Sanya Malhotra and Abhimanyu Dassani’s latest offering on Netflix attempts to bring back the charm of love stories and makes for a breezy watch.
Last Updated: 02.31 PM, Nov 05, 2021
Meenakshi (Sanya Malhotra) and Sundareshwar (Abhimanyu Dassani) get married through a traditional arranged marriage setup (which begins with a minor goof-up). However, their arranged marriage turns into a long-distance marriage for at least a year, when Sundar has to leave for a job in Bangalore on the very next day of their wedding. Will the newly-wed couple survive the crests and troughs of long-distance? That’s what the rest of the film is about.
Vivek Soni’s directorial debut begins amidst the picturesque backdrop of the town of Madurai. What’s endearing about the film is its genuine attempt at bringing back the long-lost charm of love stories, this time in an arranged marriage turned long-distance marriage set up. Meenakshi and Sundar have little in common and the stark contrast between their personalities is evident from their first meeting. While she’s a die-hard fan of Superstar Rajinikanth, he doesn’t like watching movies as they “put him to sleep” (we’re told a couple of times). While she likes to read books, he plays book cricket (and even teaches her how to). She’s a confident and smart business administration graduate who wants to work for a small company where she can make a big difference and not the other way around. He, on the other hand, has been looking for “suitable opportunities” since the past one year after completing his degree in engineering. Their personalities can best be described as chalk and cheese. A divine intervention that connects their names to that of the most famous temple in the city was enough to convince their families and have them tie the knot.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar has its heart in the right place. It abounds in seemingly insignificant but heartfelt small moments between the protagonists, especially in the first half, which will definitely make you smile and you’ll find yourself rooting for them to have a happily ever after. The awkwardness, the shy smiles, the stolen glances, the first kiss – it’s all beautifully captured and translates well on screen. The initial fizz and excitement of the marriage soon turns into a trial by separation, where the couple finds themselves trying their best to ‘make it work’ despite the many hiccups they face.
The cutesy moments between the couple constitute the entire first half of this 2 hour 21 minute long film. However, they’ve been shot beautifully and are accompanied with an incredible background score and music (which will remind you of the music of Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein at several junctures. More on that later.) that make your journey quite breezy. It’s the second half of Meenakshi Sundareshwar where the problem begins. The conflicts arising in their marriage don’t really appear to be conflicts in the real sense of the word. It seems as if the writers Aarsh Vora and Vivek Soni were really struggling to build up the required tension and hence ended up trying to manufacture most of it. It appears orchestrated, rather than genuine and organic unlike the first half.
Certain plot points in the film seem to have been force-fitted, without really serving any larger purpose. The sub-plot involving Meenakshi’s college friend is built up quite organically, but doesn’t really cause any major havoc in her married life. We’re told that Meenakshi is bold, smart and ambitious, having the will to “make a difference”, but this intention doesn’t translate into much action as well. We witness the screenplay resorting to age-old clichés like the in-laws questioning the bahu about her “special friend” or a conspiring, vengeful colleague at work to infuse the required tension. Unfortunately, all of them end up failing miserably in doing so. What doesn’t help is the uneventful and excruciating pace with which the film moves in the second half, only to resolve everything in a jiffy (with another divine intervention – this time, that of Rajinikanth). Another flaw in the film emanates from the character of Sundar. Why would he expect Meenakshi to extend all her support and patience to him and the relationship when he himself has done little to help, is beyond me!
To give credits where they are due, thankfully, the makers do not make a caricature out of its characters based in Madurai and it appears to be a genuine effort on their part, at setting a mainstream Bollywood film in Tamil Nadu. Casting South Indian actors in the supporting roles works in the film’s favour.
Abhimanyu lends a certain boyish charm to his character of Sundareshwar aka Sundar. Even though, his accent falters at certain places, he makes up for it with his incredible acting chops. This is his second film after Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and the range of emotions he’s managed to portray on screen in just two films definitely make him one of the actors in the current generation to watch out for. It was such a joy to see him let loose and party with his colleagues on his birthday as Vaada Machaney plays. However, it is Sanya Malhotra who steers the movie on her shoulders. The actress has made quite interesting choices ever since she made her debut with Dangal. Be it Badhaai Ho, Photograph, Ludo or Pagglait, Sanya has managed to portray a variety of characters with much ease. As Meenakshi, Sanya is subtle and effective as well as confident and goofy where required. She’s quite endearing in the scenes where she’s imitating Rajinikanth and particularly shines in the small moments that she shares with Abhimanyu.
The chemistry of the lead pair isn’t crackling, but is quite easy-breezy – which lends itself perfectly to the film, given that they play a couple in an arranged marriage. There’s a lot that goes on in the scenes during their wedding ceremony, where the duo seems to be having so many conversations with just their eyes as the song Mann Kesar Kesar plays in the backdrop. The family members are well cast, as mentioned earlier, and they lend the required support to the leads. The colleagues/office friends of Sundar are merely stock characters adding little value to the overall narrative.
What stands out in Meenakshi Sundareshwar is its impeccable music and background score by Justin Prabhakaran. The film’s music album and BGS come as a breath of fresh air in the cacophony of numerous albums with an overdose of rap songs and rehashed versions of classics in recent times. Whether it’s the soulful Mann Kesar Kesar or the peppy and upbeat Vaada Machaney – every single song in the album is quite enjoyable. The music album of Shiddat probably comes a close second when it comes to good music in films this year. The lyrics by Raj Shekhar perfectly capture the situations in which the songs and characters are set.
The cinematography by Debojeet Ray deserves a special mention – especially the manner in which he has utilized his frames and the physical setting in scenes. In the song Mann Kesar Kesar, there’s a sequence where he makes brilliant use of an array of windows in a traditional house to effectively portray how the soon-to-be-married couple is stealing glances at each other. The same setting is later used to portray separation and melancholy – quite poetic! The boxed frames while both Sundar and Meenakshi are travelling in trains at various junctures (also helps in creating a recall) too are effectively used.
At one point in the film, Sundar’s boss says “Clarity is inversely proportional to clutter”. I wish the makers took note of the same and did away with the manufactured clutter in the second half to invest in genuine conflicts. Nevertheless, it explores the concept of long-distance arranged marriage and has some genuine moments that attempt to bring back the charm of love-stories in Hindi cinema. Packed with good performances, impeccable music and some South Indian tadka, Meenakshi Sundareshwar makes for a breezy one-time watch.