When In Madurai…:
A Hindi film set in Madurai amidst a conservative Tamil family is an odd bird before its strange plot unfolds. The only difference between this and any Bollywood romcom is the usual location and characters that are not the “Madrasi” caricatures of Hindi cinema. Nobody says aiyyo, amma in every sentence. But they also wear Kanjeevarams and gajras, eat kari dosai with jigarthanda, and, because the actors are not Tamil speaking, they cannot pronounce the few Tamil words sprinkled over their Hindi and English dialogue. And, of course, they are fans of Rajnikanth and Dhanush.
In short, Vivek Soni’s Meenakshi Sundareshwar is a Punjabi-Bollywood movie, trying to camouflage its clichés and failing, not for the lack of effort, but the marked absence of any romantic frisson between the lead pair. If the story were engaging, the audience would not mind the inauthentic detailing and inordinate length for a film that has nothing much to say.
The meet-cute is fine—Sundareshwar (Abhimanyu Dassani), the unemployed engineer son of a sari merchant, gets to meet the pretty, perky Meenakshi (Sanya Malhotra) when his family arrives at the wrong house for the arranged bride-viewing trip. For some reason, Meenakshi likes the dull Sundar, who does not watch movies or read books (big red flag!). Then, her grandpa believes that it is a match made by the Gods, because of the famous Meenakshi Sundareshwar temple in Madurai.
Before they can get to know each other better, and she can settle into a joint family, Sundar gets a job offer in Bangalore and leaves her behind. Meenakshi is seen to be a rule-breaker, who eats non-veg food outside the TamBrahm home and had a boyfriend in college, the charming and much more compatible Ananthan (Varun Shashi Rao), with whom she went on movie and restaurant dates. While Sundar has never even kissed, Meenakshi clearly has some experience and is not a coy bride, eager to adjust in her marital home.
Sundar has to share a company flat with three other men, so he cannot call Meenakshi to Bangalore. A script contrivance has the eccentric boss Sethil (Sukhesh Arora) insist that he would employ only single people, and extract the most out of them in a year.
The long-distance pining gets boring after a point; Sundar slogs to make a boss-pleasing app, Meenakshi finds companionship with Ananthan. Even though it is set at a time of modern technology and the not uncommon phenomenon of husbands and wives with jobs in different cities, and making it work, the heart of the film is old-fashioned.
The families live in beautiful traditional homes and wear gorgeous costumes (Dharmatic productions can afford lavish production values at least), but there still has to be a stern patriarch, and that nasty aunt right out of TV soaps.There is little humour, the conflict is forced and the ending utterly predictable.
Sanya Malhotra has the luminous beauty to keep the viewer’s attention on screen when she is on it, but it is an onerous task for her to hold up the film all by herself. As Meenakshi says in the film, both tyres of the scooty have to have an equal amount of air, or there could be an accident. Throughout the film, many viewers would be thinking, Ja Meenakshi Ja, get on that scooty and flee..jee le apni zindagi.
(This piece first appeared in seniorstoday.in on November 6, 2021)