So, moviemavengal is like totally in love with Mahesh Babu and has been telling me and telling me I need to watch one of his movies. And then last week I saw that Srimanthudu had just been added to ErosNow, and that I could now chromecast ErosNow to my TV, and I decided it was fate!
This movie is definitely in the “perfect hero who never has to change” category of film. Kind of like anything by Cameron Crowe. There is an illusion of change, because those around him come to appreciate his goodness more and more, and his goodness is presented against a variety of backgrounds, but essentially this is a perfect person who is perfect start to finish.
I know I know, that sounds like the default setting for Indian film heroes. But it’s not, really. Much more common is a hero who is somewhat feckless, carefree, unthinking. And then he falls in love, or his family is killed, or something else dramatic happens and he rises to the occasion. The seeds of greatness are always there, but there is growth over the course of the narrative. In Srimanthudu, Mahesh meets a variety of challenges over the course of the film, but his essential nature never changes, because he was already perfect.
(Man I love Chennai Express! And although I really really love the awesome heroic Shahrukh at the end, it wouldn’t land nearly as well if we hadn’t seen him grow into a hero over the course of the film)
Which makes this not the best film for my first Mahesh Babu experience! There was no sense of building up a relationship with him, or of him trying to win me over. It was just slap, bang, LOVE THIS PERFECT MAN!!!
It’s the same effect as Dilwale or Happy New Year, which work great for me, a massive Shahrukh fangirl. But which I have learned not to use as an SRK introduction for a new viewer, for that you need DDLJ or Chak De, or even Don. Something where he is actively trying to woo the audience, not just assuming we are already in love.
Although, if I were to meet Mahesh’s character in this in real life, I probably would be in love with him. Rich, but humble. Would rather party with the employees of his father’s company than the fancy rich people. Refuses his father’s offer of a corporate job, insists on going his own way. Tries to solve disputes peacefully, but isn’t afraid to fight when he has to. And only fights to defend the helpless, not out of anger or revenge. Wah-wah-wah!!! Oh, and he is also very tall and handsome.
But meeting him in fantasy-film-world, I need a little something more to work with. Something that makes me feel like I can relate to him, not just worship him. And he is just SO PERFECT!
The other downside to this perfection is that everyone else comes off kind of poorly in contrast. Not the bad guys, of course they are always going to be bad, but even the other good guys. The heroine comes off as petty and bitter for holding a grudge against this obviously perfect guy, his father comes off as weak for choosing a different path, the rest of his family members come off as selfish for just sitting around enjoying their nice life (who ARE his family, anyway? There’s a lot of them, but Mahesh is his father’s only son. Cousins? Aunt and uncle? Something like that?).
Maybe that is why I enjoyed Mahesh’s interactions with the villain more than anything else, because it was such a simple experience of contrasts, complete evil versus complete good. We saw that waaaaaaaaaaaaay at the beginning, when the bad guy’s son threatens Mahesh’s family. So he goes to Delhi and quickly makes friends with the bad guy’s wife and daughter, still sneaking into their life and getting close to them, but with love not fear.
Second best part would be the romance. At least, the early part of it, when Shruti Hassan (who I still hate, by the way. It’s going to take a lot of semi-acceptable Southern performances to erase her terrible terrible Hindi roles from my mind) serves as kind of an audience surrogate, falling in love with Mahesh’s towering perfection in the film just as we are falling for it watching the film. There’s a bit of an irritating thing when they first meet, and she doubts his perfection, to which he reacts in a very “forgive them, they know not what they do” kind of way. But as soon as she gets past that, the early romance is super cute with her working away at his reserve and him falling for her spunkiness.
I also really appreciate how it isn’t the normal kind of romance, and the film even defines how it is unusual. Way at the beginning, Mahesh’s father tries to set him up with another rich kid, and Mahesh gently turns her down by saying that what he likes to do, she would find “boring”. That’s what the love song between Mahesh and Shruti shows us, a “boring” romance. They go to class, they talk on the phone, they study together. There’s no club scene, there’s no fight, there’s no drama.
Well, until there is drama, all of a sudden! I like the turn to the plot, in that it sets things in motion and gives a direction to the film. But I’m kind of sorry to say good-bye to the sweet slow college romance part of it. Oh, and before I talk about the rest of the romance, I guess I have to put up SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
So, Mahesh finally proposes to Shruti, and she turns him down, because she has just learned who he “really” is. Not that he is a super rich son of a super rich father (which he never really denied, but since they were living such a quiet life together it also never came up), but that he is the son of his particular family, who is from the same village as her family, and who has abandoned their village roots.
Now, in the moment, it’s kind of nice that Shruti is standing up for her principles that society has a responsibility for itself, that it is a sin to abandon those who rely on you. If Shruti knows that their village is dying, and that Mahesh and his father have the ability to save it and aren’t doing anything, if she knows that they have heartlessly turned their back on their people, then this is a moral decision, to turn her back on someone she loves if she can’t respect him.
But as we learn through the rest of the movie, Mahesh’s family had a big ugly reason for leaving the village. So either Shruti knows all the details and is so cold and heartless that she still doesn’t care and won’t forgive him. Or she doesn’t know all the details, but that would mean all she knows is that they used to live in the other big house in the village, across from her family’s house, and then left and now are very rich in the city. Is that really enough to blame them forever? To turn your back on the man you love? Wouldn’t you be open to getting more details, finding out if they are planning to return to the village at some point in the future or if there is a reason they can’t come back or something?
It’s really the beginning of the end for Shruti’s character. She’s never really “bad”, but she isn’t really there after that. She is a little whiny and self-centered when Mahesh first shows up back in her village, and then she turns into his silent little acolyte until the end. Even her initial focus on learning how to help her village, the rural development program she was in, gets subsumed under the great Mahesh showing up to suddenly fix everything.
(Although she does us this great song in the middle of the village part)
Although, on the other hand, I love the way Mahesh fixes things! Once he is given the impetous to go back to his village and try to help (not to win back Shruti, because that would be a selfish motive and he is perfect, but just to do the right thing), he goes all in! After first just arriving, getting to know people and see their problems, he confronts the corrupt politicians directly, and dramatically announces that he is adopting this village!
I know village adoption is a common thing for rich people in India, and I think it’s awesome that they do that, but I don’t exactly think it is usually a big dramatic declaration in front of a crowd, like Sunny Doel marrying Amisha Patel or something. More just a matter of signing a paper and sending checks. But still, it is a great scene!
Followed by a great song in which he uses his super powers of wealth to save the whole village. There’s no messing around with bootstraps and them needing to help themselves, it’s just a straight up bring in the trucks and build a school and a hospital and a water tank and do whatever it takes kind of endeavor. Although, I have to wonder, where is he getting the money? I mean, is his father sending it? Does he have his own trust fund or unlimited bank account? Is it all going on a credit card?
Of course, at some point during the process of perfecting the village, he runs afoul of the corrupt politician again. Who is the same corrupt politician who’s son previously threatened Mahesh’s father! WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?!?!?
And then it gets even stranger, when he is injured and the whole family comes back to the village and we learn that his father had previously tried to save and help the village, which resulted in a bunch of deaths when the evil guys responded, and Mahesh’s dad went to jail for a couple of years, and all the villagers told him to leave because he had just made things worse. So, that means that initial confrontation between the politician and Mahesh’s Dad had this whooooooooooole backstory to it. Which wasn’t hinted at in any way. Almost as though the scriptwriters figured out this backstory after that scene was shot! Surely not! (that’s sarcasm).
Also, this is where Mahesh’s backstory and family and his father’s story and all of that ends up having these strange near misses in connections. They needed Mahesh to be super rich. They needed him to be his father’s only son, so there were huge expectations on him. But they also needed to give a big backstory for why his family isn’t part of the village any more. And they wanted the super family-family message, with a bunch of random relatives filling in Mahesh’s household. And they needed his father to have tried and failed before with almost no support.
So the end result is all kinds of disconnects. How is Mahesh’s family soooooooooooooooo rich, and yet still afraid to go back to the village or do anything? How does Mahesh have all these relatives around, and yet none of them seem to know the village backstory or have been involved in it? Heck, how is it that the very same politician who is blocking Mahesh’s family’s business deal in the city is their arch nemesis from the village? It all kind of works, if you really really struggle to make it function, but it isn’t exactly a natural flow from point to point.
Boy, all of this makes it sound like I didn’t really like this movie! I did! I promise I did! Just not as much as I could have. Not as much as, for instance, I enjoyed the second Mahesh Babu movie I watched, Pokiri.