'Meenakshi Sundareshwar' review: Odd couple
A film that is likeable in parts but not so much as to make you root for it
A film should ideally be reviewed for what it is than what it could have been. However, a couple of delightful sequences in Meenakshi Sundareshwar tempted me to do just that—think of the possibilities in the film that have gone unrealized. There is Meenakshi (Sanya Malhotra) playing out her desires with her absent husband Sundareshwar’s (Abhimanyu Dassani) shirt standing in for him. Another happens on a train journey after an altercation with him. She is in the mood for a sad song which she is unable to hear on her mobile because of network connectivity issues. It’s like her feelings and the resultant dramatic situation are getting lost in the absence of a soulful ditty in the background. This leads into “Tittar Bittar” a rambunctiously shot, charming song. I wished there were more such delectable moments in the film and wondered if it could have worked better as an out and out musical, given the fact that the soundtrack—lyrics Raj Shekhar, music Justin Prabhakaran—is the film’s big strength. Not the typical Indian musical that it already is but a traditional Western one, with sung dialogue and propelled by a sense of whimsy that might be evident in such odd moments than flow consistently through the film.
The story of two opposites getting attracted to each other and getting married only to be forced to live away from each other is driven by contrivances that are entirely unconvincing. The provocations in the plot—a ‘singles only’ company mind you— that force them to be in a long-distance relationship and the utter inability to work around or negotiate this deal to even consummate their marriage feels way too far-fetched for a film that aims to be rooted and real than some flight of fantasy.
The woman has an obvious lead here—both the spirited protagonist Meenakshi and the actor Sanya (terrific) who plays her. There’s much to identify in her angst and frustrations. Sundareshwar doesn’t just play a second fiddle but is always strangely helpless and inefficacious right down to thinking of gifting Meenakshi a Chetan Bhagat book and, thankfully, getting saved in the nick of time by the sister who tells him to go for a Haruki Murakami instead. It made me wonder what made her fall in love with and marry a guy like him, in the first place.
Meenakshi and Sundareshwar don’t come together well at all. Neither does the film. How does a progressive father-in-law turn orthodox, almost overnight? How could he be applauding Meenakshi for bagging a job one minute and then denying her permission to work the next? These odd jumps stare back hard. The engineer-startup element, perhaps to reach out to the young, plays out flat. Be it their “tangi mein aiyyashi (hedonism in the times of privation)” or how they tackle hangovers. Who cares? And certainly not whether they make good husbands or not or what their boss from hell expects of them.
While the film lodges itself in Madurai, it could well have been set in any part of India. It made me wonder some more. Are the nods to the temple, kari dosa, jigarthanda enough to make it Madurai? Does the use of a word like “kanmani” in the middle of “champai” and “sindoori” in a song render it suitably Tamil? Doesn’t a word like “kuldevi” sound too odd coming from a Tamilian? Was it set in Tamil Nadu to cross over and finally acknowledge and leach off an industry marching way more strongly than Bollywood? Then why such an obvious dearth of Tamil talent in the project?
While Sanya makes a convincing Rajinikanth fan, the whole homage to him, Dhanush and Nayanthara, doesn’t add anything to the film, rather takes away from the core. There is something patently glib and obvious about the fandom bits. There are parts that reach out, at times with gentle humour, at others with bare emotions. Like the grandfather advising Meenakshi to not fret too much over seeking a solution to her problems. Her dilemmas at that point reminded me a lot of Malti’s (Jaya Bachchan) in an unassuming film like Basu Chatterjee’s Piya Ka Ghar. An example of how human drama can emerge from a wisp of an idea—the lack of privacy for a couple in a small Mumbai chawl. Of course, the times have changed and so have Indian women and their negotiations of these issues. However, with or without a different resolution, it’s these gentle undulations of life and the drama in the mundane that Meenakshi Sundareshwar should have zoomed in on more acutely. Sadly, it gets too scattered; a film that is likeable in parts but not so much as to make you root for it.