A well-intentioned drama that could have benefitted with some zing in writing
When the male protagonist says reflectively that he thought he understood women since he grew up surrounded by them, but has realised that love and marriage are different ball games, it hints at some thought having gone into the film’s writing. Certainly Malli Modalaindi, written and directed by TG Keerthi Kumar, breaks a few cliches for Telugu cinema.
For starters, the story does not judge men and women who part ways. It understands what they go through – the reason could be something harrowing like dowry harassment, sexual harassment or something that is often overlooked, like incompatibility. The story also doesn’t have characters doling out advice to women and warning that life gets tough after divorce. Instead, it depicts a male point of view, highlighting that separation is not a smooth ride for them either.Malli Modalaindi
- Cast: Sumanth Kumar, Naina Ganguly, Vennela Kishore
- Direction: TG Keerthi Kumar
- Music: Anup Rubens
- Streaming on: Zee5
Chef Vikram (Sumanth Kumar) grew up admiring the strength of his mother Sujatha (Suhasini), an entrepreneur whose spice business grows manifold. He takes to cooking naturally and becomes a chef. Narrated matter of factly, the situation gently asserts that it is not unthinkable in a traditional household of the late 1990s for an adolescent boy to spend time in the kitchen.
We get a quick recap of how things have soured between Vikram and Nisha (Varshini Sounderarajan). Rather than live with an unhappy marriage, they decide to move on with mutual respect, rather than slugging it out in court. However, the narrative soon contrasts Vikram and Nisha with Kishore (Vennela Kishore as a motivational speaker) and his wife. Kishore cannot cease referring to his wife as a boar and she uses him as a punching bag.
The idea of starting life afresh after divorce and topics of mental health and therapy (Manjula Ghattamaneni in a cameo as a therapist) find their way into the story. The issues are addressed at the surface level, but are fairly sensitively dealt with. While these stretches are written sensibly, the comic portions are rather banal. Vennela Kishore tries his best to evoke laughter with the lines written for him; some jokes land while others sound lame. Sample this: “They say that love is like walking in the park, but yours has turned out like Jurassic Park.” Or the pointless limerick “Why does the sun glow? Why are you so low? What is happening? Let’s go with the flow”… If these bits had also been written with some zing, the film would have made for a crackling romance drama laced with comedy.
The romance between Vikram and the divorce lawyer Pavithra (Naina Ganguly) could have done with some spark. The idea of a man falling in love with his wife’s divorce lawyer sounds better on paper than it appears on screen. However, as the story progresses it finds its rhythm and addresses Vikram’s insecurities and how he battles the fear of history repeating itself. Sumanth is a good fit for the role, gamely playing a character that realises he has to measure up to the strong women around him. There’s also a comment about the age difference between the couple. In how many mainstream films do we hear of statements that could be perceived as unflattering to the typical image of the hero? Sumanth plays Vikram with the subtlety required and delivers the emotional portions effectively with understated restraint. Naina Ganguly and Varshini are adequate, and Chinmayi’s voice does some of the heavy lifting for Naina.
In Anup Rubens music, the ‘Alone Alone’ track by Sid Sriram does stand out. A few comic dialogues also made me wonder if Keerthi Kumar or anyone in the film’s core team is a huge Hollywood fan, for there are several references to Christopher Nolan, Interstellar and the characters of The Avengers franchise.
Malli Modalaindi has its heart in the right place; it is a well intentioned drama that could have done with some more spark in the writing.
(Malli Modalaindi streams on Zee5)
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