They invite you to lunch, with much love. They lay out the fresh green plantain leaves. They sprinkle water on them, and the plaintain leaves gleam in the sunlight. They serve the food, starting with the papads and the pickles. They serve you a galaxy of steaming hot native delicacies you thought you'd never see after 1992. Everything indeed tastes wonderful. The rice, however, is a little undercooked.
Heaven, sometimes, is one cooker-whistle away. Until then, discontent will haunt you.
Don't get us wrong - Seetamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu is a sweet, charming film; one that does more than bring two superstars together into one frame. At times saccharine, at times discordant, it is, overall a well-done attempt at a genre that we rarely see in these times. Only, it could have been a much better film. And much classier.
The movie follows many Indian family-drama conventions. It has a truckload of characters, and spends about an hour introducing them. Irrespective of their financial status, people have large houses - large enough to accommodate dozens of people at a time, and large enough for young girls to gracefully run around in during wedding preparations.
So in the town of Relangi lives a compulsive smiler and do-gooder (Prakash Raj) who goes by the name "Relangi Mavayya". His family comprises his wife (Jayasudha, with her trademark awesome taste in sarees), his mother (Rohini Hattangadey), his late sister's daughter Seetha (Anjali) and his two sons.
Central to the story are these two brothers, always referred to as Peddodu (Venkatesh) and Chinnodu (Mahesh Babu). The brothers go through a variety of situations that elicit different emotions from them (and about three expressions from Mahesh), and their relationship, the equivalent of the uncooked rice we spoke about earlier, is what is explored here.
Peddodu is this intractable, bullheaded dude who refuses to get a job or stay put in one. He is also not a people-pleaser, and doesn't bow to others. He cannot express his feelings, although inside, he is more emotional than Aamir Khan on Oprah. Seetha has a thing for him, but he never comes close to acknowledging the elephant in the room.
As for Chinnodu, his main claim to fame, according to the film, is that women and girls keep hitting on him. But he's no manchi baaludu. When he is not putting down girls who ogle at him and proposition him, he is ogling at girls in Ameerpet or Inorbit.
Peddodu basically has a grudge against a relative's family, but his grudges are not shared with equal passion by the rest of the family. The two brothers keep having awkward, fidgety, jerky conversations about little issues in life.
On the side are nice incidents showing us how humanity rules above all else. Three weddings, two accidents and 160 minutes later, the director sums up with his moral of the story - something on the lines of how a good family is a good contribution to the world, and how India is a great country.
There are no tragedies in the story, and things cruise smoothly for the most part. Everyone is gentle. Even the bad guys, who simply voice their opinions, aren't very nasty. The saccharine is in control, too. There is a strong coastal-Andhra flavour in the setting, the language and the practices. (But the accents are not completely authentic, and not everyone seems to speak in the same accent)
SVSC's main flaw lies in the depiction of the brothers. Their main grouse with life seems to be not that they are unproductive and unemployed, but that everyone calls them that. You never know what it is that Chinnodu does in Hyderabad. Towards the end of the film, he attends an interview in some hot-shot company (Google? Microsoft?), where the interview panel rejects him because he has a "fake smile" (and because that will deter him from leading a team in future). Peddodu never tries to find a job on his own anyway, and no one really knows why he broods all the time.
While there are many tender moments between the brothers, the chemistry between them is not clear. When they talk and resolve issues, do they have some underlying tension, or are they simply men being emotionally inexpressive men? Mahesh mumbling dialogues doesn't help, and Venkatesh is not given what he is really worth.
The characters who come up tops in this drama are Seetha and the Mavayya. Both these roles are slightly overdone, though. Anjali is extremely pleasant, and does justice to her role as the ebullient small-town traditional girl. However, she has a slight tendency to overact. In any case, she's an actress Telugu filmmakers must not let go of. Prakash Raj is restrained, and a pleasure to watch.
Samantha and Mahesh share great chemistry. The scene in which their eyes first meet is romantic, but their tete-a-tetes later on can induce some groans. Samantha's Geetha is basically a woman with the mind of a toddler, and this is annoying during all those serious family confrontations.
This is more a Mahesh film, and his character gets to go through a wide range of emotions here, unlike Venkatesh, who rarely gets to be truly happy.
Ravi Babu is present for a long time to make you laugh, and Venu Madhav makes a very brief appearance as a Census official. There's no official comedy track, although this is mostly a happy film.
The background score is clearly much better than the music in the songs. The songs aren't great, and a couple of them serve no purpose at all.
Overall, it's a clean, honest film, and you must watch it with family if you've been missing tenderness from our films; but just don't expect a K Viswanath, and you might do fine.