Vivek Athreya delivers an effective social drama laced with humour and actors Nani, Nazriya, Rohini and Naresh putting their best foot forward

Vivek Athreya delivers an effective social drama laced with humour and actors Nani, Nazriya, Rohini and Naresh putting their best foot forward

In a scene that appears towards the end of the Telugu film Ante Sundaraniki, Sundar Prasad’s (Nani) boss Chandra Mohan (Harshavardhan) chides him for not revealing the good part first. He reasons that he would have heard the story in peace rather than getting stressed about the ups and downs. This character occasionally voices the thoughts of the audience. Can Sundar Prasad, who hails from an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family, and Leela Thomas (Nazriya Nazim), a Christian, convince their families and get married? That is just one part of the story because, in his third film, writer-director Vivek Athreya delivers a remarkable social commentary though it is cloaked in humour. 

Sundar and Leela’s story is complex, intertwined with what happens in their respective families. How they go about life is shaped by a sum of their experiences since childhood. Isn’t this the universal truth? 

The worlds of Sundar and Leela purportedly fit into a stereotype — avakaya and wine and cheese, if you will. They become conduits for Vivek Athreya to lay bare the prejudice and hypocrisy that masks the innate goodness in people. He does that with class and wit.

Consider Sundar’s world. Since he is the only male heir, every decision is made with the advice of an astrologer. As a boy, he is given a ladybird bicycle to be on the safer side. His father (V K Naresh) will not have an adolescent Sundar cross the seas to go to the US; never mind if he misses out on the chance to act in a Chiranjeevi film. The mother’s (Rohini) emotional manipulation to convince the grandmother (Aruna Bhikshu), a veena artiste, helps. Watch out for Vivek Sagar’s effective music here, and through the film where he blends classical and contemporary beats. What happens in this portion helps to establish how Sundar grows up with emotional baggage, unable to drum up the courage to chalk his own path.

Ante Sundaraniki

Cast: Nani, Nazriya, Naresh, Nadiya, Rohini

Direction: Vivek Athreya

Music: Vivek Sagar

His childhood friend Leela fares better, but her path is intertwined with that of her sister (Tanvi Ram). The extra caution that her parents (Azhagam Perumal and Nadiya) follow has a domino effect. 

When the two worlds collide, the journey progresses with a web of lies that further complicates things. The family drama is populated with numerous characters, yet nobody is a bystander. From the grandmother to a boy who comes in a two-minute scene, everyone plays a definite part. 

Nani is in familiar territory, with his impeccable flair for comedy. Expectedly, the conservative family situations lend to humour. Laughs also come where least expected — like why he is on billboards.  When Sundar’s frustration hits the roof post-intermission, the laughs are aplenty. There’s a delightful scene where a boy is pumping air into the cycle and Nani snatches it and rides off midway, with the pump still hanging from the cycle. Nani gets both the comic and emotional beats right and manages to become Sundar along the journey. 

Quite a bit of emphasis is on the adolescent Sundar and Leela, to the extent that we agree when Harshavardhan cuts Sundar short and asks him to get on with the present. These portions, however, serve to explain later why Sundar is stuck in the past, unable to have mature conversations with his family and Leela’s, to sort out differences. Something has to change deeply for certain people, and families to turn a new leaf. Issues such as impotency and pregnancy become these tools. In this world of lies, cutting close to the bone is the presence of Leela’s sister and what she goes through. 

Heard of the statement that when lies are told repeatedly, one tends to believe in them? The portions where Leela and Sundar wallow in guilt hit a raw nerve, despite a steady inflow of humour in the form of ‘thadasthu devathalu’. The nearly three-hour-long film feels a little stretched. However, a key dining table sequence followed by Rohini’s home truths to her family makes it all worthwhile. 

In her first Telugu film, Nazriya is effective. Rohini and Naresh bring in authenticity and credence to their parts and are ably supported by Azhagam Perumal and Nadiya. Also, watch out for Srikanth Iyengar as the astrologer and Rahul Ramakrishna. The scene involving him and Naresh is hilarious. Anupama Parameswaran and director Venkatesh Maha appear in extended cameos, nudging the story forward.

Vivek Athreya is ably supported by cinematographer Niketh Bommi, Vivek Sagar’s music, Latha Naidu’s production design and editor Ravi Teja Girijala.

With family dramas in mainstream Telugu cinema often limited to large happy families dressed in their finery, this is a realistic depiction of characters that are both endearing and flawed. Does it merit a viewing? A resounding yes. 



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