‘Stand up Rahul’ Movie Review: Let Down by Bland Humor

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What could have been a refreshing coming-of-age rom-com is marred by clumsy writing

What could have been a refreshing coming-of-age rom-com is marred by clumsy writing

Stand-up comedy in film is tricky ground. You can’t flesh it out with random comments about politics, cricket or movies; you have to stay focused on what suits this story and its protagonists. Making the public laugh in this setting requires sharp writing. It’s no surprise that the occasional movie or two where one of the characters is a stand-up comedian has failed to leave an impression.

The first director Santosh Mohan Veeranki Arise Rahul, which he co-wrote with Anoosha Rao and Prashant Yerramilli, is the journey of Rahul (Raj Tarun) who wants to be a stand-up comedian. There’s the usual standoff with a family member, in this case with his mother (Indraja), over pursuing a steady job rather than drifting off like a dreamer. Rahul comes from a broken home – his father (Murali Sharma) made a nationally award-winning film but no money.

Get up Rahul

With: Raj Tarun, Varsha Bollamma, Murali Sharma

Directed by: Santosh Mohan Veeranki

Music: Sweekar Agasthi

Rahul must learn the tricks of stand-up comedy and also metaphorically defend himself. If told well, it could have been an engrossing urban drama. There’s the romance angle, of course. Shreya Rao (Varsha Bollamma) might be the one who can point Rahul in the right direction but has his demons to fight.

The first hour, while introducing us to the various characters, is set on shaky ground. Rahul and Shreya cross paths in a situation steeped in tasteless toilet humor. Was there no other way to stage this sequence? Rahul’s mother, grandmother, and extended parents are all a certain stereotype. What humanizes the father is probably Murali Sharma’s performance.

The scenes that take place in the workplace of Rahul and Shreya, a virtual reality start-up, are other examples of bland comedy. A company called Pineapple and its CEO who calls himself Steve Jack (Vennela Kishore) seem pretty lame. Kishore tries to make the lines given to him funny. If only the writing had been better.

In one interesting scene, established stand-up comic Hriday (director Venkatesh Maha is impressive in a lengthy cameo) tells Rahul that wry humor can come from even the darkest and most depressing of life’s experiences. I would have liked him to also affirm the importance of a good sense of humor, which is sorely lacking in this film.

Raj Tarun offers a sober and adequate performance. Varsha Bollamma fits the bill of Shreya Rao, a young girl eager to shake off the aftermath of the body shame she suffered at school and wanting to assert herself and rise above her overbearing father. She is expressive and sets the right rhythms.

But it’s the narrative that never finds a coherent rhythm.

In a scene almost immediately after intermission, Rahul takes the cue given earlier by Hriday and regales his audience with an amusing account of the frustrating house-hunting experiences of single people in Hyderabad. This is the first moment of calculation on stage. The small joy this scene brings is quickly dampened by the narrative which continues to be wonky. The humor doesn’t work either, and the emotional core isn’t handled convincingly.

Sreeraj Raveendran’s cinematography, Archana Rao’s costumes, and production design all add to the aesthetics but can’t save an uninteresting movie.

Imagine going to an event in anticipation of listening to an established comic but having to settle for a stand-in? This sums up the experience of this film which, although it was developed in consultation with Hriday Ranjan and other comedians in Hyderabad, does not succeed.

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