Director: Sumanth Prabhas
Cast: Sumanth Prabhas, Mani Aegurla, Mourya Chowdary, Saarya, Narendra Ravi, Kiran Macha, Anjimama, Shiva Nandan
Watching Mem Famous in a near-empty multiplex on a Friday morning once again strongly pronounced the distinction between the experience of watching a film in a single-screen theatre and a multiplex. But shouldn’t a good film captivate you regardless of where you watch it? It’s an ambiguous argument that cannot be generalised and applied to all films. The case in the study, Mem Famous, is a film that banks heavily on and is deliberately constructed around moments that for its target audience—youth—to resonate with and celebrate. Like a singer or a stand-up performing for their audience, this film pretty much borrows its spirit and energy from the young, effervescent crowd that tends to fill up the seats of single screens for the FDFS of mass films.
In a way, the film’s writing is reverse-engineered; it’s replete with moments that are designed to make its target audience go mad (The shot of Mai walking in slow motion while a DJ song plays in the background might be a blast in a packed single screen). But what’s so special about Mem Famous? Doesn’t every mainstream crowd-puller aim to evoke a similar, uproarious response from its audience? Yes, what separates Mem Famous from other crowd-pleasers is that it draws its entire personality from this youth vibe. It’s more committed to its ‘vibe’ than the story. That’s why watching this film in a packed single-screen theatre is likely to bestow an enhanced viewing experience.
Moving on from the experience surrounding the film, Mem Famous is to aimless 20-something-year-olds what Majili (2019) was to heartbroken middle-class, young men. It’s a fantasy. I don’t use the term to ridicule its good intentions, but in the process of assuring its target audience that they will succeed in their lives despite the hardships, it makes conventional and easy writing choices.
Mahesh aka Mai (Sumanth Prabhas), Durga (Mani Aegurla) and Balakrishna aka Baali (Mourya Chowdhary) are the three directionless musketeers of Bandanarsampally who spend their days goofing around, drinking, splurging, much to the disappointment of their parents and the villagers. After 30 minutes of set-up and a funny incident involving a chicken that takes a serious turn, the trio decides to fix their life. In the journey, however, they have to overcome numerous roadblocks, individually and collectively—from two childhood love stories to a loan shark and a final, macro conflict, one involving the development of their village.
Sumanth Prabhas makes a ‘good’ film. It’s filled with good people. Jinka Venu (Kiran Macha), the Sarpanch of the village, for instance, is the trio’s guardian angel who stands by them when the entire village reprimands them. When the boys hit rock bottom in the second half he is the only one to console them in a beautiful scene. Likewise, Mai’s uncle, Anji Mama, who remains a constant source of support to the boys, is a warm presence. Durga’s father might look at them with disdain and compare them to pigs but he goes to the extent of mortgaging his hard-earned land to support them financially when the trio decides to kickstart a business. Baali’s prospective father-in-law, despite initial resistance, gives him the approval to marry his daughter Babitha albeit on the condition that he moves to Hyderabad. Even Ramachandar, the 'bad guy' of the film, isn't treated like one in the end. You see, Mem Famous is comforting and uplifting in its mood. It keeps telling the youth that everything will fall into place in the end despite the heartbreaks.
The moment when Baali has to part ways with his best friends and move to Hyderabad is beautiful, accompanied by Kalyan Nayak’s heartfelt ‘Dosthulam’, rendered beautifully by Kaala Bhairava. A thread featuring a minor character named Mallayya, for instance, whom the trio offends twice, gets a lovely closure. This hearty film soars during such pleasing moments.
While the film, complemented by Kalyan Nayak’s score, hits the right notes on the ‘feels’ front, it falters a bit on the pacing front. That’s partly due to the structure of a film. The first half of the film is propelled by a particular motivation—to make the leads find a direction in their life. In the second half, the characters are pushed to ground zero and they have to restart from scratch. This structure itself makes the film overlong because we have to see the characters find a new motivation and work towards the goal. Again. While the YouTube video angle—capturing the reactions of villagers when they interact with modern inventions—itself is chuckle-worthy, the film and the characters take a tad long to get to the point. Also, 'going viral' is a cliched plot point and a convenient writing choice at this point. And just when you think the film might have finally found its ground, it shifts gears and takes up another conflict (one about the development of the village) for the finale. These shifts can be uneven at times and made me wonder about the film’s focus.
And the fact that the writing ties Mai’s uninspiring love story with his maradhalu Mounika (Saarya, whose makeup makes her character stick like a sore thumb in an otherwise natural-looking film), giving it so much prominence, is baffling. For instance, we know that Mounica harbours passionate feelings for Mai although she never expresses them verbally. Towards the end, the film dedicates itself to this ‘expression of love’, making it a big deal. Even the way the scene is staged feels amateurish. Had the film chosen to actually keep her feelings concealed from the audience, instead of revealing her intentions through dialogue in the first half, the payoff would have worked. It’s during these moments you question whether the film deserves its 150-minute runtime. However, thanks to characters like the photographer Baashi and the hilariously named Lipstick Spoiler Lingam (Shiva Nandhan), the Thumbs Up-drinking teenager who hangs around with the gang, the ‘vibe’ of the film remains intact even when nothing major is happening. Lipstick Spoiler narrating his love story is a cracker of a scene.
The 'youth vibe' is sacrosanct to Mem Famous. The fresh faces (Be it Sumanth Prabhas, Mourya Chowdary, or Mani Aegurla) and their lingo (the phrase ‘youth untadhi’ is used to describe something good) are all part of this vibe. They all lend novelty to an otherwise familiar coming-of-age tale. It’s an optimistic film that does venture into generic territories. But its worldview and characters lend Mem Famous an endearing quality that makes it hard to dismiss the film despite many of its obvious shortcomings.