Sekhar Kammula burst into the limelight with Anand
(his second movie) in 2004. It was a well-made movie with a prominent role for the female protagonist. That was the debut movie for Kamalinee Mukherjee in Telugu, and the Telugu audiences didn't really remember the last time they saw a debutante perform with such aplomb.
13 years after Anand, we once again get to see a debutante performing like a virtuoso, and once again in a Kammula film. Newcomer Sai Pallavi aces an author-backed role, and is the heart and soul of the movie, an outstanding feat for a first-timer. You feel like she was born for this role, and it is a surprise that the film was not named after her character.
Fida's story, on the face of it, is simple: boy meets girl, and they both like each other but hesitate to say it. Different movies take different routes at this point, and Kammula decides to stick to what he knows best (refer Anand, Godavari
and Happy Days
) - get them embroiled in an ego clash and portray them resolving it.
So Varun (Varun Tej) and his two brothers (an elder one and a younger one) live in the USA. While scouring through prospective profiles for the elder brother, they zero in on a family in rural Telangana. What catches the brothers' notice is the mention of "no caste".
It's here that you are introduced to Bhanumathi (Sai Pallavi) and her sister Renuka. While Renuka is reticent and withdrawing, Bhanumathi is the polar opposite - boisterous and feisty. The elder brother Raju falls for Renuka, and they get engaged. With the marriage scheduled a week later, Varun and Bhanumathi get close to the each other after an initial skirmish. But a misunderstanding drives a wedge in the relationship, and from then on it is a tale of one-upmanship.
A hackneyed story like that needs a great user interface, and fortunately, that's just Kammula's thing. He is superb at conceiving individual situations and weaving them together brilliantly, elevating a humble script to a riveting film. There are many scenes where just the dialogues create the necessary impact. The phone conversation between Satyam Rajesh and Sai Pallavi, and the fight where Varun Tej asks questions on the subject that they are graduating in, are just a couple of examples.
What make the movie good could easily have been the reason it could've gone wrong, too - the interactions between the lead pair. They don't feel like overkill because of the characters around them. These latter ones are not roles etched out too elaborately, but they serve their purpose, and enable the film to cater to all sections of the moviegoers. The youth will especially relate to this movie more easily as the protagonists freewheel on Whatsapp, and the mobile phone is given a lot of prominence in the second-half of the movie. Ironically, these are the sequences that keep you off your own phone.
Another thing that Kammula aces in the movie is the casting. Sai Pallavi, as we already mentioned, is brilliant, and the perfect fit for Bhanumathi's role. She dances well and emotes well, and her mastering of a dialect in a language that's not her mother tongue is remarkable. Years later, she can fondly look back at her performance in this film.
Varun Tej acts well but needs to work on his diction - the contrast is stark especially since the actor opposite him is slaying it in her role. It appears to be a pattern in all of Kammula's hits that the lead actor is an average performer. In here, Tej should also have taken care to maintain a consistent physique - his body oscillates between lean and bulky pretty often in this film.
The cinematography adds significantly to the experience. The way the drizzles play a part in the movie is worth mentioning. That Kammula wanted to name the movie Musuru ("drizzle") is an indicator of how important they are to the film - sure enough, there are a lot of them in the movie, you listen to them, you feel they're there, and you quite like it.
On the contrary, while you feel Telangana because of the language in the movie, you don't get to see a lot of it. The only part where you realize that it's Telangana is when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the board in the Nizamabad railway station. That's a bummer since a key feature of this film was its being set in Telangana, and it would've been interesting to see how the cinematography rendered the state.
Sai Pallavi is not just a director's dream but that of a choreographer, too. She does a splendid job in the wedding song, and the choreographer deserves a good round of applause. To make a romantic movie without a hummable melody might have been a crime some years ago, but you don't miss it in this film. That's because you are too engrossed in getting to know what will happen in the lives of the protagonists.
Apart from Sai Pallavi, it is Sekhar Kammula who will walk away from this film with his head held high. His casting of Satyam Rajesh is a masterstroke. The backdrop of agriculture and the subtext of the father-daughter relationship are as subtle as possible without being overbearing on the plot. Also, by basing an agrarian family in Telangana (and not in konaseema as is the norm), Kammula shows conviction. Now if only he'd also shown the time difference between India and USA a little more realistically - but that's only for a scene, and cribbing for the sake of it.
Before ending, it should be mentioned that Sai Pallavi's character Bhanumathi is a fan of Pawan Kalyan, and there are copious references to his movies, songs and dialogues. Nobody can afford to say #cheppanubrother, can they?