A still from Kushi. (courtesy: thedeverakonda)
Romance, melodrama and liberal doses of comedy coalesce in the uneven but visually arresting Kushi, written and directed by Shiva Nirvana. The film's primary theme hinges on a faith versus science debate, a phenomenon that plays spoilsport in the lives of a married couple essayed by Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Ruth Prabhu.
If that sounds like an promising premise - it is definitely interesting to begin with - the film uses it only as a plot element to underscore the fact that a clash of worldviews can ruin a relationship. But since Kushi is a love story designed to give Vijay Deverakonda's fans value for money, it finds a way of restoring order. It ties up in knots at times because the route it takes to a denouement would have been dismissed as convoluted had it not been visible from a mile away.
The male protagonist, Viplav, works in a telephone exchange in Kashmir, where he chances upon Ara "Begum" (Samantha Ruth Prabhu) and falls in love with her. She tries her best to fob him off. The lover boy isn't one to give up easily. The lady comes around to his overtures soon enough.
But, hang on, this isn't about an inter-faith relationship of the kind at the heart of Mani Ratnam's Bombay - there are plenty of references to the veteran filmmaker and his work strewn across Kushi. Turns out that Ara "Begum" is Aradhya, a girl from a conservative upper caste Hindu family. Her father, Chadarangam Srinivasa Rao (Murali Sharma), is a man of religion and conservative to the core.
Trouble erupts in paradise because Viplav's father Lenin Sathya (Sachin Khedekar) is an atheist who will have none of what Aradhya's family suggests as a prerequisite to their marriage. With no option left, Aradhya and Viplav get hitched against the wishes of their fathers.
It is all hunky dory as long as the honeymoon lasts, but once the reality of their conflicting backgrounds kicks in things begin to turn sour. Matters aren't helped when pregnancy complications arise and give the orthodox Hindu religious preacher-patriarch a stick to beat the rationalist with.
The Telugu-language Kushi (also released in Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi) would have been quite a film had it opted to devote more thought and space to the conflict between superstition and rationalism. It goes down that path for a bit but veers away all too soon.
Kushi throws too many balls up in the air. A few of them just vanish without a trace. What doesn't is a comedy track designed that is designed to that liven up the proceedings. It serves its purpose to a point but also tends to dilute the principal burden of the story.
Sachin Khedekar and Murali Sharma give their roles their best shots. Unfortunately, because of the way they are written, the two characters are no more than caricatures that stand for two opposing viewpoints. Their clash is a mere contrivance and not really the centre of the film. That robs Kushi of the chance of being a romantic drama with a real difference.
While Kushi, banking on the magnetism that Vijay Deverakonda (coming off the disastrous Liger and in need of a hit) exudes and the chemistry that he shares with Samantha (out to live down Shaakuntalam), wants to tell its audience that love conquers all, it spends a large portion of its 165-minute runtime emphasising that those who do not agree with each other will always struggle to live under one roof.
If we take that supposition as a commentary on the fractious world that we live in today, is Kushi suggesting that acceptance, tolerance and respect for diversity aren't ideals worth fighting for? It is probably not doing that because it is after a feel-good film that ends on an all-is-well-with-the-world note.
It throws in a completely sorted but wholly unoriginal inter-faith couple, Zoya and Thomas (played by Rohini and Jayaram respectively), to drive home the obvious message that differences need not get in the way of the human quest for happiness. The superficiality of the ideas that it transmits prevents the film from being a serious, in-depth exploration of the war of ideologies in personal and familial spaces.
Kushi would have had many more pluses to its credit had it dared to break away with intent from its commitment to steering clear of the complexities of the human mind and heart. It barters away the potential for occasional pointed profundity and settles for an unchallenging and entertaining film.
The flip manner that Kushi consistently favours aids it to put together quite a few crowd-pleasing set-ups that alternate between the humorous and the emotionally engaging.
One of the strongest points of Kushi is, of course, the music composed by Hesham Abdul Wahab. Cinematographer Murali G. does a fabulous job of rustling up images that are easy on the eye. He uses the Kashmir passages to bring back memories of the luminous frames that Santosh Sivan conjured up in the 1990s for Roja and Dil Se.
For all the surface beauty that Kushi assembles on the screen in terms of the compositions (both visual and musical) and a lead pair endowed with oodles of charm, it always feels like a film that isn't going as far as it could have. It holds itself back quite palpably from being an all-out celebration of the tapestry of ideas that lend a society such as ours its dynamism, energy and variety.
There is no dearth of ideas in Kushi - in fact, there are too many of them for the good of the film- but it does not follow them to their logical end and lets the lure to boost the entertainment quotient dictate the eventual shape. It could have been a timely ode to love across differences. Instead, it is just another love story that banks on the lead actors, the music and the technical finesse for salvation.
Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Vijay Deverakonda, Lakshmi, Murli Sharma