One of the thoughts that lingered after watching Kushi was how carefully it has been packaged to be a feel-good entertainer. The trio at the centre of this film — director Shiva Nirvana, actors Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Ruth Prabhu — needs box office approval after their dismal last films, respectively. Hence, the extra effort to make Kushi a pleasing family entertainer.
The charming leads are placed in a romance drama peppered with comedy and good music and the narrative packs in plenty of references to films of Mani Ratnam, and even Vijay and Samantha. Beneath that entertaining veneer is the conflict point of contrasting ideologies that can mar relationships. Shiva Nirvana takes a simplistic route to show that love can conquer differences. Some of the characters are strictly one note and the exploration of ideologies also remains at the surface level.
The opening segment establishes that Shiva Nirvana, who has written the story, screenplay and dialogues, needs to look at a nuanced portrayal of people with all their complexities. Lenin Sathya (Sachin Khadekar) is an atheist; his residence has posters of scientists and quotes such as ‘In science we trust’. In contrast is Chadarangam Srinivasa Rao (Murali Sharma), known for his pravachanam and adherence to faith and rituals. The two spar in a high decibel television debate. Expectedly, hell breaks loose when Lenin’s son Viplav Deverakonda (Vijay Deverakonda) and Chadarangam’s daughter Aradhya (Samantha Ruth Prabhu) fall in love and decide to get married.
Shiva Nirvana narrates the Viplav-Aradhya romance by tipping his hat generously to Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman. Viplav is a Mani Ratnam fan and the entire stretch in which he gets a taste of reality in Kashmir, accompanied by Pitobash (Vennela Kishore, effective in eliciting laughs while all the time being serious), is fun to watch. G Murali’s camera, fashioned to capture Kashmir like PC Sreeram and Santosh Sivan, pays tributes to the masters, and music composer Hesham Abdul Wahab gamely steps in with a feel-good score when Viplav wonders how it would be to have an ARR background score for Kashmir.
The situations under which Viplav woos Aradhya could have benefited from better writing. But we give in to the fun, albeit cinematic and silly, situations since Vijay Deverakonda enacts his part with innocence and earnestness, channeling all his charm. It’s been ages since the actor played to his original strength — that of an imperfect boy next door. He owns every bit of his character and shoulders the film through some of its weaker later portions. There is also a hilarious reference to Arjun Reddy after which he gives his friend lessons in gender sensitivity! The fact that Rahul Ramakrishna plays the friend makes this even better.
After several references to Roja and Dil Se, Kushi gets into the Alaipayuthey (Sakhi in Telugu) mode when the two families face off. The father characters are almost caricatures and Shiva Nirvana milks this to construct a tense segment on a metro train that also generates a few laughs. Saranya Ponvannan as Viplav’s mother and Lakshmi as Aradhya’s grandmother could be the voices of reason, but they are given limited scope.
Samantha comes into her own gradually. The Kashmir segment limits her to being a mystery woman who Viplav falls in love with at first sight. Sharanya Pradeep as the friend does much of the talking and is effortlessly convincing. When we get to know more about Aradhya and step into her Kakinada home, it’s a delightful moment to see her camaraderie with Lakshmi and fleetingly brings back memories of Oh! Baby.
Several Alaipayuthey references keep popping up as Viplav and Aradhya go against their families. Even the middle class dwelling and the older couple (Rohini and Jayaram) who nudge the younger couple to look at the big picture, beyond everyday friction, works as a nod to Alaipayuthey and Okay Kanmani.
Kushi begins to wobble when the parents step in. At one point when a father reacts with an ‘I-told-you-so’ sort of statement on learning of an unfortunate event, rather than offering emotional support, it is a reflection of how egoistic the human mind can be. The resolution of the conflict and polar opposite people characters meeting midway happens in the final segment.
The portions that lead to this moment, though, are patchy. The narrative never wants to dwell on any issue long enough to register an impact. It is always in a rush to break into a comic situation or a song and dance to not give up on the feel-good factor. It is to the credit of both Vijay and Samantha (helped generously by Chinmayi’s dubbing) that we register the inner turmoil of their characters in these portions. Both Murali Sharma and Sachin Khadekar try to rise above the limitations of their characters but there is only so much they can do.
Is Kushi entertaining? Most definitely. It is a pleasing romantic musical that benefits from its charming leads. It could have also been a standout film had it also addressed the science Vs. religion conflict with some more thought and effort.