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Sundaram Master Review

Sundaram Master is confused about what it wants to be, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur


Sundar Rao is a self-obsessed government school teacher on the cusp of marriage. Luring Sundar with a promotion, a crooked politician with an ulterior motive entrusts him with the task of teaching English to an indigenous tribe. During his engagement with the tribals, Sundar’s outlook towards life changes forever.


Even if a filmmaker isn’t out to tell a pathbreaking story, what matters more in cinema is clarity of thought. Precisely, Sundaram Master is a humanistic drama, charting the self-transformation of an arrogant school teacher. In addition, Kalyan Santhosh also views this as a social commentary, an absurdist comedy, a man versus nature saga and puts all his eggs in the same basket.

Sundar Rao is a barely likeable protagonist. He’s full of himself, doesn’t even care to look at a potential bride, begins discussing his dowry, munching on savouries with his future father-in-law and simultaneously discusses another match over a phone call with a marriage broker. When an unexpected assignment comes his way, he views it as an excuse to demand more dowry.

The tale takes a definitive turn when he’s deputed as an English teacher in a tribal region and he’s forced to mend his ways. The tribe’s origins date back to the colonial era, when a leader trains them to speak in English, cuts them off from the world and grooms them to be self-sufficient. The tribals live as a single unit, and are innocent, animalistic, funny, superstitious and ignorant – all at once.

The director even takes a dig at Telugu cinema’s obsession with colour by twisting the equation in favour of blacks. Being dark-skinned is a privilege in the tribal region – multiple women bicker among themselves to marry one. Sundaram is pleasantly surprised when women blush in his presence. Uncorrupted by the lust for money/power, people in the region are named after their professions.

Sundaram Master’s intentions are genuine though the film is too distracted to let the viewer buy the premise. The insensitive comedy track mirroring Sundar’s cultural clashes nearly derails the film, even before it gains steam in the second hour. A bulk of the conflicts are silly and there’s no strong emotional drive to warrant your interest.

Kalyan Santosh’s strength is the human drama when he contrasts the modern world’s arrogance with the rootedness of an indigenous tribe. He pays an unexpected tribute to Yuvraj Singh’s 6-sixes record, equating the match to a war between India and the British. While the effort is to explain cricket in simplistic terms to the tribals, the parallel is too far-fetched to make an impact.

The film roams around in circles to emphasise the untainted ways of the tribe. There’s an intriguing subplot surrounding a Durga idol, but the director struggles to milk it for all its worth. Sundaram Master ends on a high, where currency notes are merely regarded as a piece of paper and valued more for Gandhi’s presence. As Sundar leaves the region, he ‘symbolically’ abandons all his baggage.

Sundaram Master could’ve been a feel-good man vs nature tale, provided there was more conviction and clearer direction in the storytelling.  The tribal slang is all over the place with several inconsistencies in the diction throughout the film. The verbal humour with the locals’ anglicised origins is briefly entertaining though.

Harsha Chemudu chooses an ideal role to mark his transition as a male lead – the part is tailored to his strengths and there’s abundant scope to portray his worth as a performer. Sri Divya Sripada shares a warm on-screen camaraderie with Harsha and their intimate verbal exchanges are perhaps the soul of the film. Harsha Vardhan is first rate as the wily, crooked politician.

The casting decisions for the tribals merit praise and Chaitu Babu as Sundar’s ever-dependable aide Ojha is the pick of the lot. Sri Charan Pakala finally gets a chance to move beyond his comfort zone and uses several potent situations in the film to lend rusticity to the proceedings. Deepak Yeragera’s cinematography does justice in exploring the lush green rural landscapes to the fullest.


Sundaram Master is a distracted, half-convincing drama that mirrors the morally corrupt ways of the modern world through an arrogant teacher’s encounter with an indigenous tribe. While Harsha Chemudu anchors the tale with a believable performance, the mishmash of humour, drama and social commentary isn’t quite fulfilling.

Rating: 2.5/5