I hadn’t originally planned to see Kalyana Vibhogame during the film’s brief appearance in Melbourne, but changed my mind when I discovered that a friend has a brief cameo role. Naturally I then had to see the film! I also really enjoyed watching Nandini Reddy’s previous film Ala Modalaindi so had reasonable hopes for a good story and interesting characters, but unfortunately Kalyana Vibhogame never quite hits the mark. At best it’s a bit of a mixed bag since, although it’s a well-worn storyline with frequent clichéd situations, there are also likeable characters and the comedy is generally funny. However the terrible ending ensures that the film is memorable more for what didn’t work, rather than for what did, and that’s disappointing.
Like many films that feature a love story where the starting point is the marriage of the main characters, there are a lot of contrived episodes to get the couple hitched. Shourya (Naga Shourya) works as a gaming designer with plans to move to the USA, but is being pressured by his parents to get married before his grandmother dies. Shourya has a good relationship with his grandmother so the real driving force behind his impending nuptials seems to be his mother (Aishwarya), although she never comes up with any particularly believable reason behind her attempts to force her son into marriage. So right from the start it’s difficult to see exactly why Shourya feels that he can’t just say no, move to the USA and live the life he wants to lead.
Divya (Malavika Nair) on the other hand has her autocratic father (Anand) to deal with, whose overbearing attitude does at least give a convincing reason why she agrees to consider marriage. Divya talks up a good resistance when she speaks to her mother (Raasi) but isn’t able to follow through on her threats of independence when she speaks to her father. I liked the contrast between Divya’s day to day life as a medical graduate where she’s completely in control and then her inability to stand up to her father and his expectations. It’s more believable than Shourya’s situation and Malavika Nair is convincing and realistically hesitant in her role.
After meeting, Shourya and Divya plan to get married and then straight away apply for a divorce, reasoning that once they move to Hyderabad they will be out from under their parents influence and will be able to do what they want. However we know it’s never as simple as that. The pair enjoy their relative freedom but are constantly having to act the part of devoted newlyweds as their inconvenient families keep showing up. Nandini Reddy even throws in a Punjabi family friend who comes to live in their building with all the expected standard Punjabi jokes, just when the story was starting to improve.
And that’s the problem. There are some good dialogues and the relationship between Shourya and Divya doesn’t entirely follow the expected path. The inclusion of Shourya’s young brother who has Down’s syndrome is brilliant and a fantastic addition to the story. But then there’s another stereotypical character or trite and hackneyed attempt by Shourya to get Divya’s father to respect his wife and daughter, and the film loses pace once again. There is also never any real intimacy developed between the two characters which makes it even more unbelievable when they realise that they do love each other. When did they ever have a chance to fall in love? (Apart from in the songs of course!)
When it’s Shourya, Divya and their friends the film feels fresh and interesting, but once the families appear it’s back into well charted waters and the clichés just keep coming. The end in particular is too ridiculous to take seriously, despite an attempt by Divya’s mother to make a point about women’s rights which is completely overshadowed by the absurdity of the timing and the melodramatic events leading up to her declaration.
Even with the tired storyline, the actors all do a good job and to some extent that makes up for the deficiencies in the screenplay. Naga Shourya fits the part of a young professional and apart from his inability to stand up to his mother, his character is the most believable of the lot. He’s a typical guy – likes showing off, going out with his mates and chasing after pretty girls. Shourya also does well in generating sympathy for his character, painting him as basically a good guy at heart with a generous and respectful nature, and staying true to this portrayal throughout the film.
Although Divya too is a likeable character and Malavika Nair is excellent, the initial promise of her character isn’t fully realised. Divya seems to lose the gumption that let her enter into the deception in the first place and doesn’t seem to make the most of her situation in the same way as Shourya’s character. Granted she is female and is a doctor, but I expected to see the confident Divya of the early scenes in some of the interactions with Shourya, and instead she seems more immature and somehow diminished by the relationship. It’s like that tired cliché that after marriage the girl has to settle down, wear a sari and become the perfect wife. It’s not quite as bad as that here, but the impression is that Shourya is improved by his marriage while Divya seems to lose something of herself.
Overall Kalyana Vibhogame attempts a modern update of an old story but doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. Although the characters start with a fresh outlook on life and matrimony, in the end the film follows a familiar path until the oddly overly dramatic finale. There are good dialogues, great performances and plenty of well written comedy which together do mean the film is worth a look, it’s just disappointing that there are frustratingly outdated stereotypical characters in abundance as well and as a result the film doesn’t engage as much as it should.