KVR Mahendra's Dorasani has a very affecting scene where the domestic help says to the 'dorasani' that a woman, despite her social standing, is never really free. Sekhar Kammula's Love Story has Mounika (Sai Pallavi) who is from a landowning dominant caste family, but she does not have enough money to her name to recharge her mobile data plan.
Even though the film uses this instance to elicit humour, 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 he can. When I watched the trailer, I feared the film would oversimplify the issues it is trying to tackle in the lieu of universality, but I am happy to report that the worst thing I can say about the film is that it is over-ambitious.
I always look forward to a Sekhar Kammula film because he builds a better world than the one we are living in. But with Love Story, he 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 centre, and is proud of that fact. Mounika comes from a place of wealth and social privilege, but she has her own demons to fight. Like any good romance, the film spends a substantial chunk of the screen time on their relationship " how it begins, blooms, and blossoms. Is that not enough though? Two people liking each other enough to want a life together? It is not and the rest of the film tries to answer, or rather interrogate why.
Kammula's characters have never been perfect. But the flaws of the characters in this film are much more than amusing idiosyncrasies, appropriately so. The girl who you love and who loves you back is still conditioned to think a certain way, even if she says otherwise. Mounika has the same luxury to be ignorant and naÃ¯ve as Jo from Pariyerum Perumal does. But instead of keeping her that way, the writing tries to add shades to her. She is not the worst of them, but she is not the best either.
I wish this angle was explored a bit more, but Pallavi is arrestingly good at playing this person. I know I am supposed to say more than she lights up the screen when she comes, but that is exactly what she does. Even if she is drying her hair in the open, her unscrupulous manner wakes the banalities up, and makes them feel original. To show the audience the pain that is simmering inside the character, without really showing it until the last moment, is a balance that is hard to strike.
But the film is Chaitanya's to take. He carries Revanth with great ease and confidence. And because it is Sekhar Kammula, the character is not a mere template. He has his convictions, but he bends at times. 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 displeasure, we see the actor shine. When Revanth is hurt and disappointed, we can feel his hurt. It is nice to see him finally manage to break the barrier.
It is impossible to speak about his character without connecting it to his mother, played effectively by Easwari Rao. Most films write mothers who are from a lower strata as docile and easily-pleased beings. Here, the mother is the moral centre of the film. She is the one who tells her son what to scan while looking for discrimination and bigotry. She is the one 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.
Heroine dancing in the rain is a Sekhar Kammula staple. We have 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. Rain songs, in other films, are an opportunity to titillate the viewer, and to sustain the crepe silk industry. But in Kammula's films, they are a respite. Our first instinct when we see rain coming is to hide or cover, but if a woman welcomes the rain with open hands, it implies she is tired of hiding/covering herself. It also gives the viewer a chance to see this character for who they are, without all the things that are bringing them down.
Speaking of songs, I would have happily sacrificed 'Saranga Dariya,' despite the joy that comes from watching Pallavi defy gravity, if it meant a pre-climax that is not rushed. The film comes scarily close to pulling a Dear Comrade, and that is just unacceptable. If I sound like I am complaining about the number of songs, I am not. Pawan Ch's music brings the story alive. Especially the background score. It mimics the heartbeats of a character in a tense moment, and it complements the spring in the hero's steps when he is happy, and it does all this without bringing much attention to itself. That is the conundrum though. 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 happiness. But we also need the more important aspects of the film given the time they deserve. The mistakes are understandable, but they are still mistakes.
Marthand K Venkatesh's editing and Vijaya Kumar's cinematography are expectedly functional. The rest of the cast, comprising the likes of Rajeev Kanakala, Uttej, Devayani, and Ganga Avva, do exactly what they are supposed to. Even the side-kick/best friend character is effective. He also wears t-shirts with silly words written on them in Telugu, but we are not forced to laugh at them. They are there, and they do tell something about that character if the viewer wants to know. As simple as that.
Someone I know said the other day that despite their poetry and depth, Sekhar Kammula names his films in a rather generic manner, Godavari being the exception. I agreed, and I said that Love Story is one of them. It says nothing particular about the film, and it is not memorable in anyway. But while watching the film, I have noticed how the lead couple starts addressing each other in texts, after their mutual confession of love, and I have realised that maybe it is intentional. There are only so many ways to address someone you love, and even if a word like 'Bangaram' is a cheesy clichÃ©, when it finally rolls out of your tongue to call someone you love, it feels like you have invented it. Whether it is Qutub Shah swimming across Musi, trying to meet Bhagmati, or a guy like Revanth simply laying a plank to bridge the gap between Mounika's house and his, it is all done in the name of love. And they are all love stories.
Love Story is available in theatres.
Rating: 3.75 stars