Everyday moments presented with humor set the tone for the Telugu film Ashoka Vanam Lo Arjuna Kalyanam (AVAK), written by Ravi Kiran Kola and directed by Vidyasagar Chinta. Imagine this: a nondescript bus arrives in a hamlet of East Godavari from Suryapet, filled with the groom and his extended family. The photographer (Rajkumar Kasireddy) asks them to exit the bus one by one, positioning himself so that he can capture them all with his camera. Everyone watches with rapt attention as the photographer utters “ready, steady, action.” The bride’s over-enthusiastic uncle spoils a picture-worthy moment when the groom, Arjun Kumar Allam (Vishwak Sen), gets off the bus. The way this sequence is orchestrated to Jay Krish’s cheerful music hints that this could be a heartwarming film that can make viewers laugh and give them something to chew on too. The film delivers on that promise.
As the film unfolds, we understand the reasoning behind the curious title. The protagonist is 33 years old, looking for a soul mate and tired of being asked why he is still single. Vishwak Sen transforms into Arjun, aware of his not-so-fit physique; he’s a nice guy who wants to be a father and the rejection he’s faced so far is weighing on him. Through small manners, he hopefully conceals his anguish, as he spots bride Madhavi (Rukshar Dhillon), a quiet woman who does not open up.
Ashoka Vanam Lo Arjuna Kalyanam
With: Vishwak Sen, Rukshar Dhillon, Ritika Nayak
Conductor: Vidyasagar Chinta
Music: Jay Krish
The others do most of the talking for the two of them. Ritika Nayak as the bride’s cheerful sister, Kadambari Kiran as the bride’s loud and zealous uncle, Goparaju Ramana ( Middle class melodies fame) as the fussy elder of the groom’s family, Kedar Shankar as Arjun’s father and Vidya Sivalenka as Arjun’s caring sister are among the family members who lead the drama.
The janata curfew and the first lockdown serve as tools to drive the plot. Rough edges surface as the house shelters the large group for days. We’ve seen some of these situations in lockdown-based shorts and series, and yet this film pulls it off thanks to the reliable cast. Part of the fun also comes from the contrast between Telangana and Andhra lifestyles.
Arjun being over 30 and single is only part of the story. Issues such as caste and class differences, societal pressures on young men and women to marry early, the expectations that families place on women… it all comes crashing down. Gray areas are exposed. Arjun’s family may not have demanded dowry from the bride’s family, but is it fair that they expect the family to cook and serve them during the lockdown, without participating in the chores housewives nor pay the tabs? In another scene, when an elder laments the arrival of another little girl in the family, he is reprimanded and reminded of the appalling relationship between the sexes.
While the first hour unfolds with old-world humor and romance as Arjun tries to befriend the bride, the later parts explore the issues that arise between well-meaning people. The humor wears off after a while, similar to the fatigue caused by the seemingly endless lockdown. But soon, the narrative finds its rhythm again as the story opens up new possibilities.
AVAK benefits from its large distribution and its technical team. Vishwak Sen takes the cake. Devoid of heroic flourishes, he submits to the story, isn’t afraid to look a little less glamorous, and carries his character’s insecurities on his shoulders. Rukshar struggles with a role that doesn’t give him the ability to do much; but within the given bandwidth, it stays true to character. Ritika is an unlikely winner. Her character is designed to be boring at first and she stays on top of it, and it’s only later that we get to see her again.
Without revealing any spoilers, it would be fair to say the same – the film shows that it has its heart in the right place when a young girl remembers the goals she has set for herself. Arjun also learns to look beyond his own predicament of being 33 and single.
AVAK is a refreshing break from the larger-than-life, star-propelled projects of recent times and can leave you with a smile.