Ambajipeta Marriage Band Review: Suhas, Sharanya Pradeep’s engaging rural drama is a rebellious plea for self-respect, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur
Malli and Padma are twins born to a small-time barber in a village in Andhra Pradesh. While Malli shifts between his father’s saloon and works for a marriage band, Padma is a revered school teacher. Padma’s professional growth sparks rumours of an affair with a village head Venkat. Malli, incidentally, falls in love with Venkat’s sister Lakshmi.
From Rojulu Marayi to Sakshi to Mana Voori Pandavulu and Osey Ramulamma, stories of rural rebellion have consistently found acceptance in Telugu cinema, provided filmmakers made a concerted effort to understand, depict ground realities of their ambience effectively.
The cinematic grammar and the tone of the narratives have changed from time to time and Ambajipeta Marriage Band is a necessary upgrade to the genre, reflecting an insider’s trauma with greater rootedness. Dushyanth Katikaneni earnestly attempts to paint an authentic portrait of his village.
It’s refreshing to notice how the industry is gradually distancing itself from rosy fictional fantasies in village backdrops. Ambajipeta Marriage Band has a simplistic conflict, but the director peels the various layers in his world and creates powerful, stubborn characters that are worth rooting for.
The first hour of the film, expectedly, tries to lay a firm foundation for the conflict, but the storytelling is jerky in places. In Suhas’ Malli, the film finds a capable underdog while Sharanya Pradeep as the empowered Padma raises uncomfortable questions and stands up for herself whenever necessary.
Malli-Padma’s bond drives the tale forward but there’s a fine subplot revolving around obscene sketches of a woman on the wall. Malli’s friend erases the sketches at every occurrence and gives them a renewed identity as he repaints the wall. There’s a love story to add another dimension to the proceedings.
While Suhas and Shivani Nagaram (as Lakshmi) do their best to play a lovestruck pair, the romance portions are rather pedestrian. The references to landlines, blank calls, STD booths, Abbas, greeting cards and popular films try to distract you from the obvious.
Through the egoistic village head Venkat, the director offers glimpses of the region’s twisted power hierarchy and the lengths to which his family goes to maintain its elite stature. There’s no systemic justice and the cops do little to help the common man.
Ambajipeta Marriage Band holds its ground because of Padma’s resilience. The characterisation is largely consistent and she’s a rebel by birth. She is upright and doesn’t rely on a man to fight for her cause and Sharanya Pradeep’s intense portrayal gives the right emotional heft to the core conflict.
An intense pre-intermission sequence paves the way for a gripping ‘David vs Goliath’ clash. A satyagraha-style rebellion, where a woman in her plea for self-respect, unites an entire village. Through the confrontation, the director debates the ideas of masculinity, casteism, justice, redemption and sisterhood convincingly.
There are several stand-out sequences reflecting the writers’ brilliance. Look for the scene where a widowed mother comes in support of Padma and schools her wayward son. Padma’s interaction with Venkat’s wife and how she politely rejects her support, unless the latter goes public with her act, haunts you for long.
Sometimes, the director makes the mistake of over-explaining his ideas through dialogues, when silence could’ve done the job. The resolution, still, is quite satisfying while delivering poetic justice with the right cinematic touches. The film’s intent comes to the fore with enough intensity.
Suhas is the right choice to be the face of the underdog rebellion, yet one feels he’s playing a different version of the characters he played in Colour Photo and Writer Padmabhushan. Sharanya Pradeep packs a punch in a terrific role with a voice that doesn’t reduce her to a sympathetic victim.
Shivani Nagaram displays enough spunk and vulnerability in her confident debut performance. The villainy in the film may be outdated but Nithin Prasanna plays his part with restraint and is menacing without unnecessary exaggeration. Jagadeesh Pratap Bhandari, Goparaju Ramana, Surabhi Prabhavathi, Kittayya, Gayathri Bhargavi and others make for a solid supporting lineup.
Wajid Baig, the cinematographer, ensures that the film remains visually vibrant, as per the needs of the story. The music score enriches the highs and lows of the tale – Gumma Gumma, in particular, is instantly catchy and is beautifully shot. Director Dushyanth Katikaneni makes a promising debut but can do better to make his writing more coherent and focused.
Ambajipeta Marriage Band is a gripping tale of rural rebellion, ably spearheaded by Suhas and Sharanya Pradeep. Debutant Dushyanth Katikaneni embellishes a simplistic premise with humour, powerful characters and smart social commentary.