Did you know HeroTalkies merged with YuppTV? In some very vague way that I can’t fully understand and makes both websites impossible to navigate? This is why I ended up watching MCA. It was the only movie I was successfully able to find and play. Well, and also Nani. And also Sai.
I decided to watch this movie for Nani and Sai Pallavi, as probably did the majority of the audience, but once I started, I discovered that I loved it not for them, but for Bhoomika, who I didn’t even know would be in it.
Bhoomika is what Sai might be in a few years. At her launch she was immediately brilliant and intriguing onscreen, crossing easily between industries, winning awards, and then slowly aging out of the heroine parts and being set ever more to the side. But, if Sai is lucky, she will be like Bhoomika, appreciated enough by the industry that she is on the short list for any interesting non-heroine parts. Bhoomika plays the hero’s sister-in-law in this film, she played the hero’s sister in Dhoni the year before, the widowed mother of a small boy the year before that, and on and on.
In this film, Sai is a little bit sidelined to make space for Bhoomika to shine. Which is lovely in all sorts of different ways. It’s lovely to see Bhoomika in particular get an interesting challenging role. And it’s lovely to see an older woman do more than feed people. And it’s lovely to see a different kind of central relationship for the hero, with a woman who isn’t his love interest. It is also a little irritating, because Sai doesn’t get as much to do as she could, disappears for big segments. But I will forgive it, Sai has years to be the heroine, she can afford to give space to her elders just this once.
(Although she does get the best songs)
Nani gives way also but, in my limited Nani experience, that seems to be the way he does things. He lets the heroine shine, the script shine, the villain shine, you hardly notice how good he is because he makes everything else look good. And in this film he stands behind two heroines, Sai takes the lead (aggressively takes the lead) in the romance, and Bhoomika takes the lead against the villain. Nani just follows behind. Which is why I love him.
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Nani is introduced being nagged by his uncle and spoiled by his aunt. It’s not the usual hero’s introduction, he is neither terrible downtrodden by his family, or terribly revered by them. He’s just somewhere in between, like most people are.
That’s the meaning of the “Middle Class Abbayi” title. Nani isn’t a bit fancy hero, he isn’t rich, he isn’t desperately poor either. He isn’t put upon, nor is he worshipped. He isn’t perfect, but he isn’t bad. He’s just sort of average and in between. It’s refreshing.
And he is also refreshingly petty. His uncle is nagging him to go visit his big brother. Who he left when he got married to Bhoomika. Not because they were abusive but because his brother made Bhoomika into his nightly drinking partner instead of Nani, and Nani was jealous.
Petty, but not unreasonable. His brother wanted him to come because he wants him to accompany Bhoomika to go settle in a new city where she has been assigned for work. Nani is unhappy and whiney but goes along with it. And when they settle in the city, he rolls his eyes and tries to avoid work, but he does do what Bhoomika asks, whether it is helping to move into the house or chopping vegetables. Just with a lot of complaining.
Things are already mildly interesting, Nani being set-up as having a familiar brother-against-brother issue and then turning around and having a new sister-in-law against brother-in-law issue. But they get really really interesting with the introduction of Sai!
It starts out as a classic movie meeting. Nani is riding his bike, sees her waiting for the bus, and stops dead blocking traffic to look back at her. But then it takes a twist! While Nani is stopped, Sai slowly starts walking towards him, finally handing him a rose and saying “I like you, will you marry me?” Nani drops his phone in shock, and Sai neatly catches it and hands it back to him. And then gets on the bus while he is still shocked.
It’s the perfect hero-heroine meeting, only with the genders reversed! Nani is the one struck dumb by love, trembling and shy, while Sai is the one who makes the big romantic move. And it keeps going like that! Sai gives him her phone number, Sai invites him for a secret night time meeting, Sai suggests he give her the first kiss. When it turns out that Bhoomika is Sai’s older sister and Sai is invited to stay at the house with them, Sai is the one who tries to sneak secret hugs around the house while Nani chastely keeps chopping vegetables. And, best of all, when Sai’s family objects to the relationship, Sai casually says that she will only marry Nani, she will get a good job, and Nani will stay home and chop vegetables for her. And it’s not a joke, this is her ideal dream of life, Nani chopping vegetables and doing laundry at home while she goes to the office. She doesn’t even see anything odd about it. Only Sai could play this role, the heroine being the hero with no machismo or fakery, but simply because that is how she sees the world.
On the one hand, it’s sad that we lose this when Sai is sent away and the plot shifts, but on the other hand, we have the equally unusual Bhoomika-Nani dynamic to replace it. Nani is furious with Bhoomika, blaming her for sending Sai away when their romance comes out. Until his uncle tells him that Bhoomika is his ally. She has been trying to convince her family to support the match, she has been defending him to her father, and she has even voluntarily put off plans to have her own child until Nani was “settled”.
Nani and Bhoomika have been following separate plot sup until now. Nani with his romance, and Bhoomika with her job as traffic inspector which sets her against the corrupt bus line owner Vijay Varma. But they come together dramatically, in the kind of self-aware way that makes me love Telugu films. Nani rushes to find her and apologize for misunderstanding her, not even realizing that he is rushing into an armed confrontation between her and Vijay. Nani goes immediately from starting a relationship with his sister-in-law, to being forced to defend her from armed thugs.
And that’s the second half of the movie. Sai is mostly gone, and instead of is all about Nani and Bhoomika, Nani protecting her and defending her, while she upholds the rule of law and order. It is Bhoomika’s battle, Nani is just there to support her. And it’s so refreshing to see! An older woman with a responsible job taking a stand for law and order, supported not by the man who is in love with her, but by her younger brother-in-law who respects her.
Sai does return at the end, to be threatened by a knife and have a wonderful line, on the phone with Nani when Vijay wants her to act scared, she says “he is threatening me with a big knife. It is very sharp, we should get it after marriage for your cooking”. And then it immediately returns to Bhoomika, Nani learns Sai was only threatened as a distraction, Bhoomika was the target. How interesting! The love story is a distraction from larger issues, but it is not the fault of woman, it is the fault of love distracting the hero from the larger issues, the issues represented by a different woman.
And all along, Nani is doing these things not out of abstract heroics and deep beliefs, that is Bhoomika’s area, but rather from a simple middle-class need to protect his family, his sister-in-law included. As he explains to the villain. He defeats the villain not through a deep ideal philosophy, but simply because he cares about his family and the villain doesn’t care about anything.
That’s the happy ending all around, not that the villain is defeated, but that he learns to care about his family again. His poor mother has been praying for him to turn into a good peaceful man, and by golly a blow to the head from Nani gives him amnesia and does the trick! And so the end of the film is a happy wedding, between Sai and Nani, with Vijay Varma, now reformed, there as the best man. Part of the larger middle-class family of man.