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‘Malli Pelli’ review: A pulpy, persuasive hyper-meta love story

Express News Service

Nothing is what it seems like’, ‘There is more to what meets the eye’, and ‘People are never as good or as bad as we think they are’. These ubiquitous quotes, which act as a sobering reminder of the excesses of bias, assumptions and misconceptions embody various forms in Malli Pelli, MS Raju’s dramatised narration of Naresh’s and Pavithra Lokesh’s real-life love story.

One way of conveying a message is to just tell it out loud and get it over with. Launch into monologues that implore others to be better. The other, objectively smarter and more effective way of giving a message in a film is by giving it an allegorical treatment, nesting it in your narrative in such a way that your message reveals itself gradually to the audience, making the film open to more interpretation and widespread discourse.

Much like the way Malli Pelli did, rather neatly. Rarely does a film pander to your confirmation bias, only to prove you wrong later with a story more genuine and moving. Make no mistake, the film wears its campiness on its sleeve. But it is also, surprisingly, so much more.

The blurry lines between fact and fiction go beyond the obvious when Narendra (Naresh) meets Parvathi (Pavithra) on the sets of a film. While Narendra is instantly attracted, Parvathi is more guarded, requesting Narendra that they have a platonic relationship. Neither of them is in a healthy marriage. While Narendra is with a neglectful, manipulative and financially abusive woman, the origins of Parvathi’s marital life are much more heartbreaking.

The intentions of these characters, in different instances, are revealed in a series of scenes within the film they are filming. The creative liberties they have taken with the films-within-a-film are abundantly clear, considering they look nothing like the sets of Happy Wedding and Sammohanam, where Naresh and Pavithra have fallen in love. There is a proposal, a wedding and an earth-shattering revelation, shown as moments between action and cut. These scenes remind you of kids who play with dolls by dubbing lines for them, only to go, “oh I did not say it, my barbie did.”

There is another subplot with a writer at the centre of it all. His character, who has a thing for reversing gender roles, is a parallel echo of the film’s meta-ness. This writer, much like the film itself, is content with projecting truth through fiction, albeit to more hurtful ends.

While Malli Pelli liked to play games with its screenplay, showing one thing while revealing something else entirely, the film adopts a more on-the-nose approach with its emotions. There is an attempt, for sure, to destigmatise extramarital relationships here, by building backstories and reasons that honestly, make you root for the lead characters.

The film, with disarming earnestness, shows a journey of two individuals, who, not unlike Sundar and Leela from last year’s Ante Sundaraniki, find solace in each other, away from the unavoidable, painful aspects of their real life. There is a beautiful moment where Narendra remembers his own past trying to accept his stepfather, as he turns into a father figure to Parvathi’s children. If #LoveIsLove were to ever have a heterosexual reimagination, Malli Pelli would be it. The film also seems to question the value of a marriage at a philosophical level. What is the point of being legally bound if your relationship is hollow, bereft of love and respect? Where does a marriage gain its legitimacy from, a certificate or a healthy companionship of two souls, filled with intimacy and warmth?

Malli Pelli requires one to stick around, for the film sharpens its contours and brightens its hues with time, like a polaroid. It is not great at first, but the film does get more interesting on the go. The music of the film is effectively old-fashioned, using more traditional instruments like tabla and veena at a higher pitch to indicate drama and highlight tension. 

The last 20 minutes of the film lay bare a media trial, with a sequence plucked straight out of Princess Diana’s unfortunate demise. This is a story that has the vibe and the exciting, pulpy energy of a serialised story from Swathi Saparivara Patrika. There has been enough said about the speculative nature of the story and its veracity, but the film has been persuasive enough to leave one with this closing thought. “If people can be subjected to a media trial where narratives about them are spun with zero regard for ethics, is one not entitled to respond with their own multimedia arguments?” Malli Pelli rests its case here.

Malli Pelli

Cast: Naresh, Pavithra, Jayasudha, Vanitha Vijayakumar, Ananya Nagalla
Director: MS Raju

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