A self-confessed Woody Allen fan, Srinivas Avasarala went all out to indicate that his directorial debut, Oohalu Gusagusalade, will have Allen’s influences with the first still where the principal characters stand against a poster of Annie Hall. As the film unfolds, the references get pronounced. In the initial scenes, characters express themselves to the audience, with a little help from a voiceover. Midway into the film, we see Avasarala in his library where books on Woody Allen figure prominently. But for most part of the film, Avasarala moves away from these obvious references and soaks in the story he wants to narrate. When he gets down to doing that, he reveals fine writing skills that blend smart humour into the narrative, and his ability to execute a good script getting enough support from actors, the technical team and the composer.

Venkateshwar Rao or Venky (Naga Shourya) has a way with words. He strikes conversations with ease, has many young women as friends at his workplace and dreams of being a newsreader of repute like his father but is stuck with tele-advertising, peddling one product after another. His boss Uday (Srinivas Avasarala) has no intention of letting him be a newsreader. Despite being well read and suave, Uday is at best clumsy when it comes to women and can put no amount of textbook gyaan to practice. Uday needs Venky’s help to help him woo a potential bride his family zeroes in on through a marriage broker.

There have been similar plots in the past, where a middle class or rustic smooth talker coaches a sophisticated youngster. And in most of these films, the audience can predict the end. Yet, what makes Oohalu… refreshing is the way Avasarala narrates the story, drawing from day-to-day incidents that happen in middle class apartments and his observation of people. The episode between Naga Shourya and Rashi Khanna (she is called Sri Sai Sirisha Prabhavathi – representative of the multiple names one comes across among Telugu-speaking people) in Vizag unfolds like a beautiful canvas that’s not far removed from reality.

As much as Avasarala lets his lead characters bloom, he doesn’t ignore the small characters. There’s the dhobi who slyly notes down the phone number Rashi scribbles on a dirty car glass; there’s a supportive mother who nudges Naga Shourya to listen to his heart and there’s the father who hardly speaks a word, limited by his paralysis, and shows a flicker of hope on seeing his son play act a news-reading session.

Humour prevents the later portions from getting boring and predictable. The tussle between a man who, despite all the hand-holding, can make a mess of expressing his love and the man who knows to charm his woman but is restricted by circumstances makes for an engaging watch.

Both Naga Shourya and Rashi Khanna match up to Avasarala and prove they are actors with potential. Kalyani Malik’s melodies and background score are an asset.

Well-written romantic comedies are rare in Telugu cinema. Oohalu Gusagusalade is an exception and a delight.

Oohalu Gusagusalade

Cast: Naga Shourya, Rashi Khanna and Srinivas Avasarala

Direction: Srinivas Avasarala

Music: Kalyani Malik

Genre: Romantic comedy

Bottom line: A breezy romance backed by humour.