It is a movie that promised to be different. And it does deliver. Ashta Chemma stays true to its promise, right until the closing credits, where director Mohanakrishna actually reveals the source of his 'inspiration', an act rarely performed by our filmmakers - Ashta Chamma is loosely based on Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance Of Being Earnest.
Indeed, Ashta Chamma is made like a well-orchestrated play - all spunk, earnestness and sincerity to perform. For its spirit, it scores. And wins, hands down.
Lavanya ('Colours' Swathi) is an ardent fan of Mahesh Babu, and along with thousands of female fans all over, is shattered at the news of his having tied the knot. Her aunt, Mandira Devi (an over-spirited Jhansi), dreams of an NRI groom for Lavanya. But our lady is so besotted that she resolves to marry only if the groom is named Mahesh.
Enter her neighbour Anand (a fantastically well-timed performance by debutant Srinivas Avasarala), who chances upon Mahesh (Nani, a former RJ), and brings him into Lavanya's life. Bubbly, pretty, excited Lavanya and suave, polished Mahesh fall in love with each other.
But as Lavanya reveals her little quirk - that is, that she worships Mahesh Babu and that the reason she fell in love with our Mahesh was because he was named so - Mahesh panics. Because he's not really Mahesh; he discloses to Anand that he is Rambabu, and that he and his sister are actually rich heirs to their deceased parents' fortune, back in their village Lakkavaram. The family is revered by the villagers there, and he started making frequent sojourns to Hyderabad so that he could get away from the claustrophobic, do-gooder life he has had to lead in the village.
Afraid to reveal his past to Lavanya, he lands into yet another dilemma when Mandira Devi wants to do a background check on him. Meanwhile in Lakkavaram, his sister Varalakshmi (Bhargavi) has started falling in love with his 'friend' who he pretends to meet in Hyderabad, and who he draws a vivid picture of. The fictitious friend is, you guessed it right, Mahesh.
Ladies and gentlemen, sit back and enjoy as the impasse is broken through a hilarious turn of events masterminded by Anand. The music is interesting, but may not be unforgettable. However, the retro-graphed 'Hello Antoo' has already charmed listeners and is one tastefully done song.
Nani shines through with his spontaneity, and his diction and language are refreshingly fluent. Srinivas with his cool, ready-to-pun Anand, is a perfect foil to the fraught Nani. Swathi is good as the vivacious Lavanya. Her excitement at meeting Mahesh for the first time is oh-so-perfect and real, as is the indignation at her aunt's stubbornness. However, her school-girl effervescence proves to be her one weakness in the end - she is dressed in a saree but looks hopelessly too young to be wearing one.
The script is replete with satire. From rich absent parents to Tollywood cliches, to the Telugus' fixation for NRIs, there are pot-shots at many things - little reminders for us to laugh at ourselves.
The film has its share of weaknesses; but you would do well to overlook them. Don't be put off by the excessive in-film product promotions thrust into your face (HSBC, too - through a much-too-obvious T-shirt worn by the servant!) - they don't last beyond the first half. Don't be deceived by the traditional filmi hero's welcome in a pub, with song, dance and girls. Don't rack your brains over what these kids do for a living (Lavanya is a copyrighter, but you don't really see her going to work) - the director has solved that problem by making them all stinking rich, so they don't have to do anything for a living, just spend. Don't expect Tanikella Bharani to make you laugh as much as you wish he did. Don't expect a brilliant solution to solve the stalemate at the end, in this Ashta Chamma.
In a comedy that is so reminiscent of Jandhyala, there is perfect comic timing, fluent Telugu (thanks to the producers picking only Telugu-speaking actors), splendid performances and delightful, peppy songs. What more could you want in a film?
Redefining romantic comedy, Ashta Chemma is a pleasant and fun-filled picnic. Watch it to savour the experience that only great cinema can give.