Stand up comedy in a film is tricky terrain. You cannot pad it up with random comments on politics, cricket or cinema; you have to stay on course with what is suitable for that story and its protagonists. Making the audiences laugh within that framework calls for sharp writing. It is not surprising that the occasional film or two where one of the characters is a stand up comic have not managed to leave an impression.
Debut director Santosh Mohan Veeranki’s Stand Up Rahul, which he has co-written with Anoosha Rao and Prashant Yerramilli, is the journey of Rahul (Raj Tarun) who wants to be a stand up comic. There is the usual tug of war with a family member, in this case with his mother (Indraja), about pursuing a steady job rather than drift like a dreamer. Rahul comes from a broken home — his father (Murali Sharma) has made a national award-winning film but no money.
Stand Up Rahul
Cast: Raj Tarun, Varsha Bollamma, Murali Sharma
Direction: Santosh Mohan Veeranki
Music: Sweekar Agasthi
Rahul has to learn the ropes of stand up comedy and also metaphorically stand up for himself. If narrated well, this could have been an engaging urban drama. There is the romance angle, of course. Shreya Rao (Varsha Bollamma) might be the one who can steer Rahul in the right direction but has her demons to fight.
The first hour, while introducing us to the different characters, is on shaky turf. Rahul and Shreya cross paths in a situation steeped with insipid toilet humour. Was there no other way of staging this sequence? Rahul’s mother, grandmother and extended relatives are all a certain stereotype. What humanises the father is probably Murali Sharma’s performance.
The scenes that happen in Rahul and Shreya’s workplace, a virtual reality start-up, are further examples of bland comedy. A company named Pineapple and its CEO who calls himself Steve Jack (Vennela Kishore) seems pretty lame. Kishore tries to make the lines given to him sound funny. If only the writing had been better.
In an interesting scene, an established stand up comic Hriday (director Venkatesh Maha is impressive in an extended cameo) tells Rahul that wry humour can stem from life experiences, even the most sombre and depressing ones. I wish he had also asserted the importance of a good sense of humour, which is sorely missing in this film.
Raj Tarun puts forth a restrained performance and is adequate. Varsha Bollamma fits the bill of Shreya Rao, a young girl keen to shake off the aftereffects of body shaming she experienced in school and wanting to assert herself and rise above her overbearing father. She is expressive and gets the beats right.
But it is the narrative that never finds a consistent rhythm.
In a scene almost immediately post intermission, Rahul takes the earlier cue given by Hriday and regales his audiences with a fun account of the frustrating house hunting experiences of bachelors in Hyderabad. This is the first moment of reckoning on stage. The little cheer that this scene brings is dampened soon by the narrative that continues to be wobbly. Neither does the humour work nor is the emotional core dealt with convincingly.
Cinematography by Sreeraj Raveendran, costumes by Archana Rao and the production design all add to the aesthetics but cannot salvage an uninteresting film.
Imagine going to an event in anticipation of listening to an established comic but having to make do with a substitute? That sums up the experience of this film, which, despite being developed in consultation with Hriday Ranjan and other stand-up comics in Hyderabad, fails to get it right.