'Anni Manchi Sakunamule', produced by Priyanka Dutt under Swapna Cinema and Mitra Vinda Movies, was released in theatres today (May 18).
The story is set in contemporary times in Coonoor. Rishi (Santosh Shoban) and Arya (Malvika Nair) were swapped at birth as it happened in 'Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo'. The difference is that there is no self-centered person who orchestrates the swapping.
Rishi grows up in the house of Prasad (Rajendra Prasad), while Arya is brought up by Prasad's rival (VK Naresh). The two families have been engaged in a legal battle over the ownership of a historic coffee estate. Rishi, meanwhile, is clandestinely in love with Arya. There comes a point when the two families are on the verge of coming together but there could be a twist. How do the unfolding dynamics between the two families affect Rishi and Arya? That's what the second half is about.
It would be a disservice to call Santosh and Malvika the lead pair. The film is a sure-footed family drama where senior artists get to shoulder the most important scenes. Rajendra Prasad and Rao Ramesh, VK Naresh and Gauthami hold many moments together.
In the first half, Santosh Sobhan is nothing more than a supporting artist. In 'Kalyanam Kamaneeyam' and 'Sridevi Sobhan Babu', the actor struggled in a few difficult scenes, but here, he hits the bull's eye in the second half. Malavika Nair is remarkable and looks more involved than in 'Phalana Abbayi Phalana Ammayi'. She is a non-Telugu actress who behaves like she knows and thinks in Telugu. Kudos to her impeccable talent.
One wishes the rest of the artists got a better deal. Sowcar Janaki and Urvashi (as the enfant terrible doctor whose recklessness sets up the film) make an impact, but Vasuki (as Rishi's sister), Vennela Kishore (as Rishi's brother-in-law), Ramya Subramanian, Anju Alva Naik, and Ashwin Kumar Lakshmikanthan hardly manage to sell their characters.
Mickey J Meyer's music is familiar yet feels intimate in the context of the film. Karthik's rendition of the title track is charming. Although 'Sita Kalyanam' is not novel, the emotions work. The background score doesn't attempt to be pathbreaking but it is soothing nevertheless.
The cinematographers (Sunny Kurapati and Richard Prasad) make the best use of the quiet hill station that is nestled away in scenic locations. The lush plantations and the rainforests, the fragrant gardens and other landscapes, add to the beauty of the film. Junaid Siddiqui's editing is not perfect.
Among family films, 'Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu' is considered mildly polarising. There are those who mock it to this day. There are those who embrace its subtlety and slice-of-life emotions. On the other hand, 'Shatamanam Bhavati' is universal and non-polarizing. 'Anni Manchi Shakunamule' falls in the first category. It will age well like 'SVSC', but it won't be a hit like 'SB'.
If you watch the film expecting routine pay-offs, you will be in for disappointment. 'AMS' expects the audience to understand the self-interests, persuasions, traits, and aspirations of its characters. If Arya is responsible, high-thinking, and emotionally mature, the male lead is a laggard. This element has been leveraged to build nice tension in the Rishi-Arya track. Till the pre-climax phase, they are not treated as a lead pair.
Director Nandini Reddy attempts an unconventional last 20 minutes. There is no exposition, there are no easy sermons, and there are no convenient accidents that suddenly happen in the climax. Yes, the reappearance of a character is an accident, but it is not contrived (at least in the context of this film, where everything is ultimately attributed to destiny).
The first 30-35 minutes of the second half are boring. This is where the film lacks a sense of plot. Everything appears to be so low-stakes. The drama turns lackluster, leaving the audience wondering what was the fuss about the first half.
Also, the film falters whenever it tries to evoke laughter. The comedy is jaded.
'AMS' is a sensible family drama despite some of its flaws. Its sensibilities are neat for a Telugu film. Don't expect the film to offer you typical family emotions.