It's an encouraging sign that the film has become a hit.

Pelli Choopulu An unusual Telugu film that breaks gender stereotypes
Features Cinema Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 17:15

Telugu film director Tharun Bhascker’s “Pelli Choopullu” is a runaway hit. The side-splitting comedy is about the long and complicated process of finding a life-partner through the arranged marriage route.

What’s interesting though is that the director has not airbrushed the ugly truths of Indian society in an attempt to keep the film “light” – a temptation that many directors give into, believing that such a compromise is necessary to keep the film enjoyable for the audience.

Chitra (Ritu Varma) is an unwanted girl child. Her father always wanted a son and he never accepts his daughter whole-heartedly though he loves her. The urban elite likes to pretend that son preference exists only in the hinterlands and never in their own drawing room.  In “Pelli Choopullu” though, this is one of the first things we come to know about Chitra.

Chitra comes from a wealthy family and yet, her father is more willing to spend money on her wedding and dowry than invest in her business idea. He also flings a barb at her – he has spent several lakhs funding her MBA already. Chitra, however, is not one to be cowed down so easily. She points out that the money is her own, a fixed deposit that her grandfather has gifted her. And it’s in her name.  

If Chitra is pressurized by her father to get married and “settle” down, another young woman – once again from a wealthy family – is treated as chattel by her father, to be sold off for a good business deal. None of this, though, is projected as a tragedy and this is the film’s victory. It shows all of these issues as ordinary and “normal”, just as they are considered in society, while providing a subtle commentary that critiques these beliefs.

How does the film achieve this? By giving us a lead pair that goes against the grain at every turn in the plot. Given that misogynistic portrayals are routine in Telugu cinema, Chitra comes as a pleasant surprise. She reminds one of the spirited Seetha (Kamalinee Mukherjee) from “Godavari” in parts – another independent-minded heroine who doesn’t want marriage to limit her freedom.

Chitra’s ambition to start a food truck is matched by what the hero, Prashanth (Vijay Deverakonda), can offer – his skills as a chef. In an interesting departure from the alpha male leading man who removes his shirt and beats up ten goons at a time, Prashanth is shown to be bone lazy, timid, and purposeless.

Prashanth’s passion for cooking, too, is not something you’ll see the average hero celebrating. Though Chitra and Prashanth meet in the context of marriage, it is through their work relationship that they get to know each other. With Chitra as the boss. At one point, she even calls the food truck “our baby” in front of Prashanth’s family!

Chitra has her own voice throughout the film and thankfully, Prashanth doesn’t feel the urge to mansplain things to her about the business or otherwise. He doesn’t take over the food truck with his “smartness” to prove his heroism either.  Remember Shivudu appropriating Avanthika’s mission in “Bahubali” and making it all about himself? “Pelli Choopulu” doesn’t disappoint in this department. The one time Prashanth does speak up is to tell off Chitra’s father for his son obsession – by pointing to himself as an example of how “useless” a son could be.

There are no villains in “Pelli Choopulu”. When Chitra’s harangued father questions her about the caste of the boy she is dating, he isn’t shown as a bloodthirsty, moustache twirling violent man. The question comes casually, just as it does in the conversations we have at home. The film doesn’t dwell on the caste angle but once again, it’s a nod to the prejudices that urban elite families are busy denying they harbour otherwise.

“Bommarillu”, which came out ten years ago, was a film that realistically portrayed helicopter parents and the effect that it has on their adult children. “Pelli Choopulu”, too, has similar fathers breathing down the necks of their kids although they give the appearance of being liberal and open-minded.

There’s no attempt in the script to “tame” Chitra and make her “marriage material”. She is steadfast in her ambition and even after Prashanth and Chitra get together after a series of misadventures, the closing scene is of the two of them sitting in the food truck and discussing their next business venture. Not the names of their future babies.

This is Tharun Bhascker’s debut film and it’s an encouraging sign that the audience has lapped it up. This story about an unlikely couple and their food truck has only made us hungrier for more such refreshing and original cinema.

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