Midhunam (2012)

Midhunam Poster Over the past few years of watching Telugu films I’ve seen Tanikella Bharani on-screen in many roles, but most usually as the sensible father or responsible authority figure providing support to the hero or heroine. He appears as such a natural actor and fits those roles so well that I was surprised to find out that he is also an accomplished writer, dramatist, poet and now film director. In Midhunam, Tanikella Bharani has adapted a short story by Sri Ramana, writing the screenplay and dialogue and also directing the film. It’s a lovely little story about an elderly couple living alone in the country that focuses on relationships and shows that love doesn’t fade with the passing of time. It’s rather unusual in that there are only two actors for the whole two hours, and the film concentrates on their day to day activities and interactions without any momentous dramas or major events. It’s beautifully done, and is well worth a watch for a well-drawn picture of a happy marriage and a glimpse of rural life.

Appadaasu (S.P Balasubrahmanyam) and his wife Buchchi (Lakshmi) live by themselves on a small farm in the country. They have five grown up children who have moved to the USA but who keep in contact with their parents by phone. The couple seem to prefer their solitude and isolation, with Appadaasu shouting at a persistent caller who keeps knocking on his door, and yelling at his son down the phone when he calls unexpectedly. Buchchi on the other hand does seem to miss her children, but doesn’t have any wish to move away from her home despite the hard work it takes to keep everything maintained. She keeps a mobile phone hidden in one of her pots in the kitchen to talk to her children without her husband’s interference, although this seems more to be a way of outfoxing her husband rather than actually something that is completely necessary.

The couple squabble incessantly about literally everything, but their arguments seem to be more as a result of knowing each other too well and being very comfortable with each other rather than from any genuine acrimony. They are like small children, pushing at each other until they get a reaction, but not taking any of it too seriously. It feels comfortable and natural, just like any married couple after a number of years together. There is also a lot of laughter as they play tricks on each other and each tries to get the upper hand. Buchchi seems to be the more sensible one but she strands her husband on a top shelf by removing the ladder so that she can make coconut chutney in peace, and teases him later on by dressing a scarecrow in his clothes. Their love for each other shines through all of the bickering and teasing, and is the central thread around which everything else is woven.

Appadaasu is a man who takes his food seriously and much of the film is either about growing food, the preparation of food or eating.

The couple harvest everything they need from their farm, and they have impressive crops which do look very appetising. In fact the major focus on food might be one of the reasons why I enjoyed this film so much! At one point one of the sons proposes that the family come home for a wedding, and Buchchi immediately starts cooking enough food to feed an army. This is accompanied a song which celebrates pickles amongst many other traditional foods and is just mouthwatering!

There is an old radio on the wall and the programs and old songs are incorporated into the film, adding to the story. Both Appadaasu and Buchchi have conversations with their cow Savithri, who is almost a third member of their family and serves as a sounding board for some of Appadaasi’s ideas.  In between all the cooking and eating, Appadaasu expounds his philosophy that retirement from his teaching job doesn’t mean that he doesn’t work. He makes sandals, cleans cotton, throws pots and does a myriad of other tasks that emphasise his practical nature and willingness to do whatever he feels his wife wants. Actually asking and doing what his wife really wants naturally isn’t an option, and Buchchi makes sure that Appadaasu knows when he’s missed the point completely.

S.P.  Balasubrahmanyam is perfect in the role of Appadaasu. He’s cheeky and mischievous but also appears suitably serious when necessary. His expressions are wonderful and he fits the part of a cantankerous but loving husband perfectly. Lakshmi is also well cast as Buchchi and is the ideal partner for S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. The two have great chemistry together and the rhythm of their dialogue sounds as if they really have been together for years. That’s down to some good writing too, but the body language, delivery and tone from both actors ensures that they do appear to have grown old together and are very familiar with each other as a result. The use of older songs helps set the mood of the story, as does the beautiful location and wonderful farmhouse. I’ve just spent a week staying at a farmhouse near Tanjore, and much of the décor was just the same as my own recent experience. The film feels authentic due to this and many other small touches which is part of why it works so well. The cinematography by Rajendra Prasad Tanikella (a relative?) is also outstanding with beautiful use of light during the night scenes and great shots of the farm and surrounds.

This is a sweet film that simply follows the ups and downs of life for an older couple and shows how a marriage might be after more than 50 years together. It’s charming and yet meaningful with the contrast between Appadaasu and Buchchi’s life and the imagined lives of their children overseas just one of the ideas explored. There is jealousy, anger, forgiveness, tenderness, love and sacrifice, all mixing together to add colour and life to the description of a successful partnership and just what that partnership really means. A beautiful film that deserves a wide audience. 4 stars.

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17 thoughts on “Midhunam (2012)

  1. Hi Heather,
    May I say that, you have a good taste in films!
    Mithunam captures, a vivid slice of typical conservative Andhra culture-their tradition, cuisine, smells, unique sense of humor etc. After watching this movie, my respect for Tanikela has gone up a lot and it acted as a harbinger of tollywood audience becoming matured as many offbeat movies like Mithunam are doing commercially well too, apart from getting awards.

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    • Hi cmvt,
      Thanks 🙂 I love that you include smell! I definitely felt that this film engages all the senses, and I really wanted a taste of some of the food 🙂
      I didn’t know just how accomplished Tanikella Bharani was or that he had done so much previous work writing dialogues – very impressive. As much as I enjoy seeing him appear as assorted fathers, uncles, faithful retainers or honest politicians, I do hope he continues to write and direct such films as Midhunam in the future 🙂

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      • Hi ciummaa,
        I feel offbeat films is not the precise word i would like to use, because every movie that tollywood made right from it’s initial days(mythological, social, action, love stories etc) was solely directed to provide entertainment, even in the so called ‘art’ movies, they all end it with putting a smile on audience face. There are no ambiguous or sad endings, movies like Akali Rajyam which end on a depressing note are directed by ‘outsiders’- in this case Balchander(Tamil). And the ‘offbeat’ movies also do the same.
        But why I called this an offbeat movie was because, this movie is bucking the trend. Since a decade or so, the ‘ultra action’ movies which solely concentrate on the cult of hero, mainly the films of directors like Rajmouli, Puri and Vinayak, have been in vogue. They made fantastic movies, they discovered new ways of entertainment(the sole goal of tollywood), but the novelty in such movies is drying up. Before such action movies, tollywood movies mainly revolved around human relations especially between wife & husband, travails of oppressed people, fantasy stories etc
        Now, the small budget movies which are again concentrating on human relations and emotions of love and longing(but of course end on a happy note), instead of stories relying exclusively on adrenalin pumping screenplay, have been receiving approval from tollywood audience.
        Tollywood audience are very slow to embrace change. Every one knows that the era of ‘action’ movies has ended at least 2-3 years back, the recent movies have all been a rehash of the older movies and were becoming too predictable. People got fed up but were not yet ready to embrace change. The small movies like Midhunam have suceeded in convincing movie goers to try films with simpler stories, gentle comedy and a bit of melodrama. For this they need to be credited, i think 2014 was a tipping point for this trend and we will be seeing more such movies in coming years. I would also like to point out that Nagarjuna had always been ahead of the curve when it comes to trends- by making a blockbuster movie like Manam a romantic-fanatasy, has once again encouraged ‘offbeat’ movies.
        Some of the best offbeat movies in recent years:
        Ala modalaindi, Manam, Maryada Ramanna, Minugurulu, Eega, Venkatadri Express, Oohalu Gusa Gusalade, Pratinidhi, Chandamama Kathalu. If you haven’t seen Bommarillu and Happydays(these are a bit older), please see them- they are rich on emotions and are perfect modern telugu movies which have strong characterizations, assortment of genres in a single movie, they stress on traditional values and have great music, gentle comedy and great acting.

        This post has become too long- but we are tollywood land right, long is the norm here even if its an ‘offbeat’ movie 🙂

        By the way, which country are you from?

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    • Hi Anu,
      It’s well worth tracking down if you can 🙂
      The film is available on YT, but without subtitles unfortunately. I think I got my copy from Boomboxindia on ebay, but a quick look at my usual suppliers in the US shows that they have the DVD available
      If you do manage to see it, I’d love to know what you think 🙂

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  2. cmvt, thanks for you replay, but you said mostly things I already know;) Most of these titles too (except they don’t have english subs) and definitely I wouldn’t call Ala modalaindi, Manam, Maryada Ramanna, HD or Bommarillu offbeat movies 😉 (alhought I rewally liked most of them;)) Maybe Minugurulu- but haven’t see yet.
    I know telugu cinema rely mostly on enertaiment and don’t have nothing against being entertained but don’t like to ‘leave my brain ouside while watching movie’ (so for me ‘telugu kind of comedy’ is even worst than these invicibles heroes with obligatory punch dialogues). Still, don’t agree that “even in the so called ‘art’ movies, they all end it with putting a smile on audience face. There are no ambiguous or sad endings” – althought definitely there are not many of these kind of movies in telugu I can tell a few examples – like Sindhooram, Grahanam or Manorama. Prasthanam or Gayam also didn’t end making me smile and relaxed. Even some of the earliest Chiru’s movies weren’t ‘all about relaxing and happy ending’ and that’s the reason I keep searching for more interesting, unusual telugu movies 😉 Different from superhero’s ‘6 songs-3 fights-5 comedy scenes’ routine.
    And I’m from Poland (eastern Europe).

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    • Ciumma, I share your views about searching for different and unusual movies but there are in short supply in tollywood and not the least because of lack of talent, but I will tell you why.

      You have mentioned that ‘Telugu kind of comedy’ is even worst. Every culture creates art to celebrate the creative genious of its people. Telugu movies show their genious through its music especially the lyrics and comedy which is mainly based on wordplay. And this is the reason why, Telugu films cannot be appreciated by outsiders or they are handicqpped to appreciate fully.
      Only people who are proficient in telugu can fully understand the genious of poets like athreya, sirivennala, veturi, sri sri etc and the comedy writers like jandhyala, Ramana, Evv etc. No amount of translation can do justice to their efforts. Though cinema is a visual media, tollywood artists still draw inspiration from great writers, poets, drama artists of Telugu language. What is short in terms of technical skills, they fully make that up through their ability of writing.

      And most Telugu audience are content with these kind of movies, people like Brahmanandam and good songs with great lyrics have single handedly made movies hit mainly because of the patronage the Telugu audience.
      Some times I feel, sorry for others for missing out such talent.
      And this is precisely the reason why you might have to look very hard to find movies like Sindhuram which by the way flopped at the box office (though I think it is the best movie of Krishna vamsi)

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      • I understand there are things hard to understand without knowing language (or just not being Telugu – in Poland we also have many movies which are hard to understand for foreigners and we consider them ‘cult’ ones), still I isn’t like that I don’t like/can’t stand any telugu comedy – and I think there are changes also in that aspect throught generatins: f.e. comedies from 80-s which I watched (some Vamsi or Jandhyala movies) were more enjoable for me than contemporary ones (it’s similiar with bollywood comedies, where I also lprefer older comedies). I also really like Relangi and his ‘antics’, whereas I can’t understand what’ s so funny in most of today’s ‘comedy uncles’ (where many gags are just stupid or tastless for me).
        And as much as I miss not understanding Veturi or Sirivenella lyrics, I enjoy many of theirs songs. Saying that my favourite telugu director ever is K. Vishwanath and have big fun watching Aditya 369 (even without any subs) also suppose doesn’t show that I just can’t understand and appreciate ‘telugu nativity’ in movies at all. Just don’t like stupidity and routine in the name of ‘entertaiment’. That movie with hardly any plot becomes hit because of the stylish star, buch of punch dialogues and comedy gags (not really even connected with the main’ plot’) and more is spent for these ‘attractions’ than for a good scriptwriting. This isn’t good for any cinema. And evem quality of the songs also suppose is going down (most of the songs from hero movies seems following mostly ‘the same pattern’ without much of creativity in any aspect, so I woudn’t even try to compare them with old evergreen standards, which I admire a lot)
        And I also consider Sinduram as K.Vamsi best movie 🙂

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  3. Your extensive knowledge of Telugu cinema gladdens me 🙂
    I agree with you that most of the recent action movies are seriously lacking in quality that’s why these small movies feel like a breath of fresh air. And some of the recent comedy is heavily relying on cheap sexual innuendos. But we love those ‘comedy uncles’ like Ali, Brahmi, may be they feel like people whom we know intimately from all these years and we don’t mind a little exaggeration, their comedic timing is also top notch. Tollywood directors have been very risk averse, once a trend catches on it stays for a very long time. Hope the small movies reorient tollywood towards more creative movies.
    Ciummaa, Can you suggest some of those cult polish movies please..

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    • Thanks cmvt and ciummaa 🙂
      Great discussion! I do enjoy action films when they are intelligently made and don’t just follow the formula ciummaa mentions, but it’s good to mix it up with films like Manam and Midhunam.
      It’s interesting to read your views about comedy. I’m not a fan of the ‘usual’ comedy from Brahmi, Ali etc as for me it relies too heavily on innuendo and slapstick, but when they have a part actually written for them in the movie (such as Brahmi in Race Gurram) then it seems more successful. I think the problem is that the formula requires there to be something for the audience to laugh at, so the usual comedy actors are added in without any really attempt to incorporate their character into the film in any meaningful way – they are there solely to make the audience laugh and that’s when it doesn’t work for me. Rajamouli is one of the few directors who does seem to be able to incorporate action and comedy well (you mentioned Eega and Maryada Ramanna) but most of the rest seem to add in their token comedy uncle just for the sake of it. It’s not just Telugu cinema which does this either – I’ve seen it in films from all over India, and indeed all over the world. Whereas a pure comedy film, where the humour is part of the storyline can be genuinely funny, no matter the language or culture. Then again, I’ve watched a lot of comedy from Ireland (which tends to be very black humour indeed) with friends here in Australia, and found that I’m the only person who thinks it’s hilarious (being Irish 🙂 ) – so culture and upbringing definitely have a big influence on what we find funny.
      I think a good mix of romantic films, action films, suspense, thrillers and everything else besides is what makes for a healthy film industry. Films such as Midhunam are a welcome addition to the variety and hopefully there will be many more such films. I do read reviews for other films from the SI film industry which unfortunately don’t get a cinematic release here in Australia, and don’t have subtitles when (if they ever) release on DVD. There are many worthwhile films out there which I just don’t get to hear about – thanks to both of you for the recommendations and suggestions 🙂

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      • Heather, two of my cousins are studying in Sydney, they say you can find cough pirated cough DVDs on the next day of release it self in Indian grocery stores. I don’t know if they have subtitles though.
        I love reading your reviews, as a Telugu person

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      • Thanks cmvt 🙂
        Unfortunately, yes you can find pirated DVD’s almost straight away 😦 However they’re usually not great quality and don’t have subtitles. I try to avoid them as much as possible as I’d rather support the guys who are brining the films into the country who will only continue to do so if they get an audience. However when it’s been well over a year and there still hasn’t been a DVD released, then I have to say I do get tempted…….!!!

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