Mental Madhilo movie review: Love trumps confusion in Vivek Athreya’s sparkling debut
A clash of personalities is what makes Mental Madhilo an interesting film right from the beginning
In Vivek Athreya’s Mental Madhilo, starring Sree Vishnu and Nivetha Pethuraj, there’s a charming backstory about a young boy, Aravind Krishna, whose teacher is flabbergasted when she looks at his answer sheets. He aces everything, except multiple choice questions. Why? Because he doesn’t know what the right answer is.
From his perspective, everything seems right. And he’s so conflicted about what to choose that he decides to leave it blank. This trait becomes the defining factor in Aravind Krishna’s life as he grows up, until one day he’s forced to make a choice against all odds.
The romantic drama genre is often riddled with battle of sexes sort of cliches, but what differentiates Mental Madhilo is how well it breaks free from such stereotypes to offer us a story about Aravind Krishna (Sree Vishnu), who musters courage, despite him bring overtly shy, to seek help from a woman, Swetcha (Nivetha Pethuraj), who maybe his prospective bride, about a variety of issues, right from how to talk to other women to making right choices in life.
When the two first meet each other, he asks her, “How does one talk to women? Even if this match doesn’t work out, I might use your advice if I meet another girl.” She literally handholds him to turn him into a confident young man, although even he isn’t sure if he has changed as a person. Because, we are told, he tends to get confused even after making a choice. This is a pretty big deal if you have seen enough Telugu films, and Vivek Athreya, along with a terrific Sree Vishnu, make us reflect on the whole idea of machismo that’s ubiquitous in films. Instead, what we are left with is a sensitive story of guy who doesn’t know how to react when two women fall in love with him.
Mental Madhilo is also an intricate character study of three different lives - There’s Aravind Krishna, the perennially confused guy, Swetcha, the uber confident urban girl, and Renuka, who’s looking for solace in her life after a tragedy breaks her soul. Aravind Krishna doesn’t like choices, and he even goes to the extent of keeping only one shirt on the hanger because he’s afraid that he might get confused about what to wear every morning. Swetcha knows instantly that Aravind is the guy she wants to marry and when asked why, she says, “I know what I want.”
In another instance, she tells Aravind, who she calls Aru, that even she gets confused at times, but like her, most people pretend to be confident and move on in life. And Renuka, like Aravind says, is full of surprises, like reading a book. She adds colour to Aravind’s life and pushes him to loosen up a little more, so much that he slowly realises some of his fantasies coming true.
It’s a clash of personalities and this is what makes Mental Madhilo an interesting film right from the beginning. And quite frankly, I can’t remember the last time I saw a film which portrayed the awkwardness of an arrange marriage this accurately. Aravind’s father, played by a wonderful Shivaji Raja, gets frustrated when he hears girls rejecting Aravind’s proposal one after another. And when finally Swetcha says yes, he’s astonished and asks his son, “What in God’s name did you say while interacting with her? She said yes!” And the reaction from Aravind is like the film itself - no drama. He just blushes and begins to dream about a new phase in his life. It’s all understated and makes you want to thank God for letting one such film exist where people talk normally.
If there was an Oscar for being a good guy, then Sree Vishnu would be one of its top contenders. He’s pitch perfect in his role throughout the film and the best thing about him is that he doesn’t even have to try too hard to make you empathise with him. There’s a scene where he opens up about his own secret about why he quit a yoga class and he reveals the details with so much innocence that it doesn’t seem awkward at all. And Nivetha Pethuraj’s reaction sums it up why there couldn’t have been a better actor than Sree Vishnu to play this role. Mental Madhilo also introduces a terrific actress in Nivetha Pethuraj to Telugu cinema, and it’s easily one of the best performances of the year. Like Ritu Varma in Pellichoopulu, Nivetha too becomes the voice of reason in Mental Madhilo and she anchors the whole film with her verve. Amrutha Srinivasan, who plays Renuka, delivers a solid performance in her role.
For all the beautiful things that Mental Madhilo does, it’s important to note that it’s not a visual film. Its beauty lies in its conversations, intricate details about people and their personalities; however, it doesn’t let you marvel at how it’s reflected in its frames. The colours are subdued and it made me yearn a little more for a distinct visual and editing style when the narrative moves to the second chapter in Aravind Krishna’s life. Since the entire film is based on effect and its consequences, it gets predictable as it unfolds, and Vivek Athreya, who wrote and directed the film, doesn’t do much to change the rhythm or its tone, especially in the second half.
Having said that, everything that happens in the film happens for a reason and it’s all justified, but it’s just that after filling the first half with some of the best moments in the story, some of the ideas dry up in the latter half.
Prashanth R Vihari, music composer, fills up the film with his soulful music. It’s right there in every scene, never overpowering the characters, and the melody sticks in your mind and heart. Beyond all this, Mental Madhilo also gives us a young writer-director in the form of Vivek Athreya, who pretty much sticks to what he wants to say through the film. It’s still a regular Telugu film, and yet the structure of its story and what he wants us to observe feels fresh. Maybe, that’s the hallmark of a writer-director with an original voice.
Perhaps, making a simple film is tough after all, because you can’t go overboard or exaggerate anything. If that’s true then, Mental Madhilo accomplishes everything that it sets out to achieve. In its attempt to reflect life and how complicated it is, especially when it’s about making a choice, it offers a rather simple solution - Follow Your Heart. Because it knows best. A big thumbs up for Mental Madhilo. Love trumps confusion, in the end, after all.
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