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Meet Cute review: A largely satisfying, heart-warming bunch of conversational shorts

Director Deepthi Ganta’s stories are laced with wit, exude a free-spirited vibe but are a tad saccharine at times

3/5rating
Meet Cute review: A largely satisfying, heart-warming bunch of conversational shorts
Meet Cute
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 06.58 PM, Nov 24, 2022

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Story:

Two strangers, unexpectedly, find solace in each other’s company while navigating through tricky phases in their lives, helping them look at themselves and their loved ones in a different light. Meet Cute takes you through five such instances and conversations among people from various walks of life, in the hope of being a warm hug of an anthology.

Review:

It’s heartening to see the Telugu industry embracing anthologies with gusto, years after several unsuccessful attempts. Meet Cute is the third prominent Telugu anthology this year after Modern Love Hyderabad and Panchatantra Kathalu, marking the directorial debut of Deepthi Ganta. Her five shorts comprise unfiltered, breezy conversations where the protagonists feel liberated opening up to strangers, without the worry of oversharing or being judged for their words or choices.

Deepthi is an important voice - primarily, for the fact that she exhibits pure love and taste for the visual medium, views it as an avenue for self-expression than tailoring her stories as a product meant for a target audience. There are a few blips and bumps in the writing and the execution, but it would be safe to say that we have finally found someone who can come close to replicating Anjali Menon’s brand of personalised filmmaking in Telugu.

Meet the Boy

The safest, most accessible ‘meet cute’ story is of course the one that unfolds over a blind date. The protagonists are an independent yet fun-loving modern-day woman and a truly ‘gentle’ man (a flirt who knows how to play his cards without trying too hard). The moments flow beautifully, the writing is seamless, surprising at places and the performances are befittingly measured and spontaneous.

Deepthi doesn’t oversell the feel-good vibe and builds characters with strong identities. The woman isn’t reduced to a likeable caricature and the man embraces her imperfections sans ado. Telugu cinema doesn’t have a great history of writing modern-day women well and stories like this are a much-needed change. It’s a walk in the park for Varsha Bollamma to pull this off, so much so that the part feels like an extension of her real self.

Ashwin Kumar, exuding charm, is the surprise package and he gets the sort of male character that we could afford to see more in Telugu cinema - respectful, composed, a good listener, confident and yet not arrogant. Sri Vidya and Sameer Malla are passable in their blink-and-a-miss appearances.

Old is Gold

In a premise revolving around an elderly figure and a young married woman, the worst fear for the viewer is to see the former turn into a preachy uncle, passing on gyaan. Despite the sophistication in the setting and the reasonable performances, Old is Gold is just that and can’t rise above its writing limitations. The idea of creating two similar characters of opposite sexes is intriguing on paper but the coincidence feels rather convenient here.

Deepthi gets the portrayal of the relationship between Saroja and Jay right but struggles to make this a wholly engaging short. Sathyaraj’s character Mohan Rao is a disappointment; she philosophises too much through his story. The backstory around journalism, his Afghanistan experience and the subsequent turn of events are hard to digest. The idea of Saroja shedding a happy tear at the end feels more manipulative than convincing.

Raja Chembolu bags the most interesting part and is the pick of the lot, playing a man who struggles to be direct and express himself. Ruhani Sharma is aptly cast as a woman who loves her man but fails to understand him at times. Sathyaraj could’ve done better to underplay his part.

In L(AW)ove

This witty-little story’s strength is its one-of-a-kind conceptualisation. It starts as a tale about an anxious mother trying to spy on his son’s romantic interest, who ends up discovering a little-known side to her son instead. Deepthi weaves in humour through the tense interactions between the mother and the woman but digs deep into their characters later. As long as the short sticks to the slice-of-humour, it’s impactful.

The depth in the relationship between Siddhu and Pooja is amiss and the latter’s traumatic backstory doesn’t resonate enough. The filmmaker forcibly squeezes a ‘mother sentiment’ angle into the story to discuss the resilience of the female characters. Although it ends well, the film doesn’t make the most of its appealing plot idea. Dheekshith’s warm, endearing persona and Rohini’s screen presence aid the result and Aakanksha Singh is an impressive casting choice.

Starstruck

This is a story of two opposites who find a common ground to converse despite their differences. The contrast grabs your attention instantly - a nerdy medico leading a private life of solitude and an effervescent, popular actress with an active public life. However, beyond the characters, it’s the mood of the film that stays with you. The filmmaking, enriched by its cinematographic appeal and the music, is unforced and it makes the viewer want to be another fly on the wall as the characters talk.

Through the male character (Aman), Deepthi mirrors the emptiness in the lives of workaholic urban residents who find it hard to fit into social circles, form friendships and find companions, who respect them the way they are. In what’s Shiva Kandukuri’s most evolved performance to date, he communicates the essence of the part with effective dialogue delivery and underplayed histrionics. The diary serves as a nostalgic link to forge a bond between him and Shalini (Adah Sharma).

Adah Sharma, in her best-written role in a Telugu project to date, succeeds in highlighting the desire of a public figure who wants to be treated just like a girl. The unconventional pairing of Adah and Shiva catches you by surprise (a pleasant one).

Ex-Girlfriend

In terms of its idea, Ex-Girlfriend feels like a close cousin of In L(AW)ove, where two female characters converse about a man who’s integral to their lives. If the earlier short was about a mother and her soon-to-be daugher-in-law, this one revolves around an ex-girlfriend and the wife of the same man (minus the bitchiness). In a potentially uncomfortable scenario, two mature, confident women strike up a free-wheeling conversation.

The story offers nothing out of the box but it’s the filmmaker’s imaginative interpretation that does the trick. Relationships can always transform for the better when one understands where their partner comes from and Deepthi Ganta communicates this through her protagonists without being too preachy. An expressive Sanchitha Poonacha and Govind Padmasoorya as a grief-stricken lover impress although Sunainaa is the show stealer and the credit partly goes to her characterisation.

Verdict:

Meet Cute is a largely compelling anthology where the directorial voice (of Deepthi Ganta) is evident in most of the shorts. On the technical front, A Vasanth’s cinematography works hand-in-glove with Deepthi’s ideas. Composer Vijai Bulganin utilises the vibe of the stories to come up with a delectable, enjoyable album.

The director extracts impressive, measured performances from her actors. Starstruck, Ex-Girlfriend and Meet the Boy are the pick of the lot among the five stories while the premise of In L(AW)ove is fresh. If Deepthi Ganta came up with a one-liner to summarise Meet Cute, it would’ve been - ‘don’t watch it, feel it’

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