It may be just a stroke of unintended genius that the title for director Vivek Soni’s latest outing converts to an acronym that represents a megalithic presence in all of our online-driven lives, one way or the other. For, the very premise of Meenakshi Sundareshwar is based on a company’s hiring policy that’s so ludicrous, you just may be tempted to dial a Helpline for Harried Software Employees. But only for a mini-second.
In an arranged-marriage-meet switcheroo do the families of Meenakshi (Sanya Malhotra) and Sunderashwar (Abhimanyu Dassani) exchange banal talk; while Sunder’s brother eyes the ras malai sweet (in a traditional Madurai home? Not halwa?), he’s got only her in his line of vision. The pair marries a jiffy: he is in love with code, she with Superstar Rajnikanth— and as they finish quaffing strengthening turmeric milk for their nocturnal action—she shares the drink with him—he gets a mail for an interview call that he must be prepping for right away. That isn’t the point here. The thrust (no pun intended) is that she shares the glass of milk with him. With writer Aarsh Vora, director Soni keeps reminding us that Meenakshi is no push-over. She’s got a mind of her own, one that she doesn’t hesitate in applying to try and manipulate situations when she thinks her man is slipping through her henna-painted fingers.
For that fraught situation, she—and we—have the Bangalore-based Syspace Technologies and its CEO Senthil (Sukhesh Arora) to thank. Believe it or code, the company hires only single, unmarried folks. They’re like raw juice, you see; no additives, no fetters, no life. And then it flashes: under the garb of externally-projected work-life balance policies, how many organizations actually care about their employees’ familial lives? This outlandish premise held the promise of some complex negotiations, madcap fare, and perhaps some corporate cocking-a-snook: a feat achieved with sly success by the director duo Raj-DK in A Gentleman, then to roaring applause in The Family Man (Season 2). Predicating a movie plot on a pivotal policy that affects its lead characters is a tight rope act. There’s much that can be done and undone for them, even as it gnaws at their relationship. Here, that hiring point only means M&S have to live apart and try their hand at a failed S&M online session. While that scene’s a lot of fun, there’s still much sizzling potential that’s left in empty corners of the Madurai homes and the snazzy Bangalore digs that Sunder shares with his Syspace colleagues. Again, those interactions are, like the rest of the movie, mild repartees and light banter. There’s neither intensity nor urgency to the conversations or the long-distance canoodling. In short, director Soni avoids the tightrope and takes the escalator instead.
And yet, despite its flaws and casual approach to authenticity—apart from the ras malaization of Madurai and its traditional households, Syspace’s gathering is at a venue that has Sarjapur Road, Jayanagar as its address: a production miss as unforgivable as the out-of-place local language signages in an automated Mumbai car park in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol—the movie is an amiable, light-touch cinematic snack, albeit one that could’ve been tighter. The supporting cast—Shiv Kumar Subramaniam, Komal Chhabria, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Nivedita Bhargava, and Kalp Shah, among others—is good, though quite some of them slip their accents on straight-forward paths.
However, it’s the lead pair who lends minor heft to their act and relationship. Abhimanyu Dassani, who was so good in the terrific Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, does a junior R. Madhavan turn here. Mild, well-mannered, and absolutely likable, his performance is subdued and sweet. Sanya Malhotra is a sparkler, her burst of Rajnikanth mimicry a spontaneous combustion of fandom and devotion. Elsewhere, she breaks into a waltz with Sunder’s shirt on the hanger as a prop. Just for a wee bit, you get a glimpse into her miming prowess. She’s natural and controlled in her showdown scenes with Sunder’s family, giving authentic angst to her character, who must now kowtow to a family looking askance at her friendship with Ananthan (Varun Shashi Rao), an ex-flame whose intentions are entirely honorable. You look at her and sigh in space—the movie could’ve done so much more with its lead pairs’ arcs and passions in its extended running time. But even if it doesn’t, they know—as do you—that there’s nothing that a lip lock and the magic of cinema can’t solve.
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Meenakshi Sundareshwar is streaming on Netflix and rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for mild sensuality involving turmeric milk and hand cuffs.
Director Vivek Soni Time 2h 20min
Writers Vivek Soni, Aarsh Vora
Stars Abhimanyu Dassani, Sanya Malhotra, Purnendu Bhattacharya
Genres Comedy, Romance