We don’t know if director Merlapaka Gandhi felt like a headmaster, dealing with a bogie-full of characters. As Venkatadri Express chugs along, we wonder how he’s going to weave in innumerable characters into a tightly-knit plot.
There’s a stern father (Nagineedu) keeping count of each mistake his family members commit; anyone who scores 100, risks being thrown out of the house. There’s the caring mom who cooks with laboratory precision so as to not make errors. She tackles the short-tempered husband one on hand and her asthma on the other. An older son (Brahmaji) cannot contain his enthusiasm over finally getting hitched; a daughter with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder scrubs and cleans where it isn’t necessary; a son-in-law shudders in the presence of the disciplinarian father-in-law and a brat of a grandson hoodwinks the patriarch to keep his error count at zero. And we’ve listed only a handful of characters you’ll meet in the film.
Sundeep (Sundeep Kishan), the younger son of the household, has an error score of 99 and gets one final warning. The family leaves to Tirupati for Brahmaji’s wedding and curiously, while the rest of the family is booked in one coach, Sundeep gets a ticket in the adjacent coach. At the railway station, the mother realises she has forgotten the mangalsutra at home. From the moment Sundeep offers to dash home and get back with the mangalsutra, we expect things to go awry.
It’s a surprise when the family members find Sundeep in the coach in the morning and all seems to be well. Soon enough, Sundeep reveals that he actually missed the train and encountered a series of insane adventures through the night before he boarded the train. As the film goes back and forth into the night, there are plenty of laugh-aloud moments and despite that, we wonder why the director would narrate all this in flashback? Wouldn’t it help to keep the audience guessing if Sundeep manages to board the train? More so, when there’s a spark of good writing with genuinely funny lines, characters with quirky traits and a keen sense of situational humour.
But Venkatadri Express is not about Sundeep boarding the train and keeping the promise to his mother; it’s also got to do with the repercussions of the events that unfold at night.
There’s plenty to like about this comic-ride. Not that the story doesn’t have glitches. The pithy writing that makes each insane episode fun in the first half goes off mark in the latter portions, and you feel a good idea has been stretched. Still, the film leaves you smiling.
Sundeep Kishan does justice to his part of a son yearning to get into the good books of his father and at the same time standing up for what he feels is right. Rakul Preet is impressive as the talkative, penny wise, shrewd and sometimes annoying girl who becomes a partner to Sundeep’s adventures.
The supporting actor Sapthagiri — a job applicant who entrusts his bag to Sundeep and loses sleep over his return — is a riot. Minute attention given to characterisation makes this journey worthwhile. For instance, Sapthagiri’s fetish for multiple ring tones, Tagubothu Ramesh’s misplaced sense of pride, the ticket collector’s obsession with poetry and Rakul Preet keeping track of each penny Sundeep owes her.
This isn’t comedy that will knock your socks off; nor is it an assembly of mindless gags. Venkatadri Express is backed by reasonably good writing and acting makes for an entertaining watch.
Cast: Sundeep Kishan, Rakul Preet and Nagineedu
Direction: Merlapaka Gandhi
Music: Ramana Gogula
Story: The hero misses Venkatadri Express by a whisker, moves heaven and earth to get to the train or face the wrath of his father
Bottom line: Guarantees a fun outing with family.