Ms.Representation: The memorably chirpy women of Telugu cinema
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week it is Sammohanam
Telugu cinema reliably churns out highly watchable romcoms once every few years. This year, it’s Sammohanam. What I like in a romcom, as I have said before in this column, is a well-written or at least well-considered part for the woman at the centre of it all. A wholly formed person. I feel so sad sometimes when I write these columns because it feels like I am looking for crumbs in films. Oh, well.
But that isn’t to take away from the fact that often Telugu romcoms have given us fun, contemporary female characters; yes sometimes they sound too ‘cutesy’ or are textbook manic pixie dream girls, but if, over a decade after the film came out, the mention of Bommarillu can send the likes of my dad (who’s 69) reciting Hasini’s (Genelia) lines from the film, I am kind of, sort of okay with it. But what’s interesting about Telugu romcoms is that there aren’t just manic pixies strewn all over screenplays.
Like Kamalinee Mukherjee’s lovely Roopa in the 2004 Sekhar Kammula film, Anand, and Sita in his next film, Godavari, set in a picturesque Godavari boat house (it gave me south Indian cinema’s most relatable lead woman — one who goes on a vacation alone, thank you very much). At the other end of the relatability scale is the 2005 Siddharth-Trisha starrer Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, which isn’t a favourite anymore as it feels dated. And yet, it finds mention (even though it heavily ‘borrows’ entire scenes from other films), because the film’s big comedy moments have Trisha at the centre. Charmme as activist Sandhya in Chukkallo Chandrudu with that super catchy Preme Paravasam song; a fun, feisty Nithya Menen in Ala Modalaindi; Ritu Varma’s Chitra in Pelli Choopulu; Sai Pallavi as Bhanumathi in Fidaa; and Niveda Thomas’ Pallavi in Ninnu Kori, which personally I thought was a better film than Arjun Reddy, as if someone had set that story right finally…
In this long tradition comes Aditi Rao Hydari’s Sameera in Sammohanam. It begins holding a lot of promise, and as with most Telugu films of this genre, carries off the comedy part of the film with flawless writing. Aditi is aglow in all of the frames and reminds you distinctly of Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, which is obviously the inspiration for this film. There’s even that line in the end, in Telugu, which if you think about it is really Sameera’s version of ‘I am just a girl…’ He is an artist without a book deal, she’s a big star. They meet. He loves her, but she doesn’t. She seems to have someone else, but you are never sure. In the end, she is just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her… all is hunky dory.
But then again, if you are going to draw inspiration from a beloved classic romcom that has some of the most memorable lines and super charming characters, you are already setting yourself up for some amount of failure. While Aditi does the best she can, it feels as if Sameera hasn’t been written fully, and you never really get a sense of what is going on behind that perfect veneer. Unlike Roberts’ Anna Scott whose conflicts, insecurities and emotions you can sense and see, there isn’t much to work with for Aditi as Sameera. We never know what she’s thinking, if she ever gets angry, or if she, like Anna, thinks fame is fleeting. None of that. Her flashback is taken up too much by some goon who’s threatening her and is hurried, and one wishes she had more depth. Instead one gets a somewhat rushed second half that just wants to race to that final scene where Julia Roberts is lying on Hugh Grant’s lap in that garden… I mean Sammera on Vijay’s (Sudheer Babu).