Ala Modalaindi is a romantic comedy, full of improbable happenings and twists. There are songs, misunderstandings, mistaken identities, fights, significant jewellery and even a dog who helps change the course of the story. But there are also characters I like and can relate to with a view of relationships that seems fairly healthy and positive. I particularly enjoy the way director/writer Nandini Reddy plays with filmi conventions and delves into the bag of tricks to give a simple story some zing.
So. A young man meets a young lady at a wedding where their exes are marrying each other, and they get drunk and messy.
I really love that the next day they could talk to each other, be embarrassed, laugh it off and that was it. No judgements were made relating to alcohol or failed affairs. Gautham and Nithya cross paths again, and a warm friendship develops. His feelings deepen but he is reticent; struggling to know when to speak out and not sure what he really wants to tell her. She has her own complications that emerge over time. It is obvious that they make a good couple, but will they ever get it together? Guess away, dear reader.
Gautham is a director on a news program. He has family, good friends, failed romances and a flair for the dramatic. The story is mostly told from his perspective, so I felt that I got to know him better, and I appreciated Nithya through his eyes as he came to understand her more. Nani is an appealing guy next door kind of hero. I think it’s his dimples. Plus he seems to have a sense of the ridiculous that was very endearing in this role. But Nani doesn’t play Gautham as all happy and smiling.
I found his portrayal of Gautham’s grief really moving. I could relate to the things that triggered his tears, and sadness permeated his body language at times. When he realises what he wants to do about his feelings, he does it. His journey takes some crazy detours, but that was part of the fun, not a silly distraction. I also like Gautham’s developing self awareness through the story. He really does change in some significant ways, and learns to recognise and deal with the parts of his own nature that he doesn’t like.
Gautham’s mother Revathi (Rohini) is my new favourite filmi ma. It is so nice to see good parenting in a close mother-son relationship (maybe I’ve been watching too much 70s Nirupa Roy). Some of my affection for Gautham stems from seeing him with his mum. He has context, a background that had helped make him the guy he is. She is an intelligent, positive woman who had been widowed when her kids were in their early teens. She advises Gautham that you can either dwell on the past and be sad about your loss, or remember all the good things and take that happiness into your future. It was a clever scene as it was not just about her own past, but advice for her boy on how to move on.
Nithya is a good example of how to make a character happy and bubbly but not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Like Gautham, Nithya has a family, friends, work and ideas about more than love and romance. She is smart and emotional, opinionated but not rude. There are issues in her life that bring some more complexity to a fundamentally sunny nature. When Nithya realises she has made a mistake, she takes the decision and deals with the consequences. She is no passive wallflower waiting for the hero. Her qualities are sometimes shown in small almost insignificant moments, sometimes in big filmi set pieces. Nithya Menon is a perfect fit for the likeable role, using her expressive face and vocal modulation to great effect. And how good is it to see someone who isn’t the stereotypical leggy model with a maximum range of two expressions? Nithya is a pocket Venus with oodles of talent, also dubbing for herself and singing on a couple of tracks.
Nithya has a close relationship with her easy-going dad (Uppalapati Narayana Rao). Her mum (Pragathi) is worried about getting Nithya married and what must people think. On the surface it seems like a difficult marriage but Nandini Reddy shows that this couple aren’t at war, they just irritate each other a bit. Nithya asks her dad if he ever considered divorce and they chat about commitment. Her mum joins them and whinges about her dramatic family, but then they all start smiling and their pleasure in being together is evident. People have to work at getting along sometimes.
It’s not that the plot is unpredictable, but the way things happen is delightfully offbeat. In one of the obligatory fight scenes, Nithya takes on the loafers and belts the bejesus out of them as Gautham watches on. Gautham and his family are movie fans and use filmi terms in conversation. Nithya makes fun of Gautham’s job, doing dramatic voiceovers of everyday events. It’s a playful style.
The film is cohesive, and is well balanced between character and incident driven scenes. The dialogue is peppered with pop references, but it doesn’t seem too try-hard. People generally look and sound the way I would expect them to. It put me in mind of Basu Chatterjee’s romantic comedies a little, just the flavour of the dialogue and the middle class settings. I have some minor issues. There is a gay joke that made me sigh just a little at Nani wearing pink and mincing about to Kajra Re. And there were some dubious medical shenanigans, only one of which was purely for humour.
The music (by Kalyani Malik) is average, but the song picturisations are where low production values seem most evident. I just can’t help thinking that two backing dancers is less than optimum, even if they do ninja up for the occasion. The choreography is very achievable for those inclined to have a dance-along at home.
There were a few less familiar faces in the support cast. Gautham’s friends are fun and not the usual anonymous followers. They all had jobs and commitments and their own points of view. Their conversations provide most of the humour and there is no separate comedy track as everything eventually ties back into the main plot. Villainous stalwart Ashish Vidyarthi has a pivotal yet stupid role as the shady John Abraham (mercifully wearing a lot more than his namesake). I don’t for the life of me understand why Sneha Ullal still has a film career.
Her ‘sexy’ face looks more like she has acute gastric pain and she is not that good an item girl. But, leaving aside the why, even her character Kavya becomes more sympathetic as the film unfolds.
I do not subscribe to the belief that an upbeat ending is intrinsically less worthy or realistic than a tragic ending, and this is a film that provides a near perfect balance of substance and entertainment. Ala Modalaindi is a pleasant and engaging romantic comedy, with a great cast making the most of strong writing and character development. 4 stars!
Heather Says: Ala Modalaindi starts with a version of Que Sera Sera over the opening credits and since it’s one of my favourite songs from my childhood, I was smiling even before the action got underway. And my smile just got bigger and bigger. The introduction of a kidnapping right at the beginning was a novel way to start proceedings and it proved to be an excellent start to a rather different take on the romantic comedy genre. But where the film really won me over was in its likeable main characters and a storyline that was plausible, funny and entertaining.
Nani is hapless enough to be funny as the jilted boyfriend at his ex-girlfriends wedding and he just gets better as the film unfolds. His delivery in the comedy scenes is excellent and he is just as good in the more emotional scenes. I like the way that he uses his posture and facial expressions to get the most out of his scenes and doesn’t rely solely on the dialogue. He’s believable as Gautham and he does make a very sympathetic hero, even if he’s not the one who gets involved in the fight scenes! I knew I had seen Nithya Menen somewhere before, but it took a little time before I realised she appeared in Aidondla Aidu and that she even sang one of my favourite songs in that film. She’s even more impressive here and does a very good job with her portrayal of the feisty Nithya.
It’s rare to see a good Telugu movie where not only the heroine, but most of the female characters have very strong roles which are just as important to the storyline as that of the male hero. Nathya’s behaviour is very natural and while her character is out-spoken and vivacious she never becomes annoying. Director Nandini Reddy develops all her characters with attention to what would be likely ways for them to react and each character has a valid reason for their inclusion into the story. No superfluous comedy uncles lurking in the background for instance, which is yet another reason to like the film! I loved Rohini in particular as Gautham’s mother and wished she had a little more time on-screen. In fact the entire supporting cast were just as good as the main leads and even if Sneha Ullal was a little more glamorous than my local vet, I think she made a reasonable attempt to be more than just a pretty face. I didn’t like her character and the item song left me cold but there were some moments where she did make me laugh. I do like Ashish Vidyarthi though and the way his character became embroiled in the final scenes made his presence in the film totally worthwhile for me, despite sometrepidationabout his character early on. It was good to see him in something a little different from his more usual bad guy persona too.
Ala Modalaindi is an intelligent and funny film, and although not all of the twists and turns work it’s generally an enjoyable watch. 4 stars from me.