The film, directed by Vinod Anantoju and starring Anand Deverakonda and Varsha Bollamma, released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.

Middle Class Melodies Poster with Anand Deverakonda in the front and the other actors around him yelling at him Amazon Prime Video
Flix Review Friday, November 20, 2020 - 13:37
Worth a watch

‘Bombay chutney’ is an unconventional kind of chutney, made with gram flour. In Middle Class Melodies, which is out on Amazon Prime Video, Raghava (Anand Deverakonda) wants to move to Guntur to make it big with his mother’s Bombay chutney recipe. He believes it is flavourful enough to become a local ‘specialty’ and ‘famous’ food item, in a city preoccupied with groundnut and tomato-based chutneys, and has an exciting street food culture. Sandhya (Varsha Bollamma) is Raghava’s classmate from high school, and while we don’t get to know much about her aspirations, we do know that she loves Raghava but is timid and reluctant to speak her mind.

Although Raghava and Sandhya are the leads in Middle Class Melodies, the film and its slice-of-life writing truly come alive because of the wonderful supporting cast, many of whom were recruited from local theatre groups in Guntur. Goparaju Ramana stands out for his delightful portrayal of Raghava’s father Kondala Rao, a grumpy man with no filter. His harsh admonishments are endearing (and also just a tiny bit frightening). Chaitanya Garikipati, who plays Raghava’s best friend Gopal, also makes a mark, as does Divya Sripada as Gowthami.

Gopal and Gowthami get their own romance arc, with independent problems and resolutions. And while the lives of most of the characters in Kolakalooru (Raghava’s village, near Guntur city) are intertwined, they come across as individuals with their own stories, quirks and concerns. They are not mere side characters propelling the hero and heroine’s story. Even characters with brief appearances and fewer dialogues become memorable — like Anjayya (Katta Anthony), the milkman struggling to fund his granddaughter’s education, Mallikarjuna Rao (Poorna Satyam), a well-meaning local leader who gets into deep money problems, Lakshmi (Surabhi Prabhavathi), Raghava’s supportive mother who has to deal with her husband and son’s constant clashes, and many others.

There have been several recent Telugu films based in Andhra Pradesh, which are rooted in a certain region which is crucial to the plot, and also lends its distinct cultural tone to the film. Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, for instance, which was based in Nellore, or Palasa 1978, set in Srikakulam. Unlike these regions, Guntur, along with Krishna and Godavari districts, have been a dominant cultural presence in Telugu films, with the portrayal of a few communities from these regions overshadowing other stories from the Telugu states. Yet, Middle Class Melodies manages to portray Guntur in a refreshing light.

‘The Guntur Song’ takes us on a virtual food tour of the city and while it makes you wish for more such visuals in the rest of the film, it comes from the filmmakers’ experience of the city and feels warm and intimate. A line from the song says “Ennenno saradale koluvunte, karale nooredi antare” (roughly translating to: When it has so many fun things happening, why do people say it only crushes chillies). The words seem to suggest that the film wants us to see Guntur beyond the mirchi yards and the gang violence stereotypes, the way people who grew up there and love the city see it. And with the writer, director and most of the supporting actors hailing from Guntur, the region is portrayed with affection and familiarity. But this is disrupted whenever the lead actors appear on screen.

The strong performances of the supporting cast overshadow Varsha and Anand. With both actors, the diction is unimpressive and sounds affected and self-aware. While such failings may not stand out in an urban cosmopolitan setting where they can be explained away, in a semi-rural setting, they stick out like a sore thumb. Yet, Varsha’s lines are sparse, and her performance as a timid young girl putting up with a difficult father and a stubborn partner manages to make an impression. Anand’s mediocre performance, however, is probably the weakest link in the film.

‘Middle-class’ has become a bit of a loaded term, and is used less as a reference to a class or income category and more of a ‘vibe’. And this is how the writers seem to have interpreted it too, with the fiercely squeezed toothpaste tubes, the mugging up of physics concepts in school and frugal life hacks. Director Vinod Anantoju has said that with mainstream Telugu cinema tending to portray urban upper middle-class lives as the norm, his film draws inspiration from the slice-of-life romantic comedies of the ‘80s like the ones made by Jandhyala and Bapu.

With fun and contemporary writing, and a strong ensemble cast, the film does manage to transport us to Kalakalooru and Guntur, and get us invested in the chaotic lives of the characters. It feels like an offshoot of the timeless Telugu comedies of past decades, minus the strong lead actors.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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