Awe! movie review: Prasanth Varma’s genre-bender pushes the envelope, but doesn’t quite hit the mark

Hemanth Kumar

February 16, 2018 15:46:15 IST

3/5

Seven stories. 115 minutes. One common thread. And a thrilling climax. If Prasanth Varma’s directorial debut Awe! leaves you perplexed, then you are not alone. It is a film which not only pushes the envelope in terms of what is acceptable to do within the realm of Telugu cinema but also poses a huge challenge before us.

A promotional still of Awe!. Twitter

A promotional still of Awe!. Twitter

No matter how cool the story sounds and how amazing some of its ideas are, it does not quite feel like an engaging drama. At every turn, it expects us to keep up with its pace and dramatic shifts. It is awesome at times but frustrating to watch, mostly. 

It is difficult to talk about the film without diving deep into the seven stories, each different from one another, but revealing anything about them would be a crime. Awe! is a film that has to be experienced for what it is worth and only then it begins to make sense why it leaves us with mixed feelings in the end. Having said that, it is also important to acknowledge what Awe! manages to achieve behind the veneer of its ambitiousness.

It finds plenty of space to address several issues that usually get a lip-service in most films. Take for instance, the segment revolving around Nithya Menen and Eesha. I cannot think of any other film in recent times that addressed gender issues in such a meaningful and well-intentioned manner. In a span of 20 minutes, the segment focusing on these actors turns into a commentary on marriage, gender, mental health and child abuse among many other things. Then there is another segment featuring Srinivas Avasarala which deals with time travel. Then, there is another segment shot on Priyadarshi, which draws parallels between people who fall short of achieving their dreams and how they find solace in each other’s company. 

Awe! gave me plenty of reasons to root for the concept, because let us face it, when was the last time you saw a Telugu film which expected you to pay so much attention to every single thing that happens on screen? The discovery of a necklace turns into a nightmare for a character, a magician’s ego becomes his biggest enemy, a chef’s naivety turns into a life and death issue for another character. And above all, a woman’s haunting memories reach to a point that they crush her soul. 

Things like these should have ideally been ‘awesome' at every stage but no matter how much I think about Awe!, it left an empty feeling within. We are expected to feel different emotions within a span of 115 minutes but the film runs faster than what our minds can process in the meantime. There is never enough time to sit back and brood upon what just happened on screen. By the time we figure it out, the narrative would have moved three steps ahead. 

The performances are top-notch throughout the film. Whether it is Nithya Menen as a psychiatrist, or Priyadarshi as a chef, or even the fish and a bonsai tree, every actor has a distinct character which clashes with the personality of others within their subplot. Kajal Aggarwal too gets plenty to work with within her limited screen time and she emotes quite well. Regina Cassandra, Eesha, Srinivas Avasarala, Rohini and Devadarshini too have interesting roles, and they deliver noteworthy performances. The film’s production design and Karthik Ghattamneni’s cinematography are impressive, and kudos to music composer Mark Robbin for giving a distinct texture to all the different sub-plots. 

At some level, the film feels like an ode to classics and acclaimed films, like Wall-E, Ratatouille and even Inside Out, that perhaps influenced Varma; but I can only take a wild guess. Leaving all this aside, the sudden and often dramatic shifts in the genre almost force you to recalibrate what you feel about the film at every level. Yet, it feels like somewhere in those seven subplots, there lies an ingenious narrative that could have been a more satisfying watch. It does not feel over-indulgent because Varma has a solid grip on his craft and knows the impact he wants to create with every twist and turn but the moment you begin to feel that Awe! is a cool concept that does not have the same impact when it is turned into a film, it ceases to have the same impact.

On a different note, there’s an inherent problem with hyperlink cinema. If one of the stories feels out of place, then the whole balance is shaken. Awe! faces a similar issue although it ends on a high note. To its credit, it is a one-of-its kind film, which is a rarity in Telugu cinema; and for that alone, Prasanth Varma and rest of the team deserve a pat on the back. But the question is — will you overlook everything it does not get right because it has a great ending or will you judge it like any other film? The moment you figure out an answer, you will know whether Awe! is ‘Awesome’ or ‘Awful’. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Updated Date: Feb 16, 2018 15:46 PM