Vivek Athreya's brilliance as a writer, director shines through in an enjoyable and progressive family entertainer
Last Updated: 08.16 AM, Jun 10, 2022
Sundar Prasad grows up in a conservative Brahmin family where superstitions and dogmas come in the way of his ambitions. Leela Thomas is a pampered, daddy’s girl and an aspirant photographer trying to create an identity for herself. Sundar and Leela are childhood friends and their equation blossoms into a romance in their later years. They hatch a plot to earn a nod from their parents for their marriage but land in a deeper mess that they struggle to come out of.
Ante Sundaraniki begins with a stage play at a school where a landlord’s daughter compels one of their young workers to join her school and liberate himself from class discrimination. A dialogue in the film says, ‘The crowds that receive this ‘progressive’ play with huge cheer get back to their mundane routines and conveniently patronise the same social inequality and superstitions without batting an eyelid.’
Writer-director Vivek Athreya is well aware that informing viewers alone can’t drive his film and sugarcoats his ‘wokeness’ in a cinematic language that a common man can comprehend. Only a handful of films can play to the strengths of their lead cast and still have a directorial voice to anchor the proceedings firmly. Ante Sundaraniki is one film that gets this balance deliciously right and is a testimony to the gifted storyteller that Vivek Athreya is.
At its core, the farcical comedy confronts conservatism across our households but it’s the execution with a touch of class, wit and commercial flavour that makes it a delightful watch. Ante Sundaraniki uses a familiar interfaith conflict to drive a complex narrative and its charm lies in the innovative storytelling. The screenplay is a masterclass in mainstream cinema, laced with humour, innocence, satire and drama, without overselling any of its tropes.
The film’s lead characters Sundar, Leela and their unusual love story are introduced across various individual segments that are put together later with a lot of craftiness. From the burst of vivid colours, and the vibrant backdrops to the unconventional editing and a zestful music score, there hasn’t been a Telugu film in recent times where the technical appeal has added so much zing to the proceedings. The narrative consistency is a great reflection of the teamwork of Ante Sundaraniki’s cast and crew.
While building its refreshingly colourful world, the three-hour run time gives the filmmaker ample time to establish the conflicts and the core personalities of each of its characters without turning them into caricatures. From a grandmother playing the Veena to the silent activism of Sundar’s mother and the underplayed yet undisclosed love between a father and a child, Ante Sundaraniki invests a lot of thought into the character traits beyond the entertaining topping.
The farcical element in the story isn’t quite easy to digest in the second hour and Vivek Athreya is after too many social stigmas at times. The wacky narrative, bolstered by the sparkling dialogue and equally befitting performances, finds different, innovative ways to sustain the fizz in the proceedings. Ante Sundaraniki isn’t only a difficult story to pen on a paper level but is more challenging to execute and cater to a mainstream audience.
When powerhouses like Nani, Nazriya, Rohini, Nadhiya, and Naresh feature in a lineup, it’s natural for viewers to watch a film with certain expectations. Ante Sundaraniki not only wins them over but makes them introspect on a deeper level; it’s a great byproduct of quality writing. The feather-light approach of Vivek Athreya ensures that the film doesn’t feel heavy at any point and you walk away from the theatre with a wide grin on your face.
Ante Sundaraniki is an out and out Nani show - there are no two things about it. The film presents Nani in the boy-next-door avatar that we all adore and taps into the performer in him efficiently. Nazriya couldn’t have asked for a better Telugu debut, she gets one of the most well-written roles in her career and utilises the opportunity to dive into a mature, relatable character like Leela Thomas with the right balance of restraint, and enthusiasm.
The supporting cast is a riot - never have the services of Rohini, Naresh and Nadhiya been put to use for such good purpose. They showcase their experience in brief, well-written sequences with the minutest of gestures and tone down the dramatic element when necessary. Aruna Bhikshu, Harshavardhan, Rahul Ramakrishna, Prudhvi Raj and Srikanth Iyengar make their presence felt.
However, the real surprise is how Alagan Perumal uses his steely exterior and still showcases the delicate side of his role with such control. Anupama Parameswaran’s extended cameo is a complete win for her and the film; it’s good to see an actress take up such interesting creative risks and it pays off well. Vivek Sagar outdoes himself after Sammohanam and he infuses such spirit and energy into the story that it’s hard to imagine the film without him.
Ante Sundaraniki has a stamp of a blockbuster written all over it. It’s progressive, funny, emotional, thought-provoking and works as a satire and a romance too - the mishmash is a comic delight that you can’t have enough of. If you had to name one man who deserves the lion’s share of the credit - it’s certainly the writer, director Vivek Athreya.