Mathu Vadalara movie review: Ritesh Rana's thriller is a superb blend of suspense and comedy

Mathu Vadalara is a worthy addition to the new age Telugu cinema, and it wins you over with its clever use of humour and suspense to build a gripping narrative

Hemanth Kumar December 26, 2019 12:34:21 IST


The opening sequence of Mathu Vadalara, directed by newcomer Ritesh Rana, is a sight to behold. The story begins in October, 2016, and somewhere in Hyderabad, three friends live together in a dingy room, and the apartment itself is almost in shambles. There’s water leaking through the ceiling and the camera zooms in on Babu (Simha), who’s fast asleep. His roommate, Abhi (Naresh Agastya) wakes up and starts watching an episode of Breaking Bad, which he follows religiously. Babu wakes up with a jolt when the water, leaking from the ceiling drop by drop, fills his mouth to the brim. He switches on the TV and there’s a popular Telugu TV serial on air where a man refuses to die until his wife feeds him the prasadam at the temple, and continues to talk to her despite being shot in the head. This is the crazy, trippy, and bizarre world that Ritesh introduces us, and the film itself lives up to the promise until it unravels the mystery in the final stretch.

The story of Mathu Vadalara is about greed and how it might land us in trouble more often than not. And to illustrate this point, the film focuses on the lives of Babu and his other roommate Yesu (Satya), who work as delivery executives. However, both of them are frustrated with their meager salaries. When Babu tells Yesu that he wants to quit his job and go back to his village, Yesu convinces him to stay back for a day and follows him to learn some tricks to make money while delivering packages.

Mathu Vadalara movie review Ritesh Ranas thriller is a superb blend of suspense and comedy

Still from Mathu Vadalara. YouTube

When Babu realises that Yesu has been duping customers, he finds himself in a moral dilemma of whether to follow the same path or not. The next day, he decides to continue his job and make a quick buck by using the same tricks which his friend uses, but little does he know that his life isn’t going to be the same ever again. He kills an old woman accidentally, finds himself trapped in a house, and dozes off for hours altogether, and when he wakes up, he spots another dead body next to him. The rest of the story is about how Babu manages to recount the proceedings and unravel the mystery.

The first half of the film, in particular, is a superb blend of suspense and comedy. This is the closest anyone has come to recreate the feel and tension of Karthik Subbaraj’s Pizza where Vijay Sethupathi, a pizza delivery boy, gets trapped in a haunted house.

However, Mathu Vadalara doesn’t take the same route to create an element of horror. Unlike Pizza, this story unfolds in broad daylight and the thrills that Ritesh generates, have more to do with an unusual situation where Babu has to clear a crime scene.

In a way, Ritesh Rana’s filmmaking style has traces of Edgar Wright’s fantasy action film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the debutant filmmaker is in firm control of the stylistic choices he makes to narrate the story in a new way. The TV serial from the opening sequence, which gets increasingly bizarre, runs like a time-stamp throughout the story and it’s an important element in Ritesh’s arsenal of storytelling techniques to break the flow of the narrative before he jumps into another sequence. Every move of Babu in the first half, and the mistakes he makes, are used as twists in the latter portions, and it forces us to pay attention to every scene as the suspense builds. But it doesn’t get too serious either because Satya never lets the audience forget that they are watching a quirky comedy film which is disguised as a suspense thriller.

The film’s run time is just around 135 minutes and Mathu Vadalara keeps you hooked for almost 110 minutes without any hiccups, which is the biggest surprise of them all. But the moment it tries to unravel the mystery, it goes into a different trajectory and the backstory itself lacks the zing which the film builds until that point of time. It’s still sensible and has a few laughs, but you also get a feeling that the film is taking itself too seriously, which changes the tone of the story. The final stretch dampens the mood to an extent and the film’s climax, where all the characters get high in a literal sense, doesn’t really help to redeem itself.

The film’s casting is brilliant. While Simha shines in his role as Babu, whose moral compass tilts in the right direction, it’s Satya who steals the thunder with his rib-tickling comedy. Naresh Agastya makes a good impression too, and another actress Athulya delivers a noteworthy performance. Vennela Kishore, Vidyullekha Raman, Brahmaji, Pavala Shyamala, and Ajay too deliver credible performances.

Kalabhairava makes a solid debut as a music director and the background score is really good. The film also scores high in terms of its cinematography, writing, and more importantly, it marks the arrival of promising new talent, Ritesh Rana. His masterstroke might very well be how he ends the story which, despite a tepid third act, leaves you thinking a lot more about greed, money, and making life-changing decisions. And once again, he uses a time-stamp to do this. It’s 8 November, 2016 and the camera focuses is on TV once again on a speech. That’s when you realise that Mathu Vadalara isn’t so much about letting go off your laziness or staying away from drugs. It’s meant to wake you up from your slumber and look at the world around you. A big thumbs up to the film.

Rating: 3.25 stars

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