Family Star Movie Review: A tasteless, unoriginal star vehicle on autopilot

Family Star Movie Review: A tasteless, unoriginal star vehicle on autopilot

Parasuram Petla’s sophomore collaboration with Vijay Deverakonda lays a fraudulent gaze on the middle-class in the guise of an entertainer
Family Star(1.5 / 5)

In one of his past interviews, Vijay Deverakonda has been quoted saying how he chose to work in Geetha Govindam, despite his apprehensions. Thanks to some relentless nudging by producers Allu Aravind and Vasu Verma, he decided to take the plunge and things were never the same again. The actor, who disrupted the Telugu film industry in the mid-2010s with a clutter-breaking coming-of-age film (Pelli Choopulu) and a swoony, no-holds-barred romance (Arjun Reddy), suddenly became the toast of the Telugu states with Geetha Govindam. Unlike the first two films that catapulted him to fame, Geetha Govindam made Vijay the darling of multiple demographics that make up the amorphous yet all-encompassing “family audience”. This is no secret and yet, why does this bear repetition? Bear with me here.

Director: Parasuram Petla

Cast: Vijay Deverakonda, Mrunal Thakur, MG Abhinaya, Vasuki Anand, Rohini Hattangadi, Jagapathi Babu, Vennela Kishore

Cut to 2024. Ahead of Family Star’s release, Vijay Deverakonda revealed in a few interviews that one of the reasons behind his choice to work in this film is the feedback he got from random well-wishers. “Please do another film like Geetha Govindam”, they said. And Vijay, who must have probably realised that the key to being a bigger star, lies in films he may not personally like (re- Geetha Govindam), as opposed to stories he actually likes but does not necessarily work in the box office (re- Dear Comrade), went ahead with another Geetha Govindam. On paper, it sounds like a pragmatic choice. It also awfully sounds a lot like how Mahesh Babu himself veered away from experiments that failed at the box office (re - 1: Nenokkadine, Khaleja) to work in a series of cookie-cutter commercial entertainers that have consistently earned the ire of his younger, more discerning fanbase. And Family Star is indeed another version of Geetha Govindam. If the older film had a man committing a morally repugnant blunder and spending the rest of the film trying to earn the forgiveness of the woman he loves, Family Star swaps genders. Could the switcheroo have worked? Yes. Did it work? No. The dissection of Vijay’s choices would have been unnecessary had Family Star been a decent film, but the fact that it isn’t raises questions. Questions like, “What is the point of taking the supposedly safe route?”, “Why do filmmakers believe that appealing to the lowest common denominator means reaching out for the lowest hanging fruit?”, and so on.

Make no mistake, Geetha Govindam never worked for me. But, even at its worst, the film was consistently engaging. That can never be said of Family Star. The film, while starting on a decent note, gets progressively frustrating and dull. Vijay Deverakonda plays Govardhan, an architect and the sole breadwinner of his large family, consisting of one granny, two brothers, two sister-in-laws and five children. The first half of the film is an old-school ode to “middle-class” kashtalu and viluvalu. Before social scientists could get into a collective fit trying to explain that the middle class is an indefinable, complex huddle of masses (much like the “family audience”), we get some lazy approximations hastily thrown into the mix. Middle-class people wish that more vegetables than onions are sold at ration shops. Middle-class people wish that they could eat biryani for more than one Sunday a month. Middle-class people cannot fill petrol worth more than Rs 20. Govardhan is also seen roughing up with neighbourhood rowdies who are either threatening his older, alcoholic brother or a man who owes Govardhan some money (more on the awful action later).

In true middle-class hero fashion, Govardhan is also single because, a) his family comes first and, b) women apparently don’t want men who prioritise family over everything else. Enter Indhu (Mrunal Thakur), who seems to understand Govardhan and accepts him for who he is. If the route to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the route to a middle-class man’s heart is through winning the hearts of his entire family. Love happens. Then comes some unspeakable betrayal on Indhu’s part and the film loses its footing. On paper, this sounds like the kind of conflict that sets the film in motion, but the execution could not be farther from that.

Family Star is relentlessly passive in its treatment. Vijay and Mrunal share zero chemistry as Govardhan and Indhu. These two otherwise competent actors merely go through the motions under director Parasuram Petla’s watch. As a result, the film’s second half— which is supposed to make us clench our fists and wonder “will-they-won’t-they”—makes us grimace deeply as a 144p act three of Geetha Govindam crossfades into a 240p act three of Fidaa (2017). It is no coincidence that Dil Raju has produced both Fidaa and Family Star. Nor is it a coincidence that Dil Raju, known for his astute creative calls and his successful brand of ‘family films’, has executed some interventions best described as Telugu NRI-bait. But much to the dismay of Dil Raju’s deep pockets, crossing oceans alone cannot salvage a poorly written film.

The passivity even extends to the ridiculously choreographed fight sequences, where rods move on their own, marble walls break upon mere contact with Govardhan and the simulation of beating men to pulp is reduced to an anticlimactic series of individual shots stitched together to give the appearance of blood, guts and adrenaline in gory communion. While this shoddy choreography is fast becoming the crime of choice for contemporary Telugu filmmakers, the use of this particular modus operandi for Vijay Deverakonda is surprising, to say the least. Here is an actor in his prime, who is also physically capable of pulling off action (and lest I remind, he played a boxer in Liger). Why go down this path? Family Star’s action is as much a wasted opportunity as its potential to riff on its romantic subplot.

Despite its assembly line of shortcomings, Family Star could have still critic-proofed its way to success, had the makers taken the film a bit more seriously. And yet, here we are. Walking out of a star vehicle not in admiration of the star within the film, but questioning the star’s choices outside of it. More than all the ways the film reduces the middle class to stereotypes, one cannot help but be offended at the way the makers reduce the middle-class audience — the audience that can make or break a film at the box office — into a target group associated with low-effort, unintelligent cinema. This might just be the worst way to break the fourth wall. And for the sake of posterity, let's do some rephrasing. These are not family films, these are fraud films.

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