You know what we love? Love. No matter how many of the stiff-upper-lipped critics say the genre has outlived its welcome, we still watch romances, and they still make money. Simply put, man is a social animal, and social animals need companionship, or at least stories about companionship. Watching a good story about said companionship play before our very eyes reminds us of the warm and fuzzy sensation it induces. Because we want somebody to love and we need somebody to love us. And as soon as the end credits roll, we are hell-bent on finding that somebody to love.
Saying he has the story to make us feel all the aforementioned emotions is writer/director Vivek Athreya. He told his story to the people who brought you Pelli Choopulu
, and they seemed to like it well enough to bankroll it into a full-fledged feature film.
Mental Madhilo follows that stage between B. Tech. and marriage for many young men. The ones working 9-to-5 jobs, having no idea of how to speak to the ladies, being unwillingly pushed into #pellichoopulu by their over-controlling yet loving parents, and totally clueless about dealing with all of that, just nodding and getting hitched.
For Arvind Krishna (Sree Vishnu), these traits are amplified n-fold. The man has literally one shirt in his wardrobe because he goes into a mental meltdown if he has any options at all. He cannot make choices. Fortunately for him, the first 13 candidates of his pelli choopulu spree have rejected him instead of the other way round.
Just as it looks like he'll get relegated into the ether of eternal bachelorhood, Arvind meets Swechha (you'll love that name and what it symbolizes for the story), played by Nivetha Pethuraj. Her ease with his anxiety and indecisiveness and his insistence on frank discourse leads them to form a liking for each other. They evade many romantic movie clichés thanks to their excellent chemistry, come close to getting into marital bliss.
But their luck runs out close to the intermission as Arvind needs to move to Mumbai for work. With Swechha left behind, Arvind's propensity for indecision goes unchecked, and you are witness to the true extent of his very distinct problem.
The first half of the movie is a case study on how to write and execute a romance fuelled simply by on-screen chemistry and sharply written dialogue. The film has no slapping of friends, dancing/singing women, excessive drinking, navel displays, loud dramatic fights or double entendres. I didn't even know this was legal in this day and age.
Being a guy in his mid-20s, I found the first half quite similar the many stories I witness on a daily basis. My friends and I barely beat up a gazillion bad guys, nor do we treat the women in our world like defenseless children. We are young people living in a world filled with quirky characters, and work with each other to make a better life for all. Arvind and Swechha slot in this world perfectly, and that's what makes them so relatable and an utter delight to watch. A lesser film would revel in the clichés this one throws to the side. Its primary focus is on character sketching, and it puts two brilliantly fleshed-out, three-dimensional, mature people on screen.
Soon after the breezy first half, though, the movie moves itself and its couple out of this blissful zone and abandons them in a strange new place with three new characters. And the film's pace and refreshing approach suffer greatly. The second act, while short and still full of great character work, is a tad too rushed, to accommodate the time constraints. This leaves a lot of the organic character growth and the protagonist's primary kink by the wayside.
But the trio of lead actors Sree Vishnu, Nivetha Pethuraj and Amrutha Srinivasan elevate the material by sheer skill. Their interactions are light and lovable. None of them is loud, be it with words or in clothing. They are what we call a muh-tod-jawab to every second person who thinks being an artist is somehow more fulfilling than being an engineer. The actors find the humanity and levity in the mundane, and convey it through both their body language and their words.
Their actions, words, tribulations and moments of clarity are scored to near perfection. While the songs might not work as well without the context of the film, in the world of the film itself, they fit with their respective scenes like Lego pieces clicking together. Unfortunately, the movie is visually uninspired, and the actors and musicians need to build the mood and tone for it. The warmth and general likeability do not flow through onto the screen, which results in the film's more sketchy moments sticking out like a sore thumb.
Analyzing a gentle movie such as this one to detail soon makes you realize that like life itself, it finds no need to be perfect. What begins as a romance can soon turn into a slice-of-life piece which can then morph into a coming-of-age story. This is life - you don't decide what you get. All you can do is make the best of what you're given. And now, it's up to you, dear reader, to make the best of what the poorly titled Mental Madilo gives you in terms of cinematic entertainment.