Director: Kranthi Madhav
Cast: Vijay Deverakonda, Raashi Khanna, Aishwarya Rajesh, Catherine Tresa, Izabelle Leite.
Yamini (Raashi Khanna) is in pain. Gautham (Vijay Deverakonda), a wannabe writer, is too withdrawn to notice it. When he looks at her, she looks like someone who is about to cry. ‘Is it one of those days?’ asks the man. It’s not. She is tired of her life. Of being a person who is in a relationship with a man who physically resembles the guy she’s fallen for in college, but isn’t the same person. She breaks down at this negligence. She wails like a wounded dog and says: ‘Praanam leni vasthuvuni kuda sariga chusukokapothe, padaipothundhi. Nenu manishini. Naaku praanamu undhi, manasu kuda.’ [Even a lifeless thing gets ruined when not dealt with care. I’m a human being. I have life. I have a heart too.]
I don’t know what this scene/this pain reminds others of, but it reminded me of myself. Of my love for cinema and how that love is taken for granted and abused every other Friday. I know good art takes time, but I am just as heartbroken and weary as Yamini. I also have a headache. There are only so many times I can hear Deverakonda shout the name Yamini before my brain starts reacting badly.
World Famous Lover is as lacklustre in spirit as the title. The film markets itself as an anthology of four different kinds of love. It shouldn’t have, because that is misleading. It is about one love story and one couple. Gautham and Yamini. It is about a man who ‘thinks’ he should be a writer, his inability to prove that assumption, and the frustrations that follow. Just like Baumbach’s Marriage Story, here too, we are more exposed to the man’s pain, but snippets reveal the woman’s story as well. As such, the film is about whether redemption and reward are on the cards for Gautham or not.
Kranthi Madhav’s story has a rather promising premise. An entitled man who thinks he deserves everything he wants is questioned by the woman he loves. This is supposed to start a journey of self-discovery, a discovery of his privilege, which is supposed to happen through his writing. But the way Madhav writes the screenplay, this barely gets conveyed. When the realisation finally happens, it is one scene away from the final scene. By then the audience is made to sit through glorified violence and self-harm, very reminiscent of a signature Deverakonda outburst — they keep bringing the trope back and get annoyed at us for pointing it out; only, this time, it barely makes an impact. Instead of being a crucial moment that rewrites the whole film, it reads more like an afterthought.
To the writer’s credit, the story between Srinu (Devarakonda) and Suvarna (Aishwarya Rajesh), the strongest of the lot, manages to convey this internalised bias of the writer rather effectively. Gautham’s obnoxious idea of compromise and his unwillingness to look at his flaws are seamlessly imbued into this story. The way Suvarna gradually finds financial independence, only to fall back into his arms is the modern man in Gautham colliding with his pain. Aishwarya gives life to this walking-talking stereotype of a “small-town” woman, a dark-skinned, supposedly illiterate woman who is willing to do anything to keep her marriage alive. Her flawless Telangana dialect and the way she inhabits this woman, adds life to a film that looks rather saturated otherwise. Vijay, too, shines in the role of Srinnayya, as Suvarna calls him. Despite the fact that he plays a hard-to-love man with a caustic tongue who reserves all his charm for a woman that isn’t his wife — Catherine Tresa is effective as Smitha madam, the so-called fantasy — Deverakonda’s performance, and his innate earnestness gives this bitterness a purpose, a backstory.
The first half of the film is highly promising. The transitions, from story to story, happen organically. The story set in Yellandu coal mines is real and humorous enough to entertain and engage.The film only hits a rough patch when the protagonist decides to break the fourth-wall by the time it reaches the interval block. Actors suddenly being aware of the camera is distracting enough, it becomes a hindrance when used ineffectively. If this is the director’s way of letting his protagonist have an internal dialogue and letting the audience into his mind, then why isn’t it used again? He comes back, at the end, a changed man, but why aren’t we privy to that process?
Gopi Sundar’s music tries to smoothen the rough edges, to no avail. Music has many powers, but rescuing a bad screenplay isn’t one of them. The editor partially has that power, and Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao tries to limit the damage with sharp, abrupt cuts, just as abrupt as the screenplay.
Even though the script slowly takes nuance away from her character, Raashi Khanna tries her best to convince us of Yamini’s pain and the complexity of her feelings. As the film moves along, the scene transitions, too, get haphazard. Instead of spending time on the man and woman at the crux of the story, Madhav chooses to move to Paris. And the fact that the story revolves around a cliche as old as cinema doesn’t help either. Suddenly, the man turns into an adrenaline junkie. There is high-stakes Russian roulette and he teaches an actual pilot the pleasures of sky-diving — too many new plot introductions and too little purpose.
The Kranthi Madhav that made Malli Malli Idhi Raani Roju can be seen, unmistakably, in the way Izza, a French woman — Izabelle Leite is given a meaty enough role to play and she does it well — decides to wait until marriage to have sex. Apparently, we Indians are very pure like that. The only respite, then, is Jaya Krishna’s cinematography, but when has Paris not looked breathtaking?
World Famous Lover has all the potential to become a romantic entertainer that is modern enough to look edgy and conservative enough to be palatable for a wide range of audience. Which is why I don’t understand the film’s reluctance to strengthen the story between Gautham and Yamini. We aren’t given enough information about the bond they shared, and the few snippets we see are vague and shallow in the way they trace a story of love. This lack of depth makes it excruciating to sit through the motions of a violent romantic drama. When the film is about to end, Yamini’s father — Jayaprakash plays him with the weariness and expertise of a man who’s done this before — says this to Gautham: ‘Leave me out of your pain, and leave me alone.’ I never felt more represented.