‘Director Gomtesh Upadhye’s Telugu web series Kumari Srimathi, headlined by Nithya Menen, introduces us to a side of East Godavari that mainstream Telugu cinema, with its box office constraints, would hesitate to explore. The seven-episode series written by Srinivas Avasarala and produced by Early Monsoon Tales, a web division of Vyjayanthi Movies, raises a toast to rural entrepreneurship and shatters stereotypes with an easy dose of humour. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Kumari Srimathi is a story of a dysfunctional family in which the gutsy yet vulnerable women deal with the mess created by two men, one who is irresponsible and the other, an opportunist consumed by greed.
A spacious house with old-world charm shown in the first episode of Kumari Srimathi becomes the moot point for Srinivas Avasarala to weave a story of three generations of women, portrayed by Talluri Rameshwari, Gowtami, Nithya Menen and Praneeta Pattanaik, each rising to challenging situations in their own way. A mainstream Telugu film of the late 1990s or early 2000s would have spun a familiar tale of a large family where the patriarch held sway and the women moved around the house with the rustle of finest silks.
We are introduced to the protagonist, Srimathi (Nithya Menen), who has the courage to take on all the odds stacked against her, beginning with her name. In Telugu, the word ‘srimathi’ denotes a married woman but here she is, 30 and single, and forever drawing curious remarks regarding her name and asserting that she is kumari or miss Srimathi! The grandmother understands where Srimathi gets her dogged determination from to take on her uncle in a court battle to win the ancestral house. The mother, Devika (Gowtami), may come across as a regular on-screen mother who chides Srimathi for taking on too many battles rather than being pragmatic and get married and lead a normal life. But hers, too, is a story of grit and determination, which we learn eventually.
Kumari Srimathi (Telugu)
Cast: Nithya Menen, Gowtami, Thiruveer
Direction: Gomtesh Upadhye
Storyline: Srimathi has six months to earn 39 lakhs and win back her ancestral home. Opening a bar in her village seems like a profitable business solution, but there are hurdles.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The tension in this dysfunctional family plays out in a bitter-sweet fashion, underlining the warmth among the women. Srimathi is the feisty crusader and is complemented by the quiet and supportive younger sister, Kalyani (Praneeta), who does her share of weightlifting for the family. As a hotel management graduate, Srimathi speaking English and working in a restaurant is a rarity in her village, Ramarajulanka. We see her zest for life when she takes on her boss by stating that he should be content with her Telugu-laced English for the paltry sum he pays her.
The real fun begins when, fuelled by the need to earn 39 lakhs within a stipulated time to win back her ancestral home, Srimathi decides to open a bar in the village. She senses the opportunity for profitable business thanks to the ever-thirsty folks in her village who travel to the nearby village to get their dose of liquor.
The story narrates Srimathi’s journey with all the aspects we would expect — shock and awe from the family and the village folks. The next few episodes almost become like a procedural about how to open a bar in a village. Srimathi has to navigate the government dos and don’ts, get the liquor license and balance building a profitable business and tempering it with social responsibility.
It might be incidental that Nithya, who starred in the best episode of Prime Video’s first Telugu anthology Modern Love Hyderabad, now headlines a rural story, with equal spunk. If Srimathi has all the qualities required to be a sharp businesswoman with gumption but is equally naive and vulnerable, Nithya transforms into the perfect fit to play that part. She could be turning down a wedding proposal one moment and gorging on a plate of jalebis without remorse and, blushing with enthusiasm when she meets a childhood crush after a long time.
Srimathi and her different suitors, ranging from the supportive neighbour Sriram (Nirupam) to Abhinav (Thiruveer gets to play hero material, a dashing pilot) and Avasarala himself in a cameo, among others, all have a part to play in Srimathi’s journey. We stay invested in her journey, though some hurdles get resolved in a simplistic manner with a few cinematic liberties thrown in.
The smaller moments and supporting characters add their bit to make the series engaging, such as a friend who wants to partake in the business and a teacher who doubles up as an accountant after he sheds his cynicism.
Kumari Srimathi revels in the multifaceted women who form the crux of the story but makes some of its men unidirectional. The uncle and father characters aren’t tough to see through at all. Other smaller moments seem casual, like Srimathi’s admiration for actor Nani, which has a delightfully fun payoff later in the story. The running gag about the word nincompoop being passed off as ‘lincolndoop’ by the villagers, though, loses its novelty soon.
The beating heart of Kumari Srimathi are its women — Nithya, Talluri Rameshwari, Gowtami and Praneeta. The series may or may not linger on our minds long after we watch it, but it is delightful while it lasts.