As I suspected, the reason we have a Tegulu-language film in El Paso has to do with the Indian community in my hometown. Obviously, when one thinks of Indians in the West Texas town of El Paso, those from the subcontinent aren't the ones that spring immediately to mind.
However, I have for better or worse begun an unofficial tradition of watching these Tollywood films merely out of insane curiosity. So for three years, I've been treated to the stylings of one Mahesh Babu, who is referred to as Prince Mahesh or Superstar in his presence. I'm not going to argue with his fan base, but in the three films Superstar has been in that I've seen, I have enjoyed the experience. Dookudu, his first, was not dubbed or subtitled, but I followed the plot and was treated to great songs. The Business Man, the second film, was a darker turn from the zany fun of Dookudu: there was a nihilism to it. The main character was almost Randian in his worldview with its ideas about rational self-interest trumping such things as 'morality'. Now we come to his newest venture, Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (or SVCV for short, which is what I'll be using throughout). As much as I've enjoyed Superstar's other ventures, SVCV is a personal disappointment.
Yes, I am aware that language IS a big barrier to my appreciation of SVCV, but here's what I gleamed of the plot. You have two brothers, Peddhodu (Venkatesh Dagubati, generally known as just Venkatesh), who is the older of the two, and Chinnodu (Babu), the younger. They have a generally close bond. In their home there is also Sita (Anjali), who I think is a well-regarded servant girl whose been with the family for years. She is obviously in love with Peddhodu and while he may actually reciprocate her feelings, he is the type who keeps things inside.
Not so his younger brother, who does have a job in the big city (I think). Well, there is a wedding of their sister or cousin, and at said wedding Chinnodu meets Geetha (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), and both are instantly smitten with each other.
The rest of SVCV relates to Peddhodu finally realizing that if he doesn't speak out about his love for Sita, he will lose her, Chinnodu and Geetha getting together, and the brothers breaking apart and coming together again and again.
We aren't even treated to a big dance scene where they finally unite and confess their love. Instead, we get songs sung over them, and these musical montages in a Tollywood film threw me off. I have gotten so used to seeing big, lavish musical numbers that seeing only four musical numbers in the film (and three musical montages) makes me wonder whether Tollywood films are abandoning the format of putting in song-and-dance as part of the story.
We don't even get a nice Item Number (a musical sequence that really adds nothing to the plot but is just an excuse to see a beautiful woman perform with backup dancers). On the one hand, perhaps writer/director Srikanth Addala was pushing the boundaries of Tollywood to be more character-driven than just an excuse for big numbers held together by a thin story. However, when we do have musical numbers (including one that had Venkatesh and Anjali literally "singin' in the rain") it almost seems to be thrown in there because it's expected.
I found the numbers (few that there were) interesting cinematically (the first one where Venkatesh and Babu playing counterpoint to each other, though not sharing the screen was well-edited) but not memorable. It's been two years but I can still remember many of the numbers from Dookudu, one year and I can recall at least one or two numbers from The Business Man. With SVCV, I can remember two of the four, but I think I'll be hard-pressed to remember them a year from now.
Moreover, judging from the audience's reaction to SVCV (the first time I've seen a film in which I was the only non-Indian in the theater), even the college-aged guys who spoke Tegulu were finding things unintentionally hilarious. Part of the plot was that these two brothers genuinely love each other but are almost always coming to a point where they break off their relationship (they don't finally forgive whatever they have to forgive until the end when a religious festival nearly gets everyone killed and they separately end up saving nearly everyone).
I can say that it was a 'shocking' ceremony, but I digress.
However, when Victory and Superstar faced each other at (more than) one point, the guys were hooting and hollering at the screen. I think they were telling them to kiss each other already.
I say this because as shot (complete with the score) the scene appeared unintentionally almost romantic between Victory and Superstar, as if they were more lovers than brothers. I imagine this ISN'T what they had in mind, but sometimes it appeared that they were more passionate about each other than about Sita and Geetha respectively.
Mind you, I enjoyed the family relationship story and Venkatesh and Babu can still do what is required of them (dance and act), although in my view Venkatesh seems rather beefy to have me think him light on his feet. I thought it was amusing to see how the brothers had distinguishing ticks: Venkatesh would constantly lift his shirt collar, Babu would constantly tug at his shirttails.
On the whole, however, SVCV is the first Tollywood film (out of the three I've seen) where I didn't have a good time. Well, I didn't enjoy The Business Man all that much, but it did have some good dance numbers that got me over the dark story. Dookudu was an action/comedy that I really enjoyed (even with the language barrier). The Business Man was more dramatic but still found time to throw in some musical numbers (even if one of them suggested near-rape with the girl in bed with a guy while clearly struggling to regain consciousness). SVCV...well....
Finally, one last thing. I found it so odd that SVCV seemed almost obsessed with a none-too-subtle anti-smoking campaign. Every time someone had a cigarrette in their hand, an anti-smoking message would appear on the left-hand bottom side of the screen. Both in the beginning of the film and at the beginning after intermission we got one of the few messages in English (how smoking can be injurious to your health). I found it all rather odd, but then again I don't smoke.
I just didn't like SVCV.
India, please don't hate me...