Now, this is not nice. When you advertise a film as a trilingual (Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil), the viewer thinks it has been shot in all three languages. Okay, maybe production constraints may result in a street name appearing in Telugu when you’re watching the Tamil version, but this is a minor miss. The major thing – what we expect, what we demand – is that the characters convince us they are speakers of the language who, in the film, are speaking the language.
This never happens – not for a second – in Chandra Sekhar Yeleti’s Namadhu. The lips move one way. The sounds that emanate from them are something else. And to add to the dissonance, there’s the heavily Malayalam-accented Tamil that Mohanlal speaks. Why not give the great actor a bit of background to explain away this jarring note – say, that the character hails from some part of Kerala and is now settled in “Tamil Nadu”? (I use quotes because the film doesn’t look like it’s set in any Tamil-speaking region.)
But on to the story, which is actually four stories – and all of them have to do with money, the lack of it, the desire for it, or the rift it creates between social classes. In the first story, Sairam (Mohanlal), the Assistant Manager in a supermarket, so desperately seeks a promotion that he’s willing to endanger another man’s life. In the second, discount-chasing housewife Gayathri (Gautami) lands a windfall when an old debt is repaid many times over.
The third story is about a little girl named Mahitha (Raina Rao), who befriends a littler boy, the son of daily wage earners – seeing the girl with the boy’s parents, a cop asks if they work in her house. And in the fourth, computer whiz Abhi (Viswant Duddumpudi) moves from applets to couplets when he falls for a knockout of a girl. (In his world, she’s a see-plus-plus.) The money angle here arrives when he finds he needs, among other things, a smartphone. She’s a rich kid. In her world, there is no other type of phone.
The titles appear on jigsaw pieces and hint at a puzzle being put together. Only, it’s not as interesting (or as challenging) as the director thinks. Only two stories really work. What Sairam does and the guilt he subsequently endures would, in the right hands, result in another Drishyam (there’s a similar sense of a hasty, emotional decision spiralling into a clammy mess) – you feel frustrated when the film undercuts this tension and moves to another story. Gayathri’s arc is interesting too. Our films could use more such glimpses of homemakers who aren’t as appreciated as they deserve to be. (Both Mohanlal and Gautami have the age and the experience to make us care about characters that needed to be written much better.)
But the filmmaking is terribly uninspired, with odd contrivances like Mahitha ending up in a nightclub – and, worse, there are messagey overtones. The end, which you may see coming from a couple of miles away, is too pat. These complex threads needed a film with more… complexity.