I recently watched Mail while travelling back to Ireland and was pleasantly surprised by this gentle comedy/drama. The film is set in a small village in Telangana in the early 2000’s and follows the story of Ravi as he discovers computers and email. Debut director Uday Gurrala has crafted an engaging story and peopled his tale with interesting characters who don’t always behave as expected. While the plot revolves around their naivety with computers and the internet, this never becomes condescending or disrespectful and Uday keeps the film empathetic and genuinely funny.
The story opens with Ravi ( Harshith Malgireddy) and his friend Subbu (Mani Aeguria) getting their school exams results. While Ravi has passed, Subbu has not cleared his final exams and this leads to tension and a rift between the two friends. When deciding on what course to take at college, Ravi wants to study IT, but a lack of local courses and his poor grades mean that he eventually settles on a degree in BComm, which I assume means commerce. In Ravi’s class is Roja (Gouri Priya) another student from the village who Ravi finds attractive. This romance provides a competing interest to Ravi’s love of computers with Roja mainly coming second, adding to the charm of the story.
Meanwhile, Hybath (Priyadarshi) arrives in the village to set up his computer centre. Ravi immediately sees the possibilities and annoys Hybath until he agrees to teach him how to use the computer. As part of his instruction, Hybath sets up a gmail account for Ravi, explaining that he can get mail from anyone from anywhere in the world. Ravi is completely hooked by the idea of mail from anyone, anywhere and tries to check his email account every day. He is hampered by his lack of funds and by his rival Sunil who is also asking Hybath for tuition. But when Ravi finally gets an email, its a notification that he has won 2 crores in a lottery competition. The catch is he needs to send 1 lakh to get the funds. Unaware that this is a spoof email, Ravi approaches an unscrupulous moneylender in the village for funds. Shivanna (Ravinder Bommakanti) has lent money all over the village and is known for his ruthlessness, but even he is sucked in by Ravi’s promise of wealth. All seems lost when Hybath sees the email and reveals that it’s a scam, but there is still plenty of opportunity for Ravi to save the day.
The film works well because the story is kept simple, and Uday Gurrala keeps each character true to the traits he has developed. Ravi may be naive but when he finds out he has won money he wants to pay off his fathers debts and help a schoolfriend with her college fees. Harshith Malgireddy’s performance helps keeps Ravi a sympathetic character and he juggles the drama and comedy of the story well. The romance is dealt with lightly, but the interactions with Gouri Priya and particularly Mani Aeguria are excellently portrayed. Mani is primarily used for comedy, but his relationship with his father and grandfather is strained which gives some further drama to this part of the story.
Although Gouri doesn’t have a lot of screentime, she uses it well, and her Roja is well able to stand up to Ravi and his computer obsession. She looks lovely too, and her smile lights up the whole screen.
Although essentially a ‘slice-of-life’ drama, the film is also funny throughout with a number of threads that are each well played for comedy. Although Hybath has opened the computer centre, he really doesn’t know anything about computers and mainly uses his machine to play games. His conviction that wearing shoes into his shop will make the computer catch a virus is brilliantly dealt with since he has no real idea what a virus actually is, and as a scene dealing with the computer ‘repair’ is very well done too. Priyadarshi is excellent throughout and switches between aostly assumed experienced and knowledgeable facade to a more realistic opportunistic persona. His idiosyncrasies are well developed, with Ravi paying for his so-called lessons (but really just computer time) with bottles of whiskey and revalations throughout the film about his past life. It’s a lovely performance and helps to keep the film moving when not much else is happening.
The thread with Ravi and Subbu is also excellent, with Subbu refriending Ravi once he learns of his big win. Despite this obviously mercenary decision, Subbu still works to help Ravi find the required 1 lakh and stands by him when he finds out that the email is fake. The friendship between the two is a real strength of the film and feels very natural throughout. The romance with Roja is also sweet and innocent. She tries to help as well by giving Ravi her anklet to sell for cash, but essentially Ravi will always put his computers first, which leads to conflict between the two.
Village issues are also briefly touched on with the problems each family faces due to lack of money and dependence on Shivanna and his money lending business. The complex hierarchy of exam results and the pressures of college are also brought into the story to illustrate how status and pride are important to everyone, not just the parents and elders of the village.
Uday Gurrala and Shyam Dupati are credited as the cinematographers and the film looks beautiful without dwelling too much on the village scenery. There are no song and dance numbers but Kamran’s background music is lovely and suits the feel of the film. I really enjoyed Mail and the balance of the story bodes well for Uday Gurrala’s next project. Well worth watching for a captivating cast and simple but effective storyline. 4 stars.