When the male protagonist thoughtfully says that he thought he understood women since growing up around them, but realized that love and marriage are different ball games, it leaves hear that a reflection was carried out in the writing of the film. Certainly Malli Modalaindiwritten and directed by TG Keerthi Kumar, breaks some clichés for Telugu cinema.
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For starters, the story doesn’t judge the men and women who break up. He understands what they’re going through – the reason can be something heartbreaking like dowry-related harassment, sexual harassment, or something that’s often overlooked, like incompatibility. The story also lacks characters giving advice to women and warning that life becomes difficult after divorce. Instead, he portrays a male perspective, pointing out that separation isn’t easy for them either.
- With: Sumanth Kumar, Naina Ganguly, Vennela Kishore
- Direction: TG Keerthi Kumar
- Music: Anup Rubens
- Broadcast on: Zee5
Chef Vikram (Sumanth Kumar) grew up admiring the strength of his mother Sujatha (Suhasini), an entrepreneur with a growing spice business. He naturally started cooking and became a chef. Told factually, the situation gently asserts that it’s not unthinkable in a traditional late 1990s household for a teenager to spend time in the kitchen.
We get a brief recap of how things went downhill between Vikram and Nisha (Varshini Sounderarajan). Rather than live with an unhappy marriage, they decide to move on with mutual respect, rather than take it to court. However, the narrative soon pits Vikram and Nisha against Kishore (Vennela Kishore as motivational speaker) and his wife. Kishore keeps calling his wife a boar and she uses her as a punch bag.
The idea of starting life over after divorce and the topics of mental health and therapy (Manjula Ghattamaneni in a cameo as a therapist) come together in the story. Problems are approached at the surface level, but are handled with enough sensitivity. Although these stretches are written sensibly, the comedic parts are rather mundane. Vennela Kishore does her best to evoke laughter with the lines written for him; some jokes land while others seem lame. Example: “They say love is like walking in a park, but yours turned out to be Jurassic Park.” Or the useless limerick “Why does the sun shine?” Why are you so low? What is happening? Let’s go with the flow”…If those bits had also been written with a bit of zing, the film would have made for crackling romantic drama laced with comedy.
The romance between Vikram and divorce lawyer Pavithra (Naina Ganguly) could have sparked. The idea of a man falling for his wife’s divorce lawyer sounds better on paper than it looks on screen. However, as the story progresses, it finds its rhythm and addresses Vikram’s insecurities and how he fights the fear of history repeating itself. Sumanth is a strong candidate for the role, aptly playing a character who realizes he has to live up to the strong women around him. There is also a commentary on the age difference between the couple. In how many mainstream movies do we hear statements that might be perceived as unflattering to the typical hero image? Sumanth plays Vikram with the requisite subtlety and effectively delivers the emotional portions with understated restraint. Naina Ganguly and Varshini are adequate, and Chinmayi’s voice does some of the heavy lifting for Naina.
In the music of Anup Rubens, the track “Alone Alone” by Sid Sriram stands out. Some comedic dialogue also made me wonder if Keerthi Kumar or anyone from the main cast of the film is a huge Hollywood fan, as there are several references to Christopher Nolan, Interstellar and the characters of the avengers franchise.
Malli Modalaindi has his heart in the right place; it’s a well-meaning drama that could have done with a little more spark in the writing.
(Malli Modalaindi stream on Zee5)