Subhash K Jha
Some movie experiences take us on a romantic joyride while offering us an insight into human nature but without hammering the "message" in like a rough Thai massage.
"Geetha Govindam" is a surprisingly low-key libido-teaser. It whips up a frothy fun ambience through a chance encounter between a virginal college lecturer and a rather stiff upper-lipped Miss Hoity-toity.
That the two roles are played by Vijay Deverakonda and Rashmika Mandanna is a dash of destiny doing its devilish bit to add spice to this honeyed, though never over-sweetened confection of love during times of wedding festivities and carnal urges.
Besides the very likeable leading man, what I really like about "Geetha Govinda" is its feisty take on gender equations that are played out in this film in a spirit of pukish irony.
Think. The guileless guy Vijay Govinda (Deverakonda) and the uppity girl Geetha (Rashmika Mandanna) get close during a bus journey to a wedding that will change their destiny. But that's later.
Back in the bus, the buck and the 'bak-bak' never stops. The pair creates some interesting moments of travel intimacy. She makes him stand guard outside a shady loo. He gets down to eat while she snoozes in the bus... All this while, Vijay, a stranger to female attention, whisper-shares with his friends on the phone about his growing closeness to the stranger.
And then all hell breaks loose. A moment of monstrous miscommunication and the haplessness, virgin-man is exposed to be a lecher and predator, which he is not.
The rest of the film maps their stormy liaison, his insistence on being her puppy dog and slave-on-demand, just so that she doesn't blurt out their shared secrecy in public.
Rashmika Mandanna very effectively brings out the manipulation of gender conflicts by the woman who is often known to grab the upperhand (and a lot of other parts) with all her might. Geetha knows she has Govinda by his throat.
She doesn't squeeze. But she uses Vijay's vulnerable state to her own advantage.
The scenes where she drags him by his collar (in a manner of speaking) through shopping sprees and early morning appointments, are done with a refreshing absence of malice.
The film, provocative as it is in the matter of gender conflict, never forgets to be sweet-tempered and supple, endearing and yet underlined by a layer of simmering discontent at the sheer unfairness of it all.
While playing out this beguiling and charming courtship game, director Parasuran draws out the tenets of the sprawling joint family. This is the world of Sooraj Barjatya tinged with a touch of tender eroticism and defined by a bustling state of constant anxiety about the mating game.
And who better equipped to project the exacerbated anxieties of sexual discontent than Vijay Deverakonda? Doing a fulsome 360-degreee about turn from his role as the self-consumed destructive alcoholic junkie in "Arjun Reddy", Deverekonda is absolutely at home playing a man bewildered by the circumstances that suddenly appear to control his life and libido.
Deverekonda brings a refreshing candour to the romance. Simultaneously flustered and in-control, he is the urban nomad looking for a place to pitch his heated tent.
After watching him go through the motions of manipulated courtship in this film, I am more than convinced Vijay Deverekonda is not just the next superstar of Telugu cinema but also one of the most engaging new-age actors of Indian cinema.
The actor gets able support from his leading lady Rashmika Mandanna who gives him the rom-com equivalent of a coitus interruptus.
The film is shot in a temperament of scenic aptitude, never allowing the urge to manipulate the landscape to make the film look prettier than it should.
The songs, specially the one where Mandanna walks behind Deverekonda emulating him, don't stop the narrative from moving forward.
The choppy relationship is never complemented by a lurching narrative. Smooth and sinuous, "Geetha Govindam" is a winsome exploration of the mating game, done with just the right dose of sweet and spine.