At a time when the word nepotism in Indian cinema is verboten, Akhil Akkineni came with Most Eligible Bachelor (MEB) to become fourth time lucky. After delivering three straight duds, Akhil would have been striving to show the world there’s more to him than just an illustrious surname of Telugu cinema. His latest movie is definitely far more peppy and vivid than his previous outings, but the movie still emerges as vapid.
The plot, at least whatever unfolds on the screen, is about Harsha (a vastly improved Akhil), an NRI from New York who returns to Hyderabad to get married within 20 days. His family sets up 20 matches for an arranged marriage but he ends up falling for Vibha (a radically chic Pooja Hegde), who has been already rejected based on horoscopes. Will a career-oriented Harsha and Vibha, a stand-up comedian with supposedly radical views of marriage, end up together forming the core of this incredibly preachy movie?
Director Bommarillu Bhaskar’s script has its heart in the right place but in his quest to make a breezy rom-com he ends up delivering a muddled movie. It’s been a decade since Bhaskar delivered a watchable movie and MEB makes for a decent outing, as long as it’s being watched in the cinema. Bhaskar showed in Orange, Parugu, Bommarillu that he understands the mindset of the youth and also the elders in the 21st century India. While Orange bombed at the box office, it’s still a radical movie made within the confines of the commercial movie set-up. However, Bhaskar played it safe with MEB. His protagonist thinks life is 50% career and 50% marriage and that to have a happy marriage one needs a good career. While Vibha posits, even at her deeply unfunny stand-up gigs, that a couple needs to spend 10,000 hours together to know their compatibility. This kind of Malcolm Gladwell-ish flippancy is the reason why the viewer would squirm in their seat.
Someone should have told Bhaskar that if his protagonist is a stand-up comedian, the wisecracks have to be delightfully unsolipsistic rather than dreary and middling. Bhaskar might have thought that his audience is not used to seeing stand-up routines when OTTs have changed the game long ago. His script is also riddled with elephant-sized plot holes. Which family on this planet would make preparations for someone’s wedding when the bride is not yet finalised? The first half is still very passable because of the funny sequences at the arranged marriage set up where the hero meets multiple girls.
Bhaskar seems to have set out to write an Alice Munro-like story only to end up with something straight out of the slushpile every production house in this country is bombarded with. The movie has the soul and ambience of a fitting room at Zara. Apart from Akhil, Pradeesh Varma’s eye-pleasing cinematography and Gopi Sundar’s peppy soundtrack are the movie’s redeeming factors.
Akhil can breathe a sigh of relief that his ease in acting and dances has finally established him as an actor to reckon with. What also helped his cause is the fact that MEB turned out to be the sole box office hit during this Dussehra period in the Telugu states when the other two movies that released along with it proved to be massive duds. Both Maha Samudram and Pelli Sandadi are so bad that they shouldn’t even be going straight to OTT.
I watched MEB at a cinema in Visakhapatnam at a time when the Andhra Pradesh government allowed 100% occupancy at cinemas. It remains to be seen in another ten days if the state government’s decision would lead to a spike in Covid cases or not. Either way, the rest of the country will be interested to know how it goes.