Review: Middle Class Melodies

Budget Devarakonda and his chutney

Middle-Class-Melodies

The past decade of Hindi film has seen the resurgence of stories set in small towns of India capturing demographics that seemed distant from the Bollywood grandeur expected in the 90s. Stories started having ordinary characters with a strong dose of realism that otherwise dreamy film industry has long forgotten. Masaan, Mukti Bhavan, Titli and even to an extent Gangs of Wasseypur stand as shining examples for this new epoch that bring Hindi cinema inline with global consumptory preferences while still being deeply rooted in local cultural milieu.

This could be that the economic demographics of a filmgoer have changed drastically in past 30 years, as the average Indian in a city gets more prosperous, stories of smaller towns have more appeal. With the proliferation of internet and Over The Top (OTT) platforms the film going demographic that earlier was categorized in to A, B and C centersp[1] has been now atomized. Film has become democratic in its reach and a consumer in South Delhi has the same content choices as someone in Tirunelveli. This makes the larger than life Bollywood masala films archaic especially when they are competing for eyeballs alongside Narcos and Stranger Things.

The Telugu film industry has been largely absent from this movement. Considering that only a few film families control the production, distribution and exhibition of films, stories became stagnant as the producers turned risk averse. The actors who come from the same families have macho/saint images carefully curated from years of making the mass masala movies. The script of a Telugu film hasn't changed since the mid-90s and it reflects in the reviews of popular film websites, the rating for most movies hovers around 2.5 to 3.5 on a 5 point scale. This stagnation has been changing in the past five years where college educated engineers started making stories that shared their ethos combined with the deep pockets of tech capital. [2]

With the OTT platforms making firm inroads into the production and distribution market there is an appetite for bringing newer cultural elements before the cinematic lens. Middle Class Melodies adds to the growing roster of indie Telugu films that hint at a changing industry practises and a shift from focus from the metropol to the smaller cities and towns of the Andhra/Telangana region.

Middle Class Melodies does not have much of a plot so to speak, the story meanders around a lot of characters before it reaches its conclusion but it's not an anthology either. At different points it is different things, once it is about Bombay chutney and at another a romance between side characters that goes nowhere. Not that this meandering is unwatchable, the freshness of the movie comes from this zigzagging through different characters. It feels like the director Vinod Ananthoju approached Amazon Prime for a webseries and got the budget for a full length film instead. His characters populate the tribulations faced by the Indian middle class (poor/lower middle class from the Western standpoint) which he uses to evoke a nostalgic emotion. The lost Teluguland of Guntur is both real and dreamy at the same time.

The only grouse I have with the film comes in the form of the lead actor, Anand Devarakonda whose only merit of being an actor is being the brother of Vijay Devarakonda whose back-to-back hits of Pellichupulu and Arjun Reddy propelled him to stardom. Anand Devarakonda has neither the nuance nor the charisma of Vijay and is in the film solely for being a cheaper semblance of his brother. Perhaps this level of nepotism is required to attract people to the screens in a culture that's still into hero worship and it is saddening to see that even OTT platforms have to resort to this desperation. In a way, Anand's non-charisma aids his character's loserdom. Most people without the means remain as pale imitations of their aspirations and Middle Class Melodies gets that right.

[1] – A,B and C centers represent the class of people watching the movie. “A” center refers to the educated or class audience in big cities, “B” center is the audience from smaller towns or from stand alone theaters and “C” center audience are the mass audience or in popular parlance the kind “that leave their brains behind at home”. This segregation is arbitrary and overlaps the caste divide often.

[2] – Aided with the rise of Youtube and Facebook. Social media opened the world wide open and for the first time showed that people can aspire for the world while still staying in India. Early Silicon Valley kitsch of “believing in oneself”/“passion” became buzzwords that still dominate the current young Telugu filmmaking generation.

(Streams on Amazon Prime)

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