I always look forward to a film by Sekhar Kammula because it builds a better world than the one we live in. But with Love Story, he’s in no mood to dream.
KVR Mahendra Dorasani has a very emotional scene where the domestic help says to the ‘dorasani’ that a woman, despite her social status, is never truly free. At Sekhar Kammula Love story a Mounika (Sai Pallavi) who is from a landlord dominant caste family, but she does not have enough money in her name to top up her mobile data plan.
Even though the film uses this example to elicit humor and to show us the girl’s innate bias against the working class, you see the irony. You also see that the filmmaker wanted to stretch the film from as many sides/angles as possible. When I watched the trailer I was concerned that the movie was oversimplifying the issues it tries to tackle instead of universality, but I’m happy to report that the worst thing I can say about the film is that it is too ambitious.
I always look forward to a film by Sekhar Kammula because it builds a better world than the one we live in. But with Love storyhe is in no mood to dream.
He tries, to the best of his ability and understanding, to show us the world as it is. Revanth (Naga Chaitanya) is a self-made man who runs a Zumba center and is proud of it. Mounika comes from a place of wealth and social privilege, but she has her own demons to fight. Like any good romance, the film devotes a great deal of screen time to their relationship – how it begins, blossoms, and blooms. Isn’t that enough? Two people who love each other enough to want to live together? It is not, and the rest of the film tries to answer, or rather to question why.
Kammula’s characters were never perfect. But the character flaws in this film are much more than amusing idiosyncrasies, and rightly so. The girl you like and who likes you back is always conditioned to think a certain way, even if she says otherwise. Mounika has the same luxury of being ignorant and naive as Jo de Pariyerum Perumal Is. But instead of keeping it that way, the writing tries to add nuance to it. She’s not the worst of them, but she’s not the best either.
I wish that angle had been explored a bit more, but Pallavi is incredibly good at playing that person. I know I’m supposed to say more than she lights up the screen when she comes, but that’s exactly what she does. Even if she dries her hair in the open air, her unscrupulous way awakens the banalities and makes them original. Showing the viewer the pain simmering inside the character, without really showing it until the last moment, is a difficult balance to strike.
But the film is up to Chaitanya to take. He carries Revanth with great ease and confidence. And because it’s Sekhar Kammula, the character isn’t just a role model. He has his convictions, but he bends sometimes. He gets angry when someone insults him, but he is not allowed to turn into an angry young man. And it is in these moments of doubt and discontent that we see the actor shine. When Revanth is hurt and disappointed, we can feel his pain. It’s nice to see him finally manage to break the barrier.
It is impossible to talk about his character without connecting him to his mother, played effectively by Easwari Rao. Most movies portray lower-layer mothers as docile and easy-to-please. Here, the mother is the moral center of the film. She is the one who tells her son what to scan while looking for discrimination and bigotry. It is she who forces him to expect respect from a society that never gives anything to people like them. Their relationship is the most satisfying aspect of the film.
The heroine dancing in the rain is a staple of Sekhar Kammula. We all accepted it, and we even laugh about it. But because Mounika is a relatively more complex and troubled character, the contrast helps us understand why the staple exists. The rain songs, in other films, are an opportunity to titillate the viewer, and to perpetuate the silk crepe industry. But in Kammula’s films, they are a respite. Our first instinct when we see the rain coming is to hide or cover up, but if a woman welcomes the rain with open hands, it implies that she is tired of hiding/covering up. It also gives the viewer a chance to see this character for who they are, without all the things that destroy them.
Speaking of songs, I would have gladly sacrificed’Saranga Dariya‘, despite the joy that comes from seeing Pallavi defy gravity, if that meant a pre-climax that isn’t rushed. The film is awfully close to pulling a Dear comrade, and that is simply unacceptable. If I sound like I’m complaining about the number of songs, I’m not. Pawan Ch’s music brings the story to life. Especially the background score. It mimics a character’s heartbeat in a tense moment, and it tops off the spring of the hero’s footsteps when happy, and it does all of this without drawing too much attention to itself. Yet that is the enigma. We want films to organically explore a relationship and the people in it, but time is always a constraint. I understand that the song is not an indulgence. We needed to see her happy because she is, and she is rarely allowed to be happy. But we also need the most important aspects of the film given the time they deserve. Mistakes are understandable, but they are still mistakes.
Editing by Marthand K Venkatesh and cinematography by Vijaya Kumar are normally functional. The rest of the cast, including Rajeev Kanakala, Uttej, Devayani, and Ganga Avva, do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Even the sidekick/best friend character is effective. He also wears t-shirts with silly words written on them in Telugu, but we don’t have to laugh at them. They are there, and they tell something about this character if the viewer wants to know. As simple as that.
Someone I know told me the other day that despite their poetry and depth, Sekhar Kammula names his films quite generically, Godavari being the exception. I accepted and said that Love story is one of them. It doesn’t say anything in particular about the movie, and it’s by no means memorable. But while watching the movie, I noticed how the lead couple start addressing each other in texts, after their mutual confession of love, and realized that may have been intentional. There are only so many ways to address someone you love, and even though a word like “Bangaram” is a cheesy cliche, when it finally rolls out of your tongue to call someone you love, you feel like you invented it. Whether it’s Qutub Shah swimming through Musi, trying to meet Bhagmati, or a guy like Revanth simply laying down a plank to bridge the gap between Mounika’s house and his, it’s all done in the name of love. And these are all love stories.
Love Story is available in theaters.
Rating: 3.75 stars