You know your life is slipping into the Cosmic Void when you realize that you've watched all of Allari Naresh's last 4 outings. Your friends who learn about this start giving you pitying looks and sympathetic tsk-tsks, as though you'd just revealed to them that your puppy Bunty was terminally ill.
Not that there's anything wrong with Naresh's movies (or with Bunty) - they're usually mostly harmless fun. It's just that when "Allari Naresh movies" becomes a core competency in your skill set, there's a tendency to let your shoulders sag, emit a soulful sigh, and tell the world, "This is what I've become. Do your worst, and see if I care."
So it was with a not inconsiderable amount of trepidation that we walked into Seema Sastry. Our guesstimate was that it would be one half tacky comedy and the other half blood curdling violence, with a few dollops of skin thrown in. Little did we know that we were in for a (largely pleasant) surprise.
Subramania Sastry (Naresh) is a young Brahmin priest, the son of Sankara Sastry (L B Sriram) and Kovai Sarala, cousin of Lambodara Sastry (Ali), and nephew of Ravi Shastri (M S Narayana) - and by the way, we are kidding about that uncle's name. The men-folk are all priests, and the father is sort of orthodox, in the manner of his namesake from Sankarabharanam.
Subramaniam collides (because this is naturally how boys meet girls nowadays) with Surekha (Farzana) and promptly falls on her and for her. After a number of intentionally and unintentionally funny and unfunny events, she starts having feelings. This basically goes to show that she does in fact have a functioning central nervous system.
The haddi in the kabaab is a Reddy in Rayalaseema. Surekha's father Peddi Reddy (Jayaprakash Reddy) is the sort of villain you would imagine if you had a nightmare with a pauranic look and feel.
This dark, bewhiskered, megalith of a man is a true son of Seema, and when he and his henchmen are not hacking hapless humans to pieces (and giving us the opportunity to indulge in ridiculous alliteration), he's on the lookout for a son-in-law with a similar résumé.
The tableau is set. In the right corner, you have the sloka-chanting, akshinthalu-throwing, pure vegetarian Brahmin father of the boy. In the left corner, you have the knife-wielding, thigh-slapping, pure nonvegetarian Reddy father of the girl. Shall the twain ever meet?
The second half of Seema Sastry is where the filmmakers get really inventive, and involves the entire pujari family joining Subramaniam in Seema in his bid to woo over Peddi Reddy, by pretending to be a Reddier-than-thou family seeking Surekha's hand. They are helped by Peddi Reddy's priest (Brahmanandam) who gives them crash courses to get them Reddy, and are viewed with increasing suspicion by Peddi Reddy's delightfully deadpan nephew (Krishna Bhagawan).
Even if take-offs on Seema films are old hat, this one is refreshingly different, conceptually. The whole idea of a bunch of pious priests trying to pass off as rambunctious landowners has the potential for extracting several funny moments, and G. Nageswara Reddy doesn't miss too many. There are lots of laughs, a little melodrama, and almost no gore.
Seema Sastry seems to have been made with a budget that acted as a ball and chain and kept the locations strictly between Film Nagar and Film City, except for one song that is shot in Thailand. It is reasonable to assume that for that song, the hero, heroine and the cameraman swam across the Bay of Bengal, carrying an audio cassette of the soundtrack with them.
The acting is what you've come to expect from these veterans of Telugu comedy, and the above average dialogues help. Case in point is a scene where Sankara Sastry interrupts someone by shouting "Sarada!!!" which can have you in splits if you know what we're talking about. There are a number of songs (maybe one too many), all curiously similar but high tempo and actually decent, and an item number, that is now mandatory as per Government of India regulations.
The only accusations that can be leveled are that not all the jokes work, and there are some fairly insipid moments; and that it uses a very stereotypical depiction of Brahmins and Reddys to coax its laughs. But it all ends well, with both the adamant fathers undergoing changes of heart, and that's as nice a message as you can get nowadays.
Although Seema Sastry isn't the funniest movie ever made, it is worth a trip to the box office if you're in the mood for some lightweight timepass.