Tuesday Telugu: Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, What Are “Family Values” in Films?

Happy Tuesday!  A Telugu film!  First one in a while, but it felt like time.  We’ll see if my Telugu chops are still at their (very low) level.

Be warned, this will not be a very detailed review.  Because the subtitles got lousy and delayed and weird about 40 minutes in and never came back.  And because it is one of those plots that you really really need to know all the specific relationship names people are using to be able to follow the details.  I had to just throw up my hands and accept that everyone was related to everyone else in a variety of ways after a certain point, because there was no way I was getting enough information from the simple “aunt” “cousin” “uncle” that the subtitles were giving me.

I think I vaguely got the plot, and the appeal of the film.  The appeal was Mahesh Babu, Prakash Raj, and Venkatesh Daggubati all together in one film, lots of songs, and a generally warm feeling to it.  Plus, a nice reassuring message of traditional family values and festivals and happiness.

Image result for svsc telugu poster

This appeal didn’t totally work for me.  For one thing, while I like Mahesh, I’m not like into him-into him.  And Venkatesh is a total stranger to me.  Prakesh Raj, he’s awesome, but he isn’t around enough in this film to sell me on the whole thing.

For another thing, I have no deep emotional connection to traditional Telugu style family values and festivals.  The film is clearly picking up on that feeling of everything being just like in your family but slightly prettier and richer and happier and better.  Only, it isn’t like in my family.

This isn’t because I am incapable of opening my mind to other cultures, obviously I can do that, I am writing this blog.  No, the film is taking a bit of a shortcut.  Instead of establishing a universal appeal, it stays within a specific context that the majority of it’s audience will have an instinctive subconscious reaction to.

Not that that is a bad thing.  Sometimes I feel like Indian movies have gotten too universal, all the rough edges scrapped off.  The ideal would be a movie that is both specific and universal, but that is very hard to achieve.  Most filmmakers choose the universal boring option, it’s kind of nice to have a film that chooses the other door, the “so specific that it stops being universal” door.  I just wish it wasn’t selling itself in universal ways, “family”, “happiness”, and so on, but with definitions of family and happiness that do not fit my experience.









Prakash Raj is a happy man who wants nothing more in life and always looks on the bright side.  In his household is his daughter, his wife, his mother, and his orphaned niece.  His oldest son Venkatesh is working out of town (I think Vizag?  But, again, subtitles were lousy).  His younger son Mahesh Babu is more educated and is in Hyderabad trying to get a good job.

The essential “conflict” of the film is something that is universal, and which I quite enjoy.  The older son Venkatesh is pessimistic, worried, angry.  The younger son is optimistic, happy go lucky, charming, sure that everything will work out for the best.  Which is, well, how older and younger siblings work!

It’s the same in my family, since birth if you look at any photo of me and my sister, there she is being responsible and serious and concerned, and there I am making a wacky face and doing whatever.  That’s how siblings work, the oldest has all the worries, and the youngest doesn’t (because the oldest is taking care of things).  And this film does a nice job (from the little I grasped) investigating that dynamic.  The oldest is the responsible one, but he still turns to the younger one for advice and support.  The younger one is carefree and optimistic, but the one thing that can get through that shield of happiness is if the older one abandons him and forces him to be the responsible one.

It takes a loooooooooooong time for this film to get there.  First, Venkatesh quits his job working for a relative and returns to the family home.  Then Mahesh returns as well, for reasons that are unclear to me.

Both brothers are united in the household, but still different in how they live their lives.  And their romances show that.  Venkatesh has always been intended for his cousin Anjali.  But he is so cautious and closed off that he ignores her obvious love, and the happy life that is right in front of him.  Meanwhile, Mahesh goes to a family wedding and immediately goes after Samantha Ruth Prabhu, sure that she will respond to his flirtations.  He casually keeps up a phone call relationship with her for months on end, not worrying about her losing interest or their relationship not working out, or anything at all really.  The brothers are living together, but still could not be farther apart in how they view the world.

It almost comes to a head with their sister’s wedding.  Samantha’s wealthy family has helped find her a groom.  Venkatesh is too proud to accept their help, but Mahesh sees the bright side, that they are offering this and there is no reason to turn it down.  For a moment it seems like the brothers will fall apart over this issue.  But then Venkatesh steps back and lets Mahesh make this decision for them and accepts the help.

Let me back up for a second and see if I have the family structure correct.  Prakash Raj’s sister was married to Rao Ramesh’s brother and they were the parents of Anjali.  They died in an accident and her father’s very very wealthy family did nothing to help her, while Prakash’s more modest family took her in.  Rao Ramesh only values money and therefore looks down on Prakesh Raj and his sons and the rest of the family.  But ultimately his family as a whole is still the large loving traditional type.  And so his wife and mother make sure to invite her poor distant relatives to his daughter’s wedding and, after the wedding, the daughter herself bumps into Prakash and is so taken with his kindness and sweetness that she offers to help set up a groom for Prakash’s daughter.  There is lingering resentment because Anjali had no help from her father’s family, and because they have always looked down on Prakash’s family for being poor. This resentment slowly builds through out the film in a series of incidents.  I think.  Again, terrible subtitles!

As I could follow it, when Rao Ramesh invites them to his daughter’s wedding, they send Mahesh to represent their family because no one else wishes to go.  And it gets worse at Prakash’s daughter’s wedding, the wealthy relatives come and are superficially nice, but in fact are looking down on the poor wedding in the coconut field.  Venkatesh sees through their facade when they insult him and yells at them, and then is too angry to give a blessing to his sister at her wedding.  Mahesh goes after him and finally confronts him for his sour behavior.  But the boys make-up again, eventually.


There is a move towards the family conflict ending when Rao Ramesh takes a hand in helping to find a good groom for Anjali.  Which brings in a new conflict as of course Anjali would prefer to marry Venkatesh, but he still refuses to speak his feelings to her.  The family prepares for the wedding and at the same time attends a mass religious event.  Thanks to Prakash’s goodness (most recently displayed by him risking his life to save a young man who turns out to be connected to a wealthy man), he is called to the front to lead the procession, honoring the whole family.  And then, disaster!  There is an accident and a stampede at the religious event, live electrical wires are everywhere, it’s terrible.  Mahesh and Venkatesh wordlessly work together to save everyone, including Venkatesh risking his life to save Rao Ramesh’s youngest daughter.  Finally, the families are united again as Rao Ramesh comes to appreciate the virtues of the family, even if they are not wealthy.  And this whole experience also makes Venkatesh, finally, speak his feelings to Anjali.

The happy ending is at their wedding with Anjali shyly introducing herself post wedding by listing off all her new secure relatives, her husband and mother-in-law and father-in-law, no longer feeling like an orphaned outsider in their household.  And, of course, Mahesh and Samantha flirting one last time, implying that their wedding will be occurring soon.


Okay, I know I got ALL SORTS of things wrong in that description.  But I am hoping I got the general message correct, the smaller poorer family that is always looking for the good in people and trying to stay loving and united is better than the rich family that does not appreciate familiar bonds as much.  And this message of family unity is most present in the adjustments and disputes between the two brothers, and their strength when united.

Now, here are my problems with that message as a whole.  First, in terms of family unity, I find it a little disturbing that the entire film is about the effort to keep the two brothers bonded together and (to a lessor degree) to bring Anjali as a daughter-in-law into the home and give her a secure status, and yet the sister only exists to be married out of the family.  Her marriage is a huge family endeavor and decision.  But once she is married, she is just gone from their lives.  And even before her marriage, for all the talk of the relationship between the two brothers and the clear way their dynamic is shown, there is no time spent discussing their relationship with their sister.

(Great wedding song though!)

Second, there is a message of happiness and family and goodness over wealth.  But there is also a constant struggle for the two sons to find jobs.  A struggle which isn’t just put on by the outside society, but is something the characters themselves are trying for.

This is what I meant by it being too specific.  I am aware that the ideal Indian family is two sons, two daughters-in-law, two parents.  And so a sister or daughter only exists to be removed from her family of birth and happily placed into a new in-law family.  But there was a strange dissonance in a film that is supposed to be about the general concepts of “happiness” and “family” and valuing that over societal ideals, and at the same time some portion of the family is just ignored and forgotten by the movie because it does not fit into the societal ideal.  A daughter is loved and cared for, certainly, but your lifelong bond is with your brother, not your sister.

And at the same time, how can we combine this message of “just be happy” with the struggle for a job?  Not that I want them to remove the struggle for a job, I want some modification to the “just be happy” message.  Something like “it is not the only thing that brings us happiness, but certainly economic security is part of what serves to make us happy”.  It feels like an effort to have it both ways, the virtues of being not-money minded and at the same time the advantages of having money, maybe not as much as your relatives, but still money.


A specific message would explain “it is our culture to marry our sisters/daughters off, so the important bond is with your brother” or “just be happy but it is also okay to care about money if your family is starving otherwise”.  The danger is in allowing for the specific to stand in for the general.  To believe that “family is important” naturally of course means only those parts of your family as defined by typical Telugu family values, allows you to think those who do not follow these values don’t care about their family at all.  Someone who chooses their sister over their brother doesn’t have “family values”.  To believe that being generous and uncaring about money means not being super wealthy and being okay with that, allows for the possibility that someone who is living in desperate poverty and stealing for food could be considered as caring “too much” about money.  Could be told “don’t be so mercenary, just be happy!”

If I were raised within Telugu culture, it may not even occur to me to question the specifics of how these morals are being presented because it is the life that has always surrounded me.  But since I am from outside, I can’t help but question them.  And they don’t really hold up to questioning.  And I want the film itself to question some of this instead of blindly presenting it as the correct values which everyone naturally has, the life everyone naturally lives.

To end, I’ll give you a minor example which I think shows what I mean.  Mahesh Babu is a fairly handsome man, but I do not find him “stop traffic” handsome.  I know some people do, I don’t.  And yet this film, over and over again, shows every woman in existence sighing over him, desperate for his smile, acknowledging his as the most handsome many who ever lived.  Compare this with, for instance, how he was treated in Srimanthudu.  He was still the perfect son and the perfect boyfriend and all of that.  But he didn’t have strange woman literally coming up to him and proposing, we weren’t supposed to believe that he was so overwhelmingly attractive as to make every woman in the world fall in love at first sight.  Or Hrithik Roshan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, he got the big intro with every girl on campus falling for him.  But that was it, it wasn’t burned into us for the whole rest of the film that he was the handsomest man in the world and everyone agrees.  But in the world of this film, Mahesh Babu is that attractive.  And if you (the audience) don’t see it or don’t believe in it, this film is telling you that you are wrong, this is the “normal” way to be, all right thinking people are in love with Mahesh Babu, and all right thinking people want to marry their daughters off and out of their houses, and all right thinking people attend large Hindu religious processions, and all right thinking people live in combined families, and so on and so on with no possibility of any outside thoughts.


19 thoughts on “Tuesday Telugu: Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, What Are “Family Values” in Films?

  1. I haven’t seen this movie but I know exactly what you mean. While reading I couldn’t help but think about Sathamanam Bhavati. Good movie, but too “telugu” for non desi like me, and the tagline should say “It’s all about loving your parents and your telugu village”. Everything was so specific – festivals, family connections, customs. One pair almost get a divorce they didn’t want because the wife shouldn’t talk openly with her husband (or at least it’s what I understood), and I was like: where is the problem, why they don’t communicate?


    • Yes! And it’s not like you have to make the movie like that. Mirchi, for instance, was in a Telugu village and about family issues, even had a cousin-cousin romance, but I could relate to it on a greater level.

      On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 5:00 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Ha, ha. I am not laughing at you, but with you, because I had the exact same super exasperated reaction as you to this film. The only place I differ is that I don’t think they were ignoring the daughter or forgot about her.

    First, let me say, you didn’t get anything wrong. If the subtitles were really so dodgy, I’m surprised you got as much as you did. I watched this in the theater, where for some reason the sound was so atrocious that I couldn’t understand a thing, except the occasional word here or there. Hence I was forced to rely on the subtitles, which I guess were better than on the dvd.

    Let me clear up one thing for you about all that Mahesh worship. From various comments I read online, I gather that that was a bit of an “inside joke” — since in most Mahesh movies there is always a comment somewhere about how handsome he is (either the heroine is sighing over his beauty, or he is demanding, “How can you ignore a handsome guy like me?) — it seems it has become his trope, much like Salman taking off his shirt — Anyway, since this is always present, here they decided to go over the top with it, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to his fans. This explanation makes more sense to me than anything else.

    As for the rest, the thing that really, really got on my nerves was that the family was in fact in dire financial straits, with their father giving away whatever little income they did get from their farm, and both sons being unemployed. But why are they unemployed? Because their pride and “self-respect” is so much stronger than any recognition of their need for income. So Venkatesh throws up a perfectly good job because he feels insulted, and rejects many subsequent job offers because he feels he will have to compromise on “who he is.” In fact that’s his line whenever anyone suggests the least little modification to his behavior, “I have to be ME!” Finally, of course, he has his big epiphany, that sacrificing a little of his honor for others whom he honors and loves does not mean he has stopped being himself, but is expressing his essential personality in a different way. He makes a big speech about it.

    As for Mahesh Babu, he is no less hot-headed and impulsive about his “self-respect” and of course his attractiveness to the other sex. He throws up his job offer from Google (!) because he thinks they are patronizing him in a post-colonial way. Cripes! And, while the film itself may have been trying to treat his attractiveness in a playful way, his character himself seems to be taking it very, very seriously, like, “All I have to do is look at a girl and she has to fall for me, no choice.” It really got on my nerves.

    I pretty much hated this movie for its glorification of irresponsible and unrealistic behavior. Even the father was highly irresponsible in his “goodness.” As someone online said at the time, the men basically sit around basking in their “honor”, doing absolutely no work (which would be their traditional responsibility), while the women are shown constantly working, struggling to make ends meet with no income. So why was it so popular? Again going by online comments I saw on its youtube version, it seems most people liked it for: 1. its beautiful depiction of an idyllic rural life 2. having Venkatesh and Mahesh in the same movie 3. Because people knew someone like the father character in their own lives, and appreciated his goodness and 4. Because having a nice family story was such a welcome break from the usual violence and mayhem of a standard masala movie. I guess that all makes sense in its context.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The subtitles did that thing where they got out of synch by about two minutes. So they were actually really good (I think), but it was a toss up as to whether I could follow which character had said what with the two minute delay. Anyway, glad to know I wasn’t totally off!

      And glad to know I wasn’t wrong about the men just not working for no good reason! There was even a scene where we saw Prakash sitting in his coconut grove (?) theoretically “working” but all he was really doing was just sitting there smiling and watching the laborers work. So different from Bahubali, or Mirchi, or even Indra, where the village head/family head was shown as having no problem joining in and doing manual labor along with everyone else, in fact that was part of their nobility.

      On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 5:29 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. Maybe I should give this movie another go. A Telugu friend suggested it to me and I tried watching and couldn’t get past the initial bits. Sigh. Also, yes I knew a lot of girls who are head over heels on MB though I didn’t quite get it until I ended up watching unsubtitled movies for Prabhas. So I’m not going to question their love.

    About this girl being married out of the family being the sole purpose and then not being a part of the family. I feel it’s a very movie thing. In the south, all families I’ve known have their daughters being a very important part of the family, functions, everything in general even post marriage. Maybe there are families that just get rid of the girl by marriage?! 😑 but atleast I haven’t come across any such.


    • Yes, it is definitely a movie thing! And that’s what bothers me, this is one (of many) movies that is trumpeted as promoting wholesome “family” values, but they are acting like no family I have ever known, desi or non-desi. You wouldn’t have two brothers with this super close bond (clearly a result of a childhood spent living in close quarters, doing things as a family, etc.) and then no real place for the sister in that bond. She’d be the enemy they joined against, or the two youngest against the oldest, or the one they were always playing tricks on, something!

      And it doesn’t seem limited to just southern movies, sisters essentially just exist to either be raped (sad) or be married off (happy). When you talk about family closeness and loyalty and blah blah blah, it always seems to be about the brothers. Even in Trishul! Which I love. But Shashi and Amitabh have this super complicated relationship, and Poonam Dhillon is just there for her marriage to be a source of conflict. Tezaab, Anil’s life falls apart when he tries to avenge his sister’s rape, and then at the end he just goes off with Madhuri and she never comes up again. And then Guru turns that on its head, Aish is “just” the sister and they don’t think about her at all until she forces her way in and makes them realize she is a real person. Just looking at my bookshelf, the only mainstream Hindi film I can see that treats the brother sister relationship as something more than just rape-revenge or getting her married is Prem Ratan Dhan Payo!

      On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 8:05 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  4. The movie depicts ,the peer pressure of middle class society and how under performers are mocked if they not got job in time,or ‘not settled’.
    The movie doesn’t have any strong story, it only gives slice of middle class life.(Even youtube dubbed version has got high viewer count, so the movie appealed pan Indian audience).
    The audience identified themselves with their job hunting days and meeting society/family expectations and thus become memorable movie.
    It also reminds us how inhumane we are becoming in chasing the materialistic goals and conveys message that we should be human first and good family member, before we achieve any thing out of the life(Through Prakash Raj monologue in the climax).
    Prakash Raj is proud of his sons in climax scene,when they saved many lives (similar to lord Rama and Laxman saved the Yagna from Ramayan), he is not worried about their materialistic gains.
    Finally Bezwada Uncle also realizes that one should have altruist view,rather confining to individual material success.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Me, being a South Indian (but not a teluguite) does not get these overly traditional Telugu family dramas. Especially this movie. I’ve tried watching it many times but I’ve never been interested enough to complete it. Prakash Raj has played the patriarch in a dozen Telugu films, and it’s the same template, he is the do gooder, and some family members cannot stand his goodness.
    However, if you do want a fun family drama, try Brindavanam which has Jr NTR, Kajal Aggarwal and Samantha. Prakash is again the patriarch, but it’s a lot more fun and less sentimental.


  6. When I saw the poster of this film I first thought that Prakash Raj and Venkatesh play brothers and Mahesh is son of one of them. I was surprised that Venkatesh is son of Prakash. Now I checked and I’,m shocked that Prakash is only 52 years old! I was sure he is much older. And funny thing is that Venkatesh is 57 years old, so 5 years older than his on screen dad.


    • Makes the 8 year age gap between Shahrukh and Anupam seem a lot better! At least Anupam is actually older.

      On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 3:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  7. It’s amazing how precisely you caught all the relationship details and plot points.
    I’m a native Telugu speaker. But I found the movie so tedious that I couldn’t be bothered to follow through. Prakash’s smile all through the movie got under my nerves. I kept wondering how badly his jaws might have hurt. Mahesh is undeinably attractive. While other movies made references to how pretty he is, this one went too far, it got stale. Venkatesh is one of the finest Telugu lead actors, but was too bitter (or probably too real) in this.
    I get the ‘message’ the movie was trying to make – Self respect, humanity, family values over materialism. It did bother me that the heros (and heroines, but that’s not specific to this movie. And at least Anjali helped with household work.) basically did nothing. The women were always doing something or the other at home. Prakash managed his coconut field. They could have easily made the heros do something menial, not showy enough for the wealthy relatives, yet decent and self containing job. How difficult it would have been to give us glimpses of them working their father’s field? (Venkatesh did Priyamana Tozhi in Telugu as Vasantham. While it got over melodramatic when his relatives mistreat him, I still was on his side. Unlike this one, he had some ambition, specific goals, worked hard to reach them and did part time in a small store to support himself until then.)
    I might have been too conditioned to notice this stuff, but good catch about the sister not really being a part of the ‘family’. I’m not sure if this is related to your observation, the actress (Abhinaya) is hearing and speech impaired. (She has appeared in about 30 movies though, so good for her) They could not have had any dialogue of her bonding with her family. I wish they could have made her character share her condition without making a huge deal out of it and come up with non-verbal ways to integrate her with family. I guess that was too much work.
    The last scene where Anjali introduces her in-laws is a Telugu custom. This is probably the only time women are allowed to address their husbands by name, hence all the coyness. Also in this movie, it was a tease. The audience never learns Venkatesh and Mahesh’s character names. They are referred as the elder one and the younger one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, casting a hearing and speech impaired actress to play the sister is a real clear statement that they knew that role would be without “voice”!

      On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 7:42 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • Easy on the ideology, Margaret. I think Spandana’s point was that, because they had cast an actress who couldn’t speak, they were limited as to how much they could have her portray. Unlike you, I was very impressed that they had cast her (I didn’t know about her background before). If she has been in 30 movies, she’s having a much better career in Telugu films than hearing impaired actresses have had in Hollywood films, don’t you think?


        • But they made the decision to cast this actress, knowing both that she couldn’t speak dialogue and that they weren’t going to bother figuring out a way to address that. There was never even the possibility of giving this actress a full role in the film, the sister role was clearly considered something that didn’t need to be fully integrated.

          On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 8:11 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



        • I’m kind of on both sides. I never realized that the sister was basically cut off from the film after getting married. My guess is that she was written only to have her wedding as a plot point. That said, I’m impressed that they cast her (and the fact that she has a good career)
          She didn’t necesarily need dialogue. They could have not make her disappear post marriage. Just make her visit her parents’ house for important occasions like when Anjali’s marriage is being discussed. Or when the family goes to Bhadrachalam for the climax. She need not be integral to the plot. All the life lessons Prakash teaches his sons, why not show two seconds of her face and imply that his daughter is also learning the same values?


          • Yes, it would have been so easy to do something to make her slightly more integrated, it feels like the filmmakers were so oblivious to her character and the general idea of placing importance on father-daughter or brother-sister relationships that they couldn’t even imagine including her. Like, it wasn’t a matter of “we considered doing more with her character and rejected it”, it was more “we didn’t even reach the point of considering because the character was invisible to us beyond using her wedding as a plot point”

            On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 8:44 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  8. I agree that the sister’s wedding is a plot point because Venkatesh is not completely free to get married before his sister does. So even though we keep seeing some tension between him and Anjali, nothing really happens before the sisiter’s wedding. May be its a Telugu custom only but I don’t remember an instance where a brother gets married while having a marriage age sister at home.

    Married daughter has more voice because she is considered a woman not a girl. In this movie, we can assume that she married an NRI (which is the case with most of Telugu girls coming from her kind of background). So even though it might look like she is forgotten, she basically won’t be. In most cases, she comes back as a very domineering SIL!!!

    So once the sister gets married, Anjali gets more comfortable in saying that Venkatesh has to call her by name and not just ‘Hey you!!’. I think Venkatesh’s character has self esteem issues and after he saved a bunch of people in the accident, he has more self esteem and is more open to changing and calling her by name. Anjali is not poor so low self esteem Venky might have issues living off of her money (Her paternal grandmother alludes to her share of the property in a scene. So she is probably as wealthy as Rao Ramesh).


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