Vinay Rajkumar and Swatishta Krishnan in Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe
Vinay Rajkumar and Swatishta Krishnan in Ondu Sarala Prema KatheYouTube / Anand Audio

Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe review: A fun, light-hearted entertainer

Despite director Suni’s half-hearted approach, the film works because of its leads Vinay Rajkumar and Swatishta Krishnan, who hold their own.
Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe (Kannada)(3 / 5)

In the lead-up to its release, director Suni's latest film Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe evoked interest among Kannada cinema patrons for multiple reasons. For starters, the film promised to show the filmmaker dispense another of his trademark, simple love stories, which have fittingly earned him the title of ‘Simple’ Suni. It also marks his collaboration with Vinay Rajkumar who, as the third-generation actor from the Dr Rajkumar clan, has shown a willingness to go off-the-beaten-track. 

With all this and more in mind, Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe seemed like the ideal endeavour for the duo. There's the Suni quirk that an actor of Vinay's ilk could leverage and even lend his own touch to, revealing that there's still space for a sensible ‘family' rom-com at the box office. 

The film, to its credit, does start off on an encouraging note. Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe, quite expectedly, is anything but 'sarala' or simple because Suni is chasing yet another complicated tale of love. It has the right kind of emotional beats, the humour, the irreverence, an old-worldly romance and so much more. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the final film we get to watch doesn't fully realise its potential. Suni’s attempt comes off as a confused mess that lacks the clarity to utilise its enterprising material, but what makes it work regardless are the central performances. 

Atishay (Vinay Rajkumar) is an aspiring music composer whose youthful life rests on two strong desires — one, to make a big music director out of himself and the other, the more serious one, to find the love of his life. "I long for someone whose mellifluous singing can resonate with the rhythm of my heart," he says, meaning that he is looking for someone truly out of the ordinary. This expression on the protagonist's part alone is enough to suggest that Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe isn't an uber-modern love story. It doesn't belong in a world where people or characters explore romance with candour, but are rather dead serious about finding soulmates. There's no concept of openly expressing feelings, casual flings, or moving-ons here — instead, this is a film where the utterance of that first 'I love you' is a full-fledged event, even a major plot point. 

And the essence of that now nearly obsolete love story, which perhaps existed in Kannada cinema more than a decade ago, is perhaps the main lure of Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe. Atishay, who is fondly referred to as 'Ati' (literally meaning 'extra'), wears his heart on his sleeve, making him heavily prone to heartbreak. He is a happy-go-lucky person and has that endearing yet playful personality that one would find in the romcom protagonists of the recent past. The film, a thinly veiled tale of yearning and ambition, is designed as a large coming-of-age encounter for the protagonist.

Suni does a fine job at creating this world, though his humour doesn't quite land in certain parts. Ati's family, a large unit comprising a mother, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, a set of siblings/cousins, and more, is integral to the story but the writer in Suni doesn't bother with fully exploring these characters. We see them as placeholders or pawns that nudge the story forward, but not as well-rounded people. One of Ati's two love interests reside in the same house and the director lends this character a backstory that should have done a bit more to add to the emotional depth of the story. 

In some ways, Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe reminds us of Lucky Man (a remake of Oh My Kadavule), starring Darling Krishna, Sangeetha Sringeri, and Roshni Prakash. In that film, the male protagonist comes to realise after a series of bizarre events that the love of his life always stood next to him and that he mustn't overlook her anymore. Similarly, Suni's film offers its central character a unique journey that's as convoluted as it can get just so that they understand that everything — the love, the truth, has been within reach all along. Interestingly, Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe becomes a road movie at one point to capture the essence of this cathartic journey, if one may call it so. 

The film’s execution is a tad flimsy and it falters at certain places mainly because it is half-hearted in its approach. The two female characters, especially, required a lot more care and inventiveness, but Suni's versions are a bit bland. Swatishta Krishnan's character of Anuraga (or Anu) is promising and valid as an idea but one wishes for the screenplay to be measured enough to imbue it with life and relatability. The personalities of Ati and Anuraga are presented as stark opposites who have a soft spot for each other but the narrative should have accommodated more tender, meaningful moments shared between the two. Instead, there's a barrage of small, inconsequential sequences that do nothing besides stretch the runtime. 

And that particular facet is perhaps the bane of this film. Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe often springs a pleasant surprise or two and instils hope in us that things have finally hit the stride, but the narrative loses focus without fail. Take the interval block scene set in the hospital, which is technically supposed to be the clincher in a film of this kind. Ati's plans go awry and we see that his life is in comical disorder in no time — there's enough and more substance in this moment and we sense that something entertaining is set to ensue. But, as you guessed, it doesn't fully pan out that way.

The film, though, works best when Suni plays to his strengths. The use of music is one of the main highlights and the filmmaker does a fine job of using it as an element to bind the story together. The chemistry between Vinay Rajkumar and Swatishta has that friendly foe dynamic and is delightful, which ultimately makes this odd romance story tick. The equation we see between Atishay and Madhura (Mallika Singh), too, has its bright moments and Vinay’s comic timing shines the most in some of these sequences.

As the leader of the pack, Vinay Rajkumar manages to rise above the shortcomings of the script and presents himself as an assured performer. He fits into the role with ease and seems under control throughout, be it during the many comedic moments or the sporadic dramatic sequences. Swatishta Krishnan too commands good screen presence as the feisty journo but the film doesn't bother to fill up her role with meaning. 

Ondu Sarala Prema Kathe isn't perhaps the most inventive film out there but what helps the film sail through is its sincerity. Sure, the film would have benefitted from more agency on Suni’s part but he manages to keep things engaging for the most part with the simplicity of his storytelling. A more nuanced approach would have allowed him to discard unwanted sequences and shorten the runtime considerably, but the overall experience remains fun and light-weight. 

Swaroop Kodur is a freelance film writer, critic, and also a fledgling filmmaker.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

The News Minute