If there’s one reason you could easily love Ondu Motteya Kathe, it’s that this really is a film about people like us. This is not a hero studded with six-pack abs or a size-zero heroine with perfect looks and flawless skin pretending to be just another boy or girl next door.
This makes the “message” at the heart of the film much more relatable. At the end of the day, says the film, we’re all way too obsessed with beauty that runs skin-deep, and should look deeper. That message, of course, is as old as time, and there’s nothing very unpredictable about how this central message plays out here too.
So, the film follows Janardhana (Raj B Shetty, who also directed and wrote the film), a Kannada lecturer in Mangaluru who’s eager to get married. The only problem is that all the prospective brides he goes to “see” take one look at his bald head and prefer to make googly-eyes at his brother with a full head of hair and better looks instead.
Frustrated with the rejection, Janardhana embarks on attempts to find love himself, instead of relying on a marriage broker’s dubious abilities. But it seems that Janardhana, who wants women to look past his bald head, can’t seem to do the same for himself or others, and remains obsessed with looks himself. So when Sarala (played by Shailashree) actually likes him because he’s a nice guy, all he can see is a fat girl.
What transports Ondu Motteya Kathe into the superstar league of Kannada films are the wonderfully light touches with which director Raj unpacks the story. So Janardhan’s story plays out on the surface as a light-hearted story of the unlucky-in-love man that we’ve seen play out dozens of times before. Check out, for instance, Janardhana’s far-too-earnest attempt to write a love letter that sounds like one of the archaic poems he teaches in class. “Along with this letter, why don’t you give her a dictionary too,” suggests his love guru, a peon in the college.
But the film laughs with, rather than mocking those who are unluckily rated low in the marriage market because of their appearance. When Sarala’s ex breaks up with her because of her weight, for instance, there’s a scene involving cake that could easily have devolved into crassness, but wisely stays just shy of fat-shaming.
And it’s not just the protagonists so worried about their looks. There are a whole lot of other elements of the Kannadiga life today that the film gently teases to the surface. Like the marriage broker’s statement that there’s no (marriage) market for a language teacher. As Janardhana’s colleagues show by swooning over the new English lecturer, the problem is particularly acute for the Kannada language teacher.
Then there’s Janardhana’s mother’s insistence that Sarala go talk to her son alone in his room if she wants to. “We are also modern,” she sweetly declares. Or the family guruji who’s affronted that Janardhana dares to ask him to lie about horoscopes to stop a marriage, and offers to pay Rs 3,000 for it. The guruji shouts about the integrity of the profession, then acquiesces after Janardhana begins crying. And quietly tells him to leave the money on the table on his way out.
Ondu Motteya Kathe works so well because it takes its subjects seriously enough to also be able to gently laugh at them. So all of the characters are played with a heartwarming sincerity that makes them genuinely likeable, completely relatable people that could never be slotted within a formula. While Raj really takes the cake with his fragile masculine insecurities played close to the surface, there are almost no weak performances from the cast.
The film also benefits from some fundamentally good but gimmick-free cinematography and an instantly likeable soundtrack by Midhun Mukundan. Ondu Motteya Kathe also makes excellent use of Dr Rajkumar, using the late veteran’s photos and old songs as both comic commentary and narration for Janardhana’s tale.
There’s little that goes wrong with Ondu Motteya Kathe. Light and frothy, but also warm and empathetic, this film is one comedy you surely should not miss.