Everyday moments presented with humour set the mood for the Telugu film Ashoka Vanam Lo Arjuna Kalyanam (AVAK), written by Ravi Kiran Kola and directed by Vidyasagar Chinta. Imagine this: A nondescript bus arrives in an East Godavari hamlet from Suryapet, filled with the bridegroom and his extended family. The photographer (Rajkumar Kasireddy) asks them to file out one by one from the bus, positioning himself such that he can capture all of them through his camera. Everyone watches in rapt attention as the photographer utters ‘ready, steady, action’. An over-enthusiastic uncle of the bride spoils a photo-worthy moment when the groom, Arjun Kumar Allam (Vishwak Sen), alights from the bus. The manner in which this sequence is orchestrated to the joyful music of Jay Krish hints that this could be a heartwarming film that can make viewers laugh and also give them something to chew on. The film lives up to that promise.
As the film unravels, we understand the reasoning behind the curious title. The protagonist is 33, searching for a soulmate and has had enough being asked why he is still single. Vishwak Sen transforms himself into Arjun, who is conscious of his not-so-fit physique; he is a nice guy who wants to be a family man and the rejection he has faced so far weighs on him. Through small mannerisms, he tries to conceal his angst with hope, as he spots the bride Madhavi (Rukshar Dhillon), a quiet woman who does not open up.
Ashoka Vanam Lo Arjuna Kalyanam
Cast: Vishwak Sen, Rukshar Dhillon, Ritika Nayak
Direction: Vidyasagar Chinta
Music: Jay Krish
The others do most of the talking for the two. Ritika Nayak as the bride’s chirpy sister, Kadambari Kiran as the loud, zealous uncle of the bride, Goparaju Ramana ( Middle Class Melodies fame) as the nitpicking elder from the groom’s family, Kedar Shankar as Arjun’s father and Vidya Sivalenka as Arjun’s benevolent sister are among the family members who drive the drama.
The janata curfew and first lockdown serve as tools to drive the plot. Rough edges surface as the house shelters the large group for days. We’ve seen some of these situations in lockdown-based short films and series, and yet, this film pulls it off thanks to the dependable cast. Some of the fun also arises from contrasting the Telangana and Andhra ways of life.
Arjun being 30+ and unmarried is only one part of the story. Issues such as caste and class differences, societal pressures on young men and women to get married early, the expectations families place on women… all these unravel. Grey areas are laid bare. Arjun’s family may not have demanded dowry from the bride’s family, but is it fair that they expect the family to cook and serve them through lockdown, without partaking in chores or picking up the tabs? In another scene, when an elder bemoans the arrival of another baby girl in the family, he is chided and reminded of the abysmal gender ratio.
While the first hour powers on with humour and old-world romance as Arjun tries to befriend the bride, the later portions explore issues that arise between well-intentioned people. The humour runs out after a point, akin to the fatigue over the seemingly never-ending lockdown. But soon, the narrative regains its rhythm as the story opens up new possibilities.
AVAK benefits from its large cast and technical team. Vishwak Sen takes the cake. Shorn of heroic frills, he submits himself to the story, unafraid to look a tad less glamorous and wears the insecurities of his character on his shoulders. Rukshar is saddled with a role that doesn’t give her the scope to do much; but within the given bandwidth, she stays true to the character. Ritika is an unlikely winner. Her character is designed to be annoying at first and she stays on cue, and it’s only later that we take a second look at her.
Without revealing spoilers, it would be fair to say this much — the film shows that it has its heart at the right place when a young girl is reminded of the goals she has set for herself. Arjun also learns to look beyond his own predicament of being 33 and single.
AVAK is a refreshing breather from the larger-than-life, star powered projects of late and can leave you with a smile.