Tollywood has earned its reputation of being a fount of brain-dead money-spinners the hard way. After all, it churns out more than 150 films a year with the same macho stalker-ish men with rippling muscles and the manners of a hick, the same milky-white bimbettes who fall for the formers' stalker-ish behaviour because they find it "charming", the same mechanical skin show and "romance", the same randomly hacked off body parts and bizarre fight sequences... And to top it all off, there's always a moral, and always a back-story to make the "hero"'s lack of manners, or morals, acceptable.
And one fine day, when you're utterly convinced that this is pretty much all there is to it, along come movies like Midhunam to remind you what cinema really is. Not a platform for star sons to showcase their non-existent talent, not for people to display all the permutations and combinations of every lame joke in existence, and most certainly not to promote sexual harassment. Just another way to tell you a tale worth telling
Now let's get back to the wonderful movie. As we said, all Midhunam does is narrate a story that many would erroneously assume is simple. After all, how complex can a movie be, when all you see on screen is an old married couple, and one lovely house in small-town Andhra Pradesh? It just goes on to show how wrong many would be, for there is nothing simple about the intricacy in idyllia.
The idyllia we speak of is the joy you derive from a spoonful of piping hot payasam. It is the ecstasy in that first sip of freshly-made filter coffee. It is the confidence drawn from absolute self-sufficiency. More than anything else, it is the comfort of spending the last days of your life in leisure and peace with the one person on the whole planet you want to spend them with. And, it is inhabited by Buchchi (Lakshmi Narayan) and Appadasu (S P Balasubramaniyam).
Appadasu has three passions in life - eating, his wife Buchchi, and growing things. Buchchi also has three passions in life - cooking, taking care of Appadasu, and obsessing over her NRI children. They live together on an anachronistic piece of land right out of black-and-white Telugu movies, complete with a thota
, a well, a cow named Savitri, and a little brook.
Exemplify as they do the words "alone together", they are perfectly happy, and if they squabble once or twice about Appadasu's lack of sociability and Buchchi's ex-suitors with names of grapes - well, as Appadasu pithily puts it, daampathyamu, dhappalamu baaga marigithene ruchi
This is pretty much how the whole movie goes. The highest point of drama is when Savitri's calf dies and Appadasu and Savitri conduct a funeral for it. But the poetry in the prosaic has rarely ever been as much in evidence as in this film.
And so they lead their tranquil post-retirement lives, loving each other and living life to the fullest - working side-by-side, cooking, eating, talking about cooking and eating, singing about cooking and eating (God! This movie makes you so
Mithunam makes you feel a lot of things; mirthful, contemplative, refreshed, and, somewhere, a tad envious, too. For, the lead couple are done with the first bit of life, the business end, where you struggle to pay bills and work and save and bring up children. All they have to do now is live life the way it was meant to be. And you of the 21st century - with the smartphones, the fat pay-checks, the 24x7 jobs and the Rs.150 seats from which you are watching this movie - are probably never going to see that life.
A lot of the credit for the film goes to the screenplay and the loving camera work. Drops of coffee squeezing their way out of a traditional steel filter have never looked so inviting, nor has the act of making coconut chutney, so joyful.
However, when there are only two characters in a movie, they need to be played to perfection. And boy do SPB and Lakshmi do their job well. So what if they're both old? SPB doesn't let his love handles get in the way of romancing his wife, and Lakshmi is absolutely ravishing.
Tanikella Bharani's love for the Telugu language is conspicuous in every word uttered in the movie, whether it be the cleverly wrought dialogues that draw chuckles every time they intend to, or the ingenuous lyrics that blend into the screenplay seamlessly.
One song, for instance, goes "avakaya mana andharidi, gongura kuda manadele...", a play on a famous song from the 1955 film Missamma with the lyrics "brundavanamadi andharidi, govindudu andharivadele...". This is just one example of how Bharani skillfully wields the Telugu language, literature and popular culture to give you a script that is as amusing as it is efficient.
And if the movie does drag a bit towards the end, it is more like the soporifia from a soothing lullaby rather than the tedium induced by everything mentioned in the first paragraph.
Calling Midhunam a movie for senior citizens would be like calling Barfi
a movie for the differently-abled, or The Hobbit
a movie for, well, hobbits. It is that rare Telugu movie that you can actually recommend to your family. So, take them all to watch it, and rediscover the raison d'etre