Meenakshi Sundareshwar Movie Review: Beneath the stereotypes, there lies a beating heart
Meenakshi Sundareshwar is definitely a film that has the potential to be a take on traditional relationships finding its standing in the modern way of life... but...
Karan Johar’s films are known for being glossy, over-the-top, and not just conforming to society’s high standards of aesthetically pleasing visuals but also determining it. Has anyone seen Chandni Chowk the way it was shown in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham? Are high schools in India even remotely like what he showcased in Student of the Year? Does anyone in hill stations dress up the way the actors did in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani? You know where I’m going with this, right? It is expected that when Karan decides to set his next Netflix film right in the centre of Tamil Nadu, it isn’t going to be the Madurai known to even the local population. No one in the world of Meenakshi Sundareshwar looks and behaves like someone whose entire life was based out of Madurai. It is the Madurai in the minds of Dharma Productions, or in this case, Dharmatic Entertainment. It is a parade of silk sarees and malligai poo(jasmine flowers). Rajinikanth, I mean, Superstar Rajinikanth is the only pop culture reference in this world. Now, do we accept a world like this? Do we agree to move past this blatant one-note portrayal and concentrate on the story that director Vivek Soni wants to mount in this world? Our answers to these questions determine the response to this film starring Sanya Malhotra and Abhimanyu Dassani in the lead.
Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Abhimanyu Dassani, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Varun Shashi Rao
Director: Vivek Soni
Streaming on: Netflix
Moving on, Meenakshi Sundareshwar is about a young couple who opt for an arranged marriage courtesy of providence. Of course, they are polar opposites. While Meenakshi is a self-confessed Rajinikanth fan, Sundareshwar doesn’t like watching movies because it puts him to sleep. She is a voracious reader, and he uses the books to play book cricket. But still, they make it work, albeit sparingly. Also, it is only in our arranged marriage system that Meenakshi and Sundareshwar, both unemployed, can get married in a fancy ceremony and no one bats an eyelid. It is all about loving your rich families, I suppose. Once again, it is in this kind of almost aristocratic world that Meenakshi Sundareshwar is set in. So, should we bother blaming it for not being “authentic” enough? Nevertheless, Sanya and Abhimanyu turn up the charm to showcase the impact of a long-distance relationship in a marriage, especially the arranged kind.
It doesn’t mean that the internal conflicts in the film are without merit. Sundareshwar comes from a toxic household and it reflects in the way he treats Meenakshi. It isn’t too pronounced, but the toxicity seeps in subtle ways, and the writers do a good job of reflecting the behaviour of Sundareshwar back to his parents. This leaves Meenakshi to do all the heavy lifting in the relationship just like how Sanya shoulders the film with her cherubic performance. Yes, the Tamil diction and Rajinikanth impersonation leaves a lot of us wanting. However, one can’t help but wonder if setting the film in this particular milieu and casting these actors in it put them at a big disadvantage right from the starting blocks.
Leaving aside the pronounced issues with the “tamilness” of the film, Meenakshi Sundareshwar is definitely a film that has the potential to be a take on traditional relationships finding its standing in the modern way of life. Be it during the tender moments of becoming fond of each other to sharing stolen kisses, and hurried hugs, the trepidation between a new couple is well-established by the performances of Sanya and Abhimanyu. The smattering of Tamil spoken by the actors does, unfortunately, feel force-fitted, and this can be attributed to the prominent absence of Tamil-speaking actors in the primary cast. Also, high time Bollywood retires the shoddy attempts at using the Rajinikanth tag to cater to the South Indian audience. It is more of a disservice to the Superstar who is more than just what Bollywood makes him to be.
One thing that stands out in Meenakshi Sundareshwar is the soundtrack by Justin Prabhakaran, who goes on to prove what authenticity can do to a film like this. The sounds and music complement the lush visuals of the setting and keeps the film grounded.
Then, we are left with an important question to ask ourselves. Is all representation good representation? Do we crucify a film based on just one of the conceits of the film? Case in point, the “Tamilness” of the film. Did Madurai really work in favour of the film, which is anyway about a long-distance relationship and it would have worked even if the two places in question were Agartala and Aurangabad instead of Madurai and Bengaluru? Such questions wouldn’t have cropped up if the makers had researched well enough to give us a film that doesn’t “exotify” Madurai but just showcases it. However, in its wish to give us a Hollywood-style romcom, rooted in Indian sensibilities, and set in a place that doesn’t really reflect in the kind of actors chosen to portray certain roles, Meenakshi Sundareshwar has to be filed under the "but it has its heart in the right place" category, but well… you know… adhu mattum pathaadhu la. (That really isn’t enough, is it?)