It takes courage to break free from the norm and try something new in terms of the structure of storytelling. Srikanth Nagothi, who has written and directed the Telugu film Month of Madhu, with an ensemble cast led by Swathi Reddy and Naveen Chandra, looks at relationships across age groups in a close-to-realistic manner. It is as though he and editor Ravikanth Perepu (who earlier wrote and directed Kshanamand Krishna and his Leela), with the help of cinematographer Rajeev Dharavath, decided to give us a peek into the lives of a bunch of people and their conversations, and in the process mirror relationships in all their complexities. They know that the format they are dabbling with may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they embrace the indie approach. The result is an imperfect yet moving drama of relationships.
Month of Madhu gets its name from two of its principal characters — a 19-year-old NRI Madhumathi (Shreya Navile) who comes to India to attend a family wedding, and Madhusudhan Rao (Naveen Chandra), a 42-year-old man who is drowning himself in alcohol while locked in a court battle with his wife Lekha (Swathi Reddy) who has grown tired of his alcohol ways and temperament. Madhumathi is going through late teen anxieties. Having a seemingly perfect mother (Manjula Ghattamaneni) only makes her rebel further and drift away. She is plus size, tired of not fitting into Indian and American social circles and wants to spend a month in India to get to know new people.
Month of Madhu (Telugu)
Cast: Naveen Chandra, Swathi Reddy, Shreya Navile, Harsha
Direction: Srikanth Nagothi
Music: Achu Rajamani
Storyline: A 19-year-old NRI spends a month in India and crosses paths with a 42-year-old man whose marriage is on the verge of breaking.
This statement of wanting to meet new people might seem random at first, but through Madhumathi we are introduced to a handful of characters. We get an idea of the romance between Madhusudhan and Lekha, which has since fallen into tough times. We meet another young chap with outrageously coloured hair whom Madhumathi promptly calls ‘Shady’ and a yoga teacher in her late 20s whose stern demeanour hides grief.
Slowly, Srikanth Nagothi’s narrative unravels the layers to show how a man cannot get away by treating his wife shabbily the way his father treated his mother. The film shows us the societal pressure that builds around Lekha. One character says women are supposed to hold the family together, another character questions her decision to leave him when there isn’t a big problem such as domestic violence. The writing shines through when Lekha emphasises that she has always felt that there was just one person in her marriage.
Month of Madhu contrasts Lekha’s naive optimism that prevents her from seeing red flags in the relationship with that of Madhumathi, who yearns for social acceptance. It also shows us the brotherhood between male friends through the rapport between Madhusudhan and his friend (Harsha Chemudu). A bittersweet scene against the harbour at night involves the friends dismissing other friends who have moved on to become success stories. Dressed up like a comic stretch, it lays bare the plight of these two men.
Ravikanth’s editing slides in the intermission card when you least expect it. He also has a way of juxtaposing scenes to show role reversals in relationships. For example, Swathi is perched on the kitchen counter in a happy chatter as her mother serves idli. It cuts to a scene that shows Swathi serving her mother a plate of idli. Years have gone by and the roles have reversed. Even those who appear briefly, like Raja Chembolu, play characters that are written with thought.
Vizag with its harbour and beaches becomes a character, thanks to Rajeev Dharavath’s camera. He indulges in touristy frames briefly when Madhumathi arrives in the city. At other times, he captures the city like an insider. The sync sound and the semi-classical music by Achu Rajamani give the film an added layer of warmth.
While the film does not overtly judge, it firmly shows the problem areas and the way forward. Apart from the writing, the film belongs to Naveen Chandra and Swathi Reddy. Naveen sports a paunch and behaves like a man on a downward spiral. He also plays his character’s younger self to the hilt, wearing his hollow arrogance on his sleeve. Swathi’s performance ranges from portraying innocence and vulnerability to weariness and resilience. Her quiet strength makes us root for better tidings for her character. Her characterisation and performance are reminders that Telugu cinema needs to write better and more stories that represent women in different age groups.
Month of Madhu shines in its attempt to show human relationships with all its warmth and shortcomings.