కొంచెం ఇష్టం కొంచెం కష్టం
I haven't explored much in the way of Telugu movies, or even any Indian films in languages other than Hindi. This is not for want of curiosity - it's a matter of self-preservation. I tend to go for depth - when I decide to learn about something, I become obsessed and compelled to learn as much as I can. And so the rabbit hole of south Indian cinema beckons me, but I hesitate to jump in.
A few months ago, though, I stumbled across the lovely song "En kadhal solla," from a Tamil film called Paiyya. And I was rather taken with its scrumptious star, Tamannah. So when I had a chance recently (thanks to Beth, from whom I stole the screenshot at the top of this post) to watch Tamannah in an entire film, Konchem ishtam konchem kashtam ("a little sweetness, a little sorrow"), I decided to dip my toe in. What I got was a movie that, as its title promises, is sometimes quite sweet indeed. But - while it thankfully never gets all the way to sorrowful - Konchem ishtam konchem kashtam does reach tedium more than once. At its weakest, in its plodding and often stupid second half, the movie is part Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge, part The Parent Trap. And when it ventures into that territory, the movie is just not very interesting.
Geetha Subramanyam (Tamannah) has such a close relationship with her father Subramanyam (Nasser) that she made his name part of her own. So Geetha is recalcitrant when Subramanyam sends her to Hyderabad to study. Once there, though, she settles in comfortably, staying with her cousin's family, and developing a close mentoring relationship with a professor, Rajyalaxmi (Ramya Krishna). And she meets a fellow student, Rajyalaxmi's son Siddhu (Siddharth), a skirt-chasing pleasure-seeker who doesn't impress her much at first. But soon, she sees a tender side of him, and romance blossoms. The stern Subramanyam, though, doesn't approve of her choice. Siddhu's parents are separated, Subramanyam notes, and so Siddhu, with no role model for a successful partnership, would not make a suitable husband. Siddhu offers Subramanyam a deal - if he reunites Rajyalaxmi with Siddhu's father Prakash (Prakash Raj), then Subramanyam will give his consent to the match between Siddhu and Geetha. Now Siddhu faces only the small challenge of bringing his estranged parents back together.
This last leg of the story, the conceit of reuniting the estranged Rajyalaxmi and Prakash, is what drags Konchem ishtam konchem kastham into the weeds. It is just too naïve and unbelievable to be satisfying. Some movies are, of course, supposed to be fantasies, and one can be sure that an effervescent Telugu romance with impossibly beautiful young principals is not in any way striving for realism. But the one-two punch of tired, silly plot elements - the girl who won't take a step without her father's approval, and the boy desperate to repair his broken childhood by rekindling romance between people who fell out of love two decades earlier - is just too much for the movie to bear; it bends under the strain, and grows insipid. One is left wondering why we are made to sit through it - if the plot succeeds, it's facile and childish; and if it doesn't, why did the movie waste so much time on it?
Despite this weak final lap, the movie does show signs of smartness, though these are sometimes frustrating because the payoff is so unsatisfying. The "rakish gadabout goes to great lengths to win over his girl's father" device is handled better here than in Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge, where the insufferably arrogant Raj's approach is to lie and cheat the family at every turn. Here, at least, Siddhu has to make good on his end of the bargain, asinine though it is - when he tries to deceive Subramanyam by hiring actors to play his parents, Geetha vetoes the scheme.
And there is some unexpected modernness and maturity in the backstory of Rajyalaxmi and Prakash's separation, which was rooted in Rajyalaxmi's dissatisfaction with being left to the duties of housekeeping and childrearing while Prakash, taking her utterly for granted, pursued the challenges of building a business. Even Subramanyam, as a stern father and leader of a traditional village, shows signs of progressiveness. After all, Subramanyam insists that Geetha go study in Hyderabad because he wants to set a good example in the village in support of higher education for young women. And it's not a knee-jerk "divorce is a blot on a family name" sort of reaction that drives his disapproval of Siddhu as a son-in-law, but the considerably more reasoned position regarding Siddhu's inexperience with healthy relationships. Whether you buy that reasoning or not, at least it is an attempt to get beyond the expected clichés of an old-fashioned patriarch.
These signs of intelligent life aren't quite enough to overcome the eye-rolling tedium of the movie's second half - but fortunately, Konchem ishtam konchem kashtam offers enough other pleasures to make it, on balance, still an enjoyable watch. It is colorfully and artfully shot, with a bright primary palate like a bowl of Skittles. Some of the relationships are touchingly handled - Siddhu's relationship with Prakash faithfully represents the awkward chumminess that sometimes characterizes divorced dads trying to negotiate whether to be a parent or a buddy. Rajyalaxmi is that rare appealing mature woman of substance, not a sort of character one gets to see too frequently in any culture's movies. And I get a special pleasure from Geetha's attachment to her chosen surname, Subramanyam - she steadfastly refuses to take Siddhu's name on marriage, and in an adorable moment of capitulation Siddhu finally offers to become a Subramanyam himself. It is always a treat to see a young woman asserting the first and strongest symbol of her identity in this way, and to see young men realizing that it's not a threat to them.
Above all else, though, when Konchem ishtam konchem kashtam works well, it rides the the appeal of its leads, Siddharth and Tamannah. Key to any romantic story is that the audience get behind the pairing and root for it to succeed. Konchem ishtam konchem kashtam invokes the mildly annoying trope in which the solid love of an uptight good girl can transform an immature jerk into a nice guy - but there is enough of the genuine in Siddhu's emergent, gentle sweetness to make this forgivable. Siddhu does beat up a bunch of thugs (as, I am told, any Telugu hero worth his salt must), but he does it out of Geetha's sight, and refreshingly, his fisticuff prowess has no influence on her feelings for him. On balance, he is a just a cute guy who has a bit of growing up to do, and watching him do it is not an unpleasant way to spend a movie - especially when he cuts loose in the movies stupendous songs, like this one in which he expresses his frustration with Subramanyam.
And then there is Tamannah. Oh, my - Tamannah. She is a little younger - okay, significantly younger - than most heroines who make my heart race, and I admit I feel a bit like pervy uncle at times watching her on screen while my brain short-circuits and the only thoughts I can express go something like this: I WANT TO LICK.
(Watch past the horrible Black Eyed Peas song in the beginning; it gets better, I promise.)
Apart from being most lickable and blessed with magnificent hips, Tamannah is more than adequate to what her role asks of her - which is really not all that much more than being fetching, whether laughingly scratching the faces of people she dislikes out of photographs, pouting, or tossing her head in uptight indignation. Tamannah has the art of being fetching down cold, and she's just a delight to watch.
All the songs are terrific, both the slick compositions that are unmistakably Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and the colorful, jubilant picturizations. The songs, in fact, are really where this movie and its adorable leads shine the most brightly. The story may be artless, the comedy side plots a mixed bag. (These revolve around Geetha's cricket-obsessed uncle (Brahmanandam) or Siddhu's inexplicably middle-aged chum (Venu Madhav).) But get Tamannah and Siddharth together on a screen sparkling with gorgeous bursts of vibrant color - preferably with a passel of dancers and one of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's springy songs behind them - and you'll quickly forget how laboriously you had to slog through the scenes between. These sometime sweetnesses really do make the whole worthwhile.
Tamannah playing rugby in the rain? Kids doing air guitar? What's not to love?