On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban has an impressive thought process. In talking to entrepreneurs when evaluating investment options, he categorizes them into either entrepreneurs or want-repreneurs or idiots. Entrepreneurs being the trailblazing business owners/innovators, want-reprenuers being the ones who aspire to the former but are hindered by either having a weak product, business model, attitude or all of the above. And the idiots are, well, quite self-explanatory.
Applying this theory to today's film, the original entrepreneur/trailblazer with the structure and story Malli Raava tries to tell is 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally. The want-repreneur is 2004's Hum Tum
. And the idiots are too high in number to list or even count. Let's see which category Malli Raava falls into.
Malli Raava chronicles three stages in the lives of Karthik (Sumanth) and Anjali (Aakanksha Singh). Set in 1999, 2012 and 2017, the film lets us watch as the duo's bond begins, develops and ultimately reaches a culmination, in the three respective years. In these three specific years, Karthik and Anjali meet each other at their school, then at their workplace, and finally when one of them is pencilled in to be married and the other is set to go overseas for work.
The film jumps back and forth in time as each of their encounters comes with new sets of rules and baggage they have to contend with while having both a near-primal need and an enduring love for each other.
This moderately fresh approach to telling a story acts as the launch pad for Malli Raava and its director Gowtham Tinnanuri to explore some territory that is rarely touched upon in mainstream Telugu cinema. A couple of examples: when was the last time you saw a child's fully-formed perspective when dealing with divorce and distant parents? When was the last time you saw a female's character's characterization overshadow that of the male? When was the last time a comic relief character was still graceful and dignified?
With contemporary films like Ninnu Kori
, Pelli Choopulu
, Mental Madilo
, Ala Modalaindi
, a sneakily well-written romance in Golconda High School
(starring Sumanth) and relatively older ones such as Anand
(Sumanth again), we are witnessing a new age of Telugu Cinema that prefers telling human stories instead of harping on stereotypes.
While an admirable effort is being made to change decades-old perceptions of what "works", these new efforts should not be immune to healthy criticism. For all its ambition, Malli Ravva commits one cardinal filmmaking sin, and a few lesser ones. The primary knock on this film's presentation would be its insistence on talking about rather than showing its characters' emotions and growth as people. With so much voice-over shadowing pivotal scenes, the very development of characters is somewhat stunted and comes off as unearned.
This is especially frustrating since there is a particularly heartbreaking scene between Karthik and Anjali that is presented with muted dialogue and lets the audience fill in the gaps with their own understanding of the characters they have been watching for over an hour, and works pretty well. It is a shame that that level of confidence on the part of the filmmakers is not a part of the film on a whole.
Preeti Asrani who plays the 1999 version of Anjali is one of the highlights of the movie. The young actress is the primary reason for Anjali becoming a compelling character. Her performance elevates the entire film and acts as both its heart and mind. Even Akanksha Singh can rarely leave a mark on the character given how well her younger counterpart has established it.
The men, however, are not so lucky. The character of Karthik is wholly one-dimensional, and its primary reason for existence seems to be to fall in and stay in love with Anjali. The character evolves at the fag end of the film, but it is too little, too late. Sumanth is well-versed in essaying nuanced performances for romantic leads, and does the best he can with the limited character he has been afforded. Sathwik who plays the younger version of the character looks the part, but his acting ability needs a whole lot more polish.
This requirement for polish extends to the film's music and visual aesthetic. While the score works at engaging the audience subtly, the palpably needless songs stick out like an orange tag on a black shirt. The visuals work in quite the opposite way. The movie has scenes that are greatly improved by some clever choice of background imagery and foreground actions, but these moments disappear into the background when the story takes centrestage.
Ultimately, this is a film with shortcomings in the audio, visual, characterization, writing, direction and, most of all, pacing departments. This acts as proof that a great concept alone does not make a great movie, and hence this film's makers fall into the category of want-repreneurs.
But, like Mr Cuban, we don't discourage want-repreneurs. We criticize them in a healthy manner because we know they are diamonds in the rough. There are truly spellbinding films to be made with them. Simply put, when a filmmaker chooses ambition over convention, he/she has plenty of people's vote of confidence.