Srinivas Avasarala’s third directorial has a free-spirited vibe and earnest performances but can’t rise above its over-simplistic plot
Sanjay (Naga Shaurya) and his senior Anupama (Malvika Nair) are college buddies who stick together through their thick and thin. They move abroad to study further, have a jolly good time, fall in love eventually until a tricky phase in their relationship forces them to part ways. Even as the couple tries to move on in life, their past continues to haunt them.
Phalana Abbayi Phalana Ammayi is actor-director Srinivas Avasarala’s attempt to marry the aesthetics and realism of indie cinema to a familiar, mainstream plot. The story, revolving around the highs and lows in a relationship between two college buddies, is intentionally generic. The treatment is very matter-of-fact sans any effort to heighten the drama or lend it a cinematic flavour.
Narrated across seven chapters (a connection with the saptapadi ritual?), there are intentional jumps in the storytelling. The director doesn’t spell out the obvious, leaves aspects to the viewer’s imagination and keeps his setup compact with a limited bunch of characters. He delves into an immensely personal space between the protagonists and their conflicts are largely internal.
Though one can comprehend this effort to tell a relatable story bereft of cliches and conventional storytelling norms, Phalana Abbayi.. as a premise is too simplistic (and not simple). The laidback vibe, the raw sound design, and the free-flowing dialogues grab your eyeballs initially though it’s a struggle to find some substance beneath the veneer.
The film pays the price for its half-hearted execution of the chapter-driven narrative - the transitions are abrupt, the characters aren’t meaty and you’re not compelled to read between the lines. The narrative gaps interest you more than what unfolds on the screen and the conflicts are too dull for the film to wake up from its slumber.
You never get a holistic picture of the characters’ worlds and the singular focus on their romantic endeavours gets suffocating beyond a point. It’s a relief when the setting shifts to India and a handful of colourful characters, like the no-holds-barred Neelima Ratnababu (played by a terrific Harini Rao), enter the fray. The film needed more characters like her - dramatic, messy, funny and yet forthright.
When the film’s situations feel so derived, stereotypical, it’s unfair to expect the actors to and come up with unrehearsed, original performances. Naga Shaurya and Malvika Nair stay true to the film’s understated ambience but it’s hard to be moved by the plight of their characters. Avasarala’s presence in the film feels like an afterthought while Megha Chowdhury’s character is poorly etched.
Abhishek Maharshi, Sri Vidya shine in their brief appearances that don’t contribute much to the narrative. An unconventional casting move like Harini Rao springs a pleasant surprise. Sunil Kumar Nama’s cinematography brings the best of indie and mainstream cinema worlds - the framing is quite intimate and still has a cinematic, larger-than-life quality. Kalyani Malik’s career-best album offers momentary solace amidst the superficiality.
Narrative control is extremely essential in middle-of-the-road attempts like Phalana Abbayi… The film doesn’t have the cushion of falling back on commercial ingredients (of a regular fare) and demands the director to be very aware of their craft. When it works, they seem like a work of a genius and when it doesn’t, it cuts a sorry figure. The film disappoints, but not for the lack of effort. It just doesn’t push the envelope with conviction.
Phalana Abbayi Phalana Ammayi is an intimate, personal romance where the realism in the treatment isn’t backed by a substantial plot and meaty characters. The frequent narrative jumps, dull conflicts hamper the viewing experience. Despite a terrific music score, pleasant cinematography and heartfelt performances, the film leaves you unmoved.
(The film is now streaming on Sun NXT and OTTplay Premium)