If I were to take a poll of the film’s quality from the audience seated in my cinema hall, this review would be done with one primal yell of uproarious approval. But I have to play the devil’s advocate here because of who I am and before anyone tails me with pitchforks and flaming torches, there a whole lot to like about this film.
It always strikes as a rare phenomenon when a mainstream Telugu movie has a likable leading man performing a moderately unlikable character. I was taken back to more innocent days when a Bollywood film titled Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna came to theaters. Yes, the public and critical reaction to that film were lukewarm at best but there was a caveat to that. Most of them could agree that this was a story rarely told by Indian cinema and to and such effect. Simply speaking, most audiences do not like to think about the feelings of adulterers or care about what causes adultery or empathize with dissension in a marriage, at the very least, unless the film is titled Murder and it has a ridiculous amount of semi-nudity and an easily digestible theme which amounts up to SEX SELLS.
So when Ninnu Kori came to theaters and I heard positive buzz surrounding it, I was intrigued to see what the hoopla was all about. I’m always wary of Telugu films and the circle of hype they create. I live outside Andra Pradesh or Telangana but the sheer noise of approval coming out of the epicenter of Tollywood was audible to the whole of South India. So I kept my expectations in check and all I hoped for was that I did not end up hating the film while making myself public enemy #1 in the process.
The film opens with a married woman seeking out her ex-boyfriend on the date of her first wedding anniversary. Alright movie, you have my attention. The minimal amount, but attention nonetheless. The film then slides back into the basic tropes of Telugu romantic comedies as it takes us through a first half filled with comedic lines, tepid romantic scenes, a father figure whose moral code is widely used and is genuinely valid and as I mentioned earlier, a break-up.
So, after an hour of setup (which was equal parts tedious and charming), we move into the meat of the story. The ex (played by an always-welcome Nani) lives with the now-married couple (played by Niveda Thomas and a monotone Aadi Pinnisetty) in an attempt to show his ex-girlfriend that she is in fact not as happy as she claims to be with her new husband.
This intrigued me as I wanted to see where the script would go with this premise. Would it take the overt cliché route, making the husband out to be a heartless dick while making our leading man a person of infallible character or would the film have a fresh and mature approach to the matter? The answer to that would a cheat Yes and an actual Yes, respectively.
Ninnu Kori is a troublesome film but is likable in mostly the right ways. I once heard that Telugu actors chose roles that had no shades of negativity to them as said parts could ruin their squeaky clean images. Nani is not one such actor. He is given a character that he and his acting expertise can sink their teeth into. He doles lines confidently, he handles a few ex-machinas in the film like it’s nobody’s business and is relatable throughout the film.
Niveda Thomas’ female lead opens up post-interval (pre-interval characterization is just dull) as she is no longer the object men are trying to attain which grants her the gift of character. She makes logical choices; she handles tough decisions with requisite thought, she controls the flow of the story (as shades of likability come through) even if most of her lines feel oddly expository. The fact that she is not showing her navel and is not being objectified (for the most part) for having said navel was a win enough for me.
Aadi Pinisetty might have one of the most recognizable voices in South Indian cinema but that vocal prowess can’t carry a bland character through the course of an hour. I struggled to find much to like about him other than fact that he holds his first gift to his wife with the highest of regard and has a scene that reeks of manufactured tension. Sorry dude but you do nothing more than serving the purpose.
Now that the obligatory talk about the faces we associate the film with is done, let’s talk about this film’s story and themes. There are two trains of thought when push comes to shove and I subscribe to both because I am a complex human being too guys, GAH. I appreciate the fact that the ultimate theme of the film revolves around maturity. The film acts as a coming of age story where general Telugu film sensibilities are pushed aside and a new lease on life is afforded to the main character.
However, the subplots surrounding the lead character are gratingly hackneyed. Everything from underwritten divorce dramas to perpetuating the sentiment that people who live in foreign countries indulge in multiple marriages sent conflicting messages to me. I wouldn’t say this would be a problem to most but it is a point of contention for me. I rarely if appreciate such stereotypical moments in films and especially in a film that is lauded for “breaking the mold”.
I have a lot to go into while talking about the human dynamics of this film but I’d like to wind this off abruptly, like this film does, by saying that the film succeeds with what it is going for in parts but sacrificing the initial courtship ritual with clever character building for the eventual couple would have helped this film stand out to a higher degree. As it stands, it is a middling film that has an admittedly interesting idea and a fair chunk of lost potential.