A poisoned heart is one with no honour. When it pumps its poison into its veins, death and destruction seem inevitable. Karuna Kumar’s Sridevi Soda Center is well-intentioned in telling a story with this idea at its core.
The film follows Lighting Soori Babu (Sudheer Babu), a lighting technician in a small town, who falls in love with Sodalu Sridevi (Anandha), an upper-caste girl. Their pursuit of love faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the form of Kasi (Pavel Navageethan), who also has an eye on Sridevi, and Sridevi’s father (Naresh), who is against inter-caste marriage.
Karuna Kumars takes his own time to set up the first act. Though the first 40 minutes move at an excruciating pace, the path the story takes from thereon justifies the length. Even a terrible boat race, which will easily bag the prize for the most unrealistic comebacks in the history of races, has something in it to establish the equations between the characters. Moreover, Sudheer, who looked flat in the initial few scenes, eventually settles down in his character. Further, Anandhi is introduced through a brilliantly set-up scene at a carnival, and everything about the scene spells ‘charming’. The comedy and dialogues work, and the writing pulls off a great trick by leading the scene into a gut-wrenching ending that stitches the events together, before heading to the conflict.
In retrospect, however, the reveal of the association between Sridevi’s father and Kasi could have been delayed, as it already gives away more than it should. The glaring dips in the writing extend further. Particularly, there’s a scene between Soori and Sridevi that is set in the middle of a farm. Sridevi expresses her love through an act of seduction – an outburst of love that comes after the sight of Suri indulging in physical self-harm. The scene stands apart, once again, due to the set design and the brilliant musical score from Mani Sharma.
However, it did make me wonder if the act of self-harm was required. Why do we need to play a grim sympathy game to win over the love of our loved one? Mind it, it’s not a grey shade that is deliberately added as a trait of Soori, but rather an act that is justified through the soothing music and Sridevi terming it an “expression of love”. It’s jarring, to say the least.
Soori does have a few flaws, but it doesn’t translate to screen and is left for the audience to derive. For instance, in a later scene towards the end, his friend helps him realise how obsessed he was in his quest for love that he didn’t even think about the consequences his father would have faced. It ends up just as a one-off dialogue, and he suffers no consequence due to his negligence and impulsive actions.
In another scene, Soori has to pull off a unique trick to break out of prison. Though the ‘how’ of it seems impressive, it leaves widely gaping questions that are left unanswered. Sridevi Soda Center begins to fall even flatter since the establishment of the conflict. One of the reveals in the third act pushes Soori to run amock after Kasi. It is an obvious idea that you would have guessed in the first act. As far as the big final reveal is concerned, the obviousness is overshadowed by the gut-wrenching moroseness it delivers. All the duds melt away in these final few minutes when the film adopts an intense tone to deliver a vital message about the repercussions of the social evil called caste.
What’s disappointing is that the film does have a lot of promise and scope that gets underutilised. For example, the character design is brilliant. From Soori’s costumes to the added behavioural traits to Naresh’s character - he mumbles inaudibly whenever he is forced to be in an uncomfortable situation – Karuna’s world has a lot of interesting ideas to pull our attention. Even if not for the genre, Anandhi’s character design, the small-town setting, and her equation with her doting father who reminds her “Vaadu manchivaade, Kaani manavaadu kaadhu” (He’s a good guy, but not one of us) all might remind one of Anandhi’s Tamil film Pariyerum Perumal.
However, for a film that is named after Sridevi, she hardly gets much of a say in the second act. When Soori is suffering from such and such consequences, what is Sridevi even thinking there? We never know. Pavel’s Kasi too unfortunately becomes a powerless villain at the end.
In a film with so much misfortune, Mani Sharma steals the show through his brilliant music scores. His delightful use of flutes for such a story with a rural backdrop does remind one of Sairat, another Dalit film that spoke about caste oppression. From the background theme we hear when we first see Soori to the theme that plays during the final shot of the film, the music is so tastefully composed that it ends up being the biggest takeaway.
If music played a major role, set design, lighting, and cinematography, make the hardly-engaging film a pleasant experience. At the end of the day, as one steps out of the theatre hall, a convincing dialogue in the climax about who truly is an honourless man leaves a strong impact. The well-intentioned ideas, good performances from the cast, and the commendable making doesn’t help the fact that Sridevi Soda Center is a soda with no fizz.
Sridevi Soda Center
Cast: Sudheer Babu, Anandhi, Pavel Navageethan, Naresh
Director: Karuna Kumar