Ante Sundaraniki

Ante Sundaraniki

Vivek Athreya’s device of making his protagonist narrate the story of the film to someone returns, and this time it’s contained to two groups – An orthodox Hindu Brahmin family, and another selectively irrational Christian family. Only the former gets deeper focus here, exploring their prejudices and juvenile customs, while the latter is almost reduced to an aesthetic. But the kind of ideas put forth through the hero’s family make up for this slight mismatch. The film is otherwise, very entertaining.

The triumph of the story lies in the stakes of the lies the protagonists tell their respective families. Leela’s lie would recall the troubled history of her sister’s pregnancy. Sundar’s lie breaks down the very cornerstone of his family’s obsession with protecting him from unseen demons – that he’s the sole heir to the family. The second half of the film entirely relies on the covering up and messiness of their lies, and it uses Indian family dramedy tropes with utmost sincerity. The tidying up is too neat, we even see them coming, but it works here because the beats are written and executed with conviction.

What I like most about this film is Vivek’s commitment to maintaining the energy in craft throughout the narrative. The use of handheld and dynamic camera movements, busy frames, a busy score, deceiving transitions between the narration and the event – the makers use plenty of tricks to keep the proceedings as brisk as a game. There’s much focus on the treatment, and this is the work of a good director, who’s not only enhancing the writing, but at the same time making up for its lightness as well. The makers have indeed hit a sweet spot with the execution.

There’s a moment right before the midpoint when the heroine’s sister asks her something on the lines of “is he worth the effort?”. The film doesn’t do enough to justify her internal answer of “yes, he’s the one”. But again, the writing commits to the characters from that point and never lets go of their resolve. These two people genuinely want something, and sometimes that’s enough to make the narrative engaging in spite of using predictable genre tropes.

I initially did have a grouse with the way a dominating, exclusionary culture was being borderline “cutified” in the name of light-hearted comedy. But in retrospect, I realise that the joke is always at their expense, which makes it a fair and justified case of punching up. There’s a stageplay sequence where the characters address caste, and we see these unassuming parents cheering for their kid’s performance in complete dissonance of what they signify. The play could’ve been about anything, because what it speaks about doesn’t add to the story, but Vivek uses this small instance to add to the film’s critique on ignorance. There’s another commentary on who’s allowed to be “heard” in the hero’s house, which eventually leads to a satisfying breaking point.

A stretch towards the end involves our protagonists basing a decision citing “bad omens”, and it becomes slightly off-character for a story thats been taking digs at such a temperatment, but it did feel okay with respect to the characters. Plus, the actors pitch in quite well in such situations. Nani’s naive yet charmingly pompous persona is thoroughly entertaining, and his faith in the content sells gaps that arise in the writing. Nazriya is really good in scenes involving her family, and her reactions to their unreasonable expectations feel very measured.

I don’t see the three-hour length as an issue, because it was felt only in hindsight, while the film is quite focused and very much engaging in every progressing sequence. A couple of dream-like points of deception by the narrator are the only bits that feel unwarranted, but that’s about it. This is a sincere genre film, packaged with a clear intent to entertain through aesthetics as much as the story.


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