Buttabomma Movie Review: A well-executed story on the pitfalls of perception and trust
Director Shouree Chandrasekhar T Ramesh makes inspired tweaks and nativized additions, resulting in a decent remake
In a scene in Buttabomma, Murali (Surya Vasishta), an autorickshaw driver tells his group of friends at a bar that he wants to be with a woman who has a great voice. Two minutes later, we see him in his rickshaw, all moony-eyed whilst listening to a woman talk on FM. These moments, which seem endearing at first, foreshadow a dark realization that reveals itself at the fag end of the film. Buttabomma, the remake of the Malayalam film Kappela (2020) is filled with such moments, which turn out to be deceptive towards the end. This mode of narrative misdirection, which plays out like an extended Kuleshov effect, is Buttabomma’s biggest strength.
Cast: Anikha Surendran, Arjun Das, Surya Vashistta, Navya Swamy
Direction: Shouree Chandrasekhar T Ramesh
Buttabomma, set in the quaint hamlets of Uttarandhra near Visakhapatnam, is about Satya (Anikha Surendran), a teenage girl who lives with her parents and younger sister. She is a simple girl who wants people to like her cloth designs (her mother is a tailor, and running errands for her is how Satya gets to travel around town) and wants to buy a “camera phone” to make reels. She also secretly yearns for a relationship like her talkative friend, while rebuffing the advances of a local rich guy who fancies her. While contacting one of her mother’s customers, Satya accidentally calls Murali and soon enough, they fall in love over the phone. But beneath Satya’s daily routine runs a desire deep, to be noticed, to be loved, and to make the most of whatever freedom her life has to offer.
The outlines of her character’s inner desires and the film at large are interestingly etched by the subtext employed by director Shourie Chandrasekhar Ramesh. Satya is a devotee of Sri Krishna and frequents a tiny shrine of the deity on a hilltop. Her boyfriend's name is Murali, so, Satya might as well be Satyabhama, Sri Krishna’s companion. We also watch her sing the famous “Yamuna Thatilo” song from Dalapathi (1991) at one point. The film’s ‘antagonist’ is interestingly named Ramakrishna, with him rising up to righteousness like his divine namesake.
Even the film’s title ‘Buttabomma’, which I earlier assumed to be a callback to the eponymous song from Ala Vaikuntapuramulo (2020) takes a literal form, as Satya places an actual basket doll near the shrine every day. When asked why, she says, “When my doll is with the god, it feels like I am with him.” If the first half of Buttabomma is about a girl whose hopes are mirrored by her worship of the supreme embodiment of love, the second half has the story building up to its cruel undoing.
The second half, set in Vizag, introduces us to RK (Arjun Das), who cannot be any more different than Murali. If Nayakan (1987) made us wonder whether Kamal Haasan was a good or bad man, Buttabomma takes the opposite approach, letting us know, in strictly dualistic terms, who is good and bad. Murali is respectfully employed, RK rejects the jobs he gets accepted for. Murali gives money to people in need, RK begs people for money and pawns his girlfriend’s ring when he doesn’t get any. Murali shies away from betting, RK has no qualms about gambling. This juxtaposition not only works great to the story’s benefit but also poses the larger question - How do we define goodness? Who is even a good man, according to society? While Kappela banks on a more subtle way to answer this question, we are presented with a on-the-face, masala-fied approach to the original content with Buttabomma. The other major change we have in this version of Kappella is the humorous dialogues, be it with pop culture references and Trivikram-style rhyming lines and the increased dramatization of the subplot involving Satya’s dad and Chinna’s mom.
Buttabomma is not without its shortcomings. As lovely as Anikha is, I wished her body language with respect to the role was less stiff. It was also ironically hard to comprehend some of Arjun Das’s Telugu in the film, despite him dubbing well in the language. Shooting the pivotal, penultimate scene using an underwhelming green screen or spelling out the social message towards the end, feels odd. But these issues are relatively small as the earnest and humane storytelling glosses over the flaws.