Telugu cinema’s first blockbuster of the year is here. Majili, the first film starring Naga Chaitanya and Samantha after their wedding, has opened on Friday to great numbers. Directed by Shiva Nirvana, the film is about a heartbroken Poorna (Naga Chaitanya) and his wife, Sravani (Samantha). Poorna is still stuck in the past, burning and waiting for his first love to come back. Sravani, on the other hand, marries her first love, but he chooses not to acknowledge her.
The film goes from here to a predictable happy ending. This piece isn’t about whether the film works as a whole or not. It is about the way love is portrayed, by putting the woman’s feelings on hold. Samantha’s Sravani is absolutely convinced that life will only have meaning if she spends it with Poorna. She doesn’t care that his heart is elsewhere. She doesn’t mind that he is completely indifferent to her existence. She just wants to live her life taking care of him and his broken heart any which way she can.
I understand that this kind of love probably exists, even though it hurts me to think that it does, but since it’s a movie, don’t the audience deserve to know the reason behind her love? I get it, love is blind and all, but human beings do not go through unbearable amounts of pain for someone just because they find him/her good-looking. Sravani needed a better reason to fall for this man, and so did I.
To be fair, Majili isn’t the first film to do this. Countless love stories have been made in Telugu cinema, where unconditional love is thrown around without much reason or context. It would be impossible to mention them all, so to narrow it down, I am going to choose two of Naga Chaitanya's films—Oka Laila Kosam and Raa Randoy Veduka Chudham.
Attraction is merely the beginning, but our films start and end there. It just feels odder watching the same happening in this movie, considering the soul-crushing circumstances Sravani is made to live through. When the film starts exploring her past post-interval, we see her, studiously pouring herself into her class books and her parents looking at her proudly. Her dad even says, “My daughter will grow up to be the chairman of the World Bank” or something equally inane.
As the film progresses, this same father and his concern for his daughter are used to evoke laughter. It is neither funny nor humane to turn a worried father, who carries his daughter’s pain as his own, who refuses to stay silent about her bad marriage, into a joke. Who wouldn’t break watching their once over-achieving daughter live a joyless life as a railway clerk in front of them? I would.
Poorna’s reckless behaviour towards his father-in-law is still understandable, but where is Sravani’s indifference towards her parents coming from? She is shown as this sensible woman who understands every single silence of her husband. Why can’t she understand where her parents—the same people she lived with for at least two decades—are coming from, when they have every reason to be concerned about her unhappy life? Why is it them vs her and her husband? How can a daughter and her parents be on a different team when it comes to her happiness?
That’s the problem with male writers penning female characters. They think they have a hold on the situation, but they rarely ever do. The same thing happens with Pallavi’s (Nivetha Thomas) character in Ninnu Kori, also directed by Shiva Nirvana. For reasons unexplained and ignored, marriage turns her into a shadow of the gleeful, vibrant girl we see in the flashback. And we are just expected to believe that this is what love does.
To Majili's credit, both female protagonists are written as self-sufficient women. While Sravani is the family’s breadwinner, along with her father-in-law, Anshu (Poorna’s ex-girlfriend) is a brave woman who speaks her mind, no matter the situation. She even rescues him from her father and helps him get to a safe place. But what happens to her after she leaves? We are told she had to marry some family friend, but that didn’t stop her from attempting suicide. Having a child gives her new hope, but an accident kills her in the end. Firstly, how can having a child in an unhappy marriage be considered a sign of hope? And secondly, are we going to take a decade or so to discuss marital rape, at least in passing? Writing “bold” characters isn’t enough to get us feminists off your back, filmmakers. You have to treat them equally as well.
If you are going to spend the best part of the film mourning a semi-talented cricketer’s failed career, why not spend a minute to talk about the doomed careers and lives of your female protagonists as well? The film ends on a rainy day at a railway station. For all that he deliberately puts Sravani through—bringing a child without her permission, knowing very well that she wouldn’t object, Poorna doesn’t apologise. Instead, he tries to guilt her into staying back with words like, “Are you going to give up on me now?” Tell us why she should not, man. Heartbreak isn’t an excuse enough for you to be a horrible human being.
He then continues to say some stuff about marriage and how love in marriage is invisible and what not. I simply did not understand where he is going with that, but as a dutiful member of the audience, I realised that Sravani will—the same Sravani whose idea of romance as a teenager is secretly touching her man’s foot with her hand and bringing it to her head in respect—and there isn’t much to do but accept it and leave the theatre before I forget everything I did like about the film. And I did.
Sakeertana is an engineer who took a few years to realise that bringing together two lovely things, movies and writing, is as great as it sounds. Mainly writes about Telugu cinema because no one else would.