changes aren’t always necessary. For many remakes, half the job is done if the team sticks to the rhythm of the originals. But with this particular show, there was definitely some space for zaniness. That said, it’s Bhupalam who holds the threads of CommitMental together. She brings out the worries and doubts of a young woman splendidly—she’s in her mid-twenties and marriage is the last thing on her mind.

I hope Raghunandan learns the tricks of the trade by the time the next season arrives, as promised. Again, this isn’t going to be a sequel for which you’ll be twiddling your thumbs and waiting patiently. It’ll be like the one your cursor will probably land on automatically on a rainy day.

 

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