MLA movie review: Kalyanram and Kajal try hard, but the Upendra Madhav-directorial has no soul
Inspite of being just above two hours in duration, MLA seems like a three-hour long excuse to say something that has been said plenty of times before.
There are two kinds of films - the ones you watch, and then, there are those which you truly experience. But MLA falls into a different category. It's the kind of film that you stare at with a blank expression.
Twenty minutes into MLA - Manchi Lakshnalunna Abbayi (The Boy With Good Qualities), it becomes quite evident that the director of the film was a writer first. That’s because in the first act of the film all you see is a bunch of actors just delivering their lines without any real feelings. In MLA, that ‘magic bonding’ is what goes for a toss. In the end, what we get is, a film that feels like a garland of the best scenes from several films strung together, but it doesn’t have anything which makes it unique. In other words, it lacks soul.
MLA is the story about Kalyan (Kalyanram) and his belief in a ‘magic bonding’ with Indu (Kajal). The entire first half is spent on building up a make-belief story that is silly at best, which brings the two closer. But the twist is that Indu isn’t who she claims to be. This, in turn, forces Kalyan to go on another journey to set things right.
Writer-and-director Upendra spends ample time in trying to turn Kalyanram into the epitome of all the good qualities a man is ought to possess. He’s kind, caring, knowledgeable, and brave. He’ll do anything to make his friends and loved ones happy. So, when he’s forced to take up a challenge, he doesn’t hesitate even for a moment. If there was a chance to make the hero vulnerable, Upendra Madhav buries that thought deep in the ground even before the film takes off.
But then, he isn’t interested in building any solid backstories or characterisations for other actors. If it wasn’t for a song ‘Hey Indu’, you won’t even remember what Kajal's name is by the time the film ends. You can't help but empathise with Kajal - she's there throughout the film, but has nothing to do either. Every single actor in the film, right from Brahmanandam to Jayaprakash Reddy, is turned into a caricature and it's painful to watch. Ravi Kishan, who plays the antagonist, seems like he’s trapped in a time loop where his role in Race Gurram, where he played a corrupt politician Siva Reddy, becomes a template for every other role of similar nature.
The only different aspect which MLA tries to highlight is education and child labour. To give credit where it’s due, it’s perhaps the only thing worth remembering while watching the film. But if the second half of the film kind of reminds you of Srimanthudu, then you aren’t alone. It’s just what every do-gooder is expected to do when he goes to a village that he has never been to…isn’t it? The lack of drama throughout the film makes it even more laborious to watch. You have to really watch it to believe that it’s just two hours nine minutes long, because it feels like a three-hour excuse to say something that has been said plenty of times before.
Truth is, it’s hard to find anything to root for while watching MLA. You could argue that since it’s a commercial film, all it has to do is entertain you. But does it? When Posani Krishna Murali is introduced as a pervert, I should have known that MLA is going to test my patience. If this was meant to be ‘fun’, then I’m clearly at loss of words to describe how irritating the film is.
It tries to find its feet on the ground, finally, when the story moves to the village, but there are absolutely no surprises even there too. Whatever emotion it tries to milk while talking about child labour, it’s not enough to make you forget the rest of the experience. MLA might be the story of a manchi abbayi (Good Boy), but as a film, it is - Movie Lifeless Anta.
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