Keerthy Suresh's Miss India, now streaming on Netflix, is based on the frankly ludicrous premise that tea drinking is unheard of in America, and that it's Indian variant - chai - is completely alien to a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco which has a sizable Indian population.
But even if you're willing to suspend disbelief and buy into the delusion, the story that director Narendra Nath, who has co-written the film with Tharun, wants to tell, is as appetising as a glass of tepid tea.
Keerthy Suresh gets a stylish introduction, and before we can register her character's name - Manasa Samyuktha - she plunges into her life story for no particular reason. We're taken through Samyuktha's childhood where people speak like they're reading off inspirational quotes from a website. Rajendra Prasad plays Samyuktha's grandfather, an Ayurvedic doctor whose brew of tea can cure anything and everything. If it had been made in 2020, I'm sure even coronavirus would have been part of the list.
Little Samyuktha is so fond of her grandfather that she promises him that she will make his name famous. When anyone asks her what she will do when she grows up, she says "business". Sadly, the answer stays as vague even after she does her MBA. A sample of the terrible writing - Samyuktha elaborately explains what a SWOT analysis is to her MBA coursemates who look mighty impressed, as if they've never come across the term before that in their lives. In another scene, Samyuktha walks into an interview where - surprise, surprise - the interviewer (Naveen Chandra) is her almost-boyfriend (she apparently never asked him what he does for a living). When he asks her why he should select her over the male candidates, she gently explains to him that women can handle childbirth pains (?!) instead of suing him for discriminatory hiring policies.
Preachy, feel-good lines are dropped into the script at every turn, like Milk Bikis biscuits. Naresh, who plays Samyuktha's father, has Alzheimer's but the condition is used for comedy. Nadhiya (who plays her mom) and Samyuktha's siblings also get the short end of the stick. Jagapathy Babu sleepwalks through yet another role that requires him to wear a suit and a sneer, and the less said about the American actors the better.
You have to feel for Keerthy Suresh. After a series of disappointing films where she played the loosu ponnu, Keerthy made a strong statement with Mahanati. However, the actor is still struggling to find roles that prove her mettle. In Miss India, her character is meant to be determined and intelligent, but considering she's an entrepreneur who organises an elaborate event to catch investors and customers but has not even thought of her brand name, that is a tough ask. The background score keeps making us believe that something exciting is going on when Samyuktha takes on her detractors but the joke is on us.
With its constant reminders about the goodness of tea, Miss India feels like a two hour advertisement for chai. But one is not sure about the messaging because by the time it draws to a clumsy end, you feel the need for a much stronger beverage.
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.