Our main lady and her friend are in a car. The friend stops the car and Suryakantham starts drinking alcohol, without skipping a gulp to breathe. She is heartbroken and she isn’t planning on dealing with it gracefully—good riddance, I say. We are then shown four bearded men sitting around a campfire and we think, ‘I know where this is going. She is in trouble’. That is until she gets down and nudges the guys into dancing to her tune of misery and they happily chime in. This is what makes Suryakantham, an otherwise typical love triangle, feel fresh. An unpredictable leading lady and a plot that takes after her and flips the tables in ways that more-often-than-not produce delightful results.
Suryakantham is a story of a 25-year-old woman who lets her parents’ divorce define her worldview. When she finally finds a man who is willing to understand her need for absolute freedom, she hesitates. Whether she gets over her issues with commitment and if that helps her get her happy ending forms the rest of the story.
Pranith Bramandapally, the director, previously made a web series called Muddhapappu Avakai, an imperfect yet breezy attempt at romance. Even though this film is completely different, you can still see a hint of that freshness coming through, particularly while creating Suryakantham’s character. You can see that she is a real human being, as opposed to a demigoddess concocted by a male brain.
That said, there are parts of it that did not work for me because they felt out-of-place in a film that actively tries to be aware of the stereotypes—Suryakantham slapping the guy’s uncle is fun to watch, but a bit much to handle. The music by Mark Robin isn’t that effective and when a song comes it feels like a distraction. The editing feels abrupt and choppy at places as well, but the cinematography is worth a mention—especially the way the camera captures Rajasthan.
If the film works, it has mostly to do with Niharika and her persona. She plays this messy woman, who is so self-assured that it borders on selfishness. But she keeps the audience’s irritation at check by trying to bring out the character’s conflict and her helplessness in the face of it rather well. Suhasini plays her single mother who tries to minimise the trauma she believes her marriage has caused on her daughter’s psyche. Her daughter forgot what it means to call a place home, so she keeps running away. To remedy this, the mother takes as many pictures of her as she can to keep her close. They share a crackling equation which makes their relationship seem that much more believable.
Rahul Vijay plays the character of Abhi, a man with a perpetual look of confusion on his face, and he does justice to it by dutifully fading away whenever Suryakantham is in the frame. Perlene Bhesania’s Pooja, Abhi’s fiance, though draws the short straw. Despite being a secure woman in a relationship, she really doesn’t get much to do. Sathya’s goofy sidekick is as delightful as always, but he deserves to be more than a punching bag. And watching Shivaji Raja after a while is a pleasant surprise.
It is timely to write a story around a woman who is unapologetic about her choices and behaviour. What is more, the writer/director isn’t apologetic of his flawed heroine either. His decision to not explain her every move to the audience adds dignity to the proceedings. We see women drinking without it being a feminist ceremony or a conservative nightmare. We aren’t asked to care and we shouldn’t. When the film is about to end, Suryakantham says to Pooja, “Take care of him or else”. It was role reversal at its slyest.
My only major grouse is the way it ends. Why would you bring back a woman into your life when she isn’t clearly done healing? That and the climax kind of takes away from the lighter mood the film tries to set all throughout. Heartbreak is painful, but seeing as Suryakantham is anything but ordinary, she should’ve dealt with it differently instead of turning the film into a soppy pile of tears. The fact that there is zero chemistry between Adhi and Pooja also makes the ending seem shaky.
Suryakantham. The title’s namesake was an actor known for her loud and in-your-face, sometimes evil, roles that defined a type of mother-in-law in films for decades to come. She has been used in many recent films as a frame on the wall, but this film does one better. This film uses her name to invoke an idea of a woman who won’t hesitate to speak her mind, nor will she allow others to pin her down, not even her own mother. She is loud, overfamiliar, and has no regards for boundaries that aren’t hers. She knows her worth and place in the world, and she doesn’t hesitate to point that out when people forget. A ‘loosu ponnu’ who isn’t loosu at all. Hasini 2.0, if you will—a more sensible, informed, and relatable portrayal of an unpredictable and complex woman.
Sakeertana is an engineer who took a few years to realise that bringing together two lovely things, movies and writing, is as great as it sounds. Mainly writes about Telugu cinema because no one else would.
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