Social satires run the risk of being didactic, giving us advice that will make us cringe and leave us with nothing but annoyance. However, with Prati Roju Pandaage, Maruthi, the writer and director, focuses more on the comedic elements of a satire, his strength, rather than the preaching. What we get is a not-so-bad family entertainer that is clean, reasonably funny and for the most part crisp; not deep enough though, but I’ve stopped expecting that, so it didn’t pinch me. If you can see past the melodrama in the movie, it is not so bad.
At the centre of the story is Sathyaraj, the family patriarch who has been given a 5-week deadline by the doctor, ailing as he is with lung cancer. That precise timing which proves to be so important to the storyline is a little awkward and is stretching it, but in family movies we learn to not play spoilsport by bringing in logical questions.
Moving on... unfortunately, his three sons and a daughter all seem preoccupied with their life to the extent that they are blunt about not being able to allocate more than two weeks to spend with their father in his last days. Rao Ramesh plays the extremely calculative elder son, brilliantly making us believe that a son can tell his dad that he only had four weeks to give to his father, two before his death and two to complete the funeral rites. As unreasonable as that may seem, the movie is built on that big premise – the black and white stereotyping of grownup children living abroad and disassociating themselves from their roots. Children dissociating purely because ‘they are too busy’ is rather lazy writing. It is not so hard to give them more reasons to be tied up at homes and the foreign countries they are well-settled in.
Meanwhile, Sai (Sai Dharam Tej), who plays Rao Ramesh’s son, loves his grandfather (like Sharwa in Shatamanam Bhavathi and Pawan Kalyan in Attarintiki Daaredi) and decides to ensure that each day of the remaining five weeks counts, dropping everything he has and returning to India.
There is a cute incident of Sathyaraj walking down memory lane to meet his long estranged ex-girlfriend. There are two fight scenes – both inserted for comedic purposes, Satyam Rajesh and Ajay playing Sync Brothers, rather, wacky, I must say. There is a family song, not as cringeworthy as it was in Brahmotsavam, but nevertheless leaving you a little worried about Sathyaraj frolicking around. In the end, we hurtle towards the predictable set-piece of grandson giving his dad, uncles and aunts a lesson in putting elders before careers and their own busy lives.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of cheap thrills – Sathyaraj’s character has to die at least a couple of times in the movie. It is almost used as a trigger for new twists in the emotional drama, as if the movie is divided into three parts, each part starting with ‘a scene that makes us believe the man died’ only to come back in the next scene. Set-pieces of the sons and daughter worried about property and faking their love is cliched, true, but has been funnily written. Rao Ramesh stirs laugh riots several times in the movie, borrowing from his stress ball squeezing punchline in A..aa. There are too many people in the movie, most of whom fill the numbers, barring those like Suhas and Mahesh, who like Sai, the protagonist, are the perplexed audience, staring at the heartless black comedy of children who have been normalised to deaths too much to care about their own father.
Rashi Khanna playing Angel Aarna, a Tik Tok star, is funny in her first two scenes and then is reduced to the usual dumb caricature that is the fate of female protagonists in our movies. She is allowed a couple of scenes to express her anguish and anxiety towards the selfishness of Sai’s family, but that’s it. She is an extremely underrated actress, almost a natural, whose acting skills are overlooked in favour of her ‘cuteness’. Someone please write a couple of decent roles for her? We haven’t seen her doing much after Oohalu Gusagusalade.
The movie doesn’t bore you, let me put it straight. Where it falters is in the black and white treatment of the complexities of a large family. The self-effacing father who brings up the motherless children and the selfish children stereotype who do not think of him is overdone in this movie, leaving out any scope of sentimentality to brew at any point. That sucks out the soul out of the ‘pandaga’ this movie talks about. Their transformation is all too sudden as well. Contrast this with an Oh Baby, where Rao Ramesh plays a son who may not be perfect but has that spark of affection for his mother and that’s what helps deliver the emotional turmoil of the climax. There is nothing like that here, and that leaves you with a not-so-satisfied feeling.
Sai’s relationship with his grandfather goes deep, so deep he is ready to let go of anyone and everyone for his grandfather. One or two scenes of grandpa-grandson playing around in the flashback (why do they have to be in black and white, I cannot understand) don’t cement that bond. We needed more. Thaman’s music gives us one hummable song and not much beyond that. Neither the beauty of Godavari’s verdant landscapes nor the simplicity of a joint family in a large ancestral house has been captured with sincerity, making the cinematography come across as a job done for the cheque rather than for the heart.
All in all, Prati Roju Pandaage is a movie worth a watch, giving you a few laughs and reminding you of something you already know, in a not so novel way. So, how impressive it feels to you is adversely proportional to how low your expectations are.
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.