There is a simple and beautiful moment early in debutant Shanmukha Prasanth’s Writer Padmabhushan that not only illustrates the protagonist’s character but also doubles up as a whistle-worthy mass moment. Padmabhushan (Suhas) an aspiring writer has self-published his first novel, quite literally named ‘Tholi Adugu’. Having found little to no success, the only kind of validation he gets is when someone reads his book, and his friend’s barber shop is one avenue to seek it. When his attempt to make the visitor read his book sees fruition, we get a shot of the two seated opposite each other; the visitor, now invested in the story, keeps his legs down and bends forward, indicating his interest in the story, and a proud Padmabhushan, having received a shot of assurance about his talent, crosses his leg. The shot, which communicates the character’s pursuit, is simple but remarkable. That’s something I could say about Writer Padmabhushan as a whole.
The first half of Writer Padmabhushan is a collection of beautiful and strong moments emanating from multiple themes—failure, desperation, guilt, and familial bonds. In fact, it even moves at a surprisingly fast pace, packing in multiple threads.
Failure and how it influences one is one of its core themes. The prologue of the film, set in a classroom, ends with the declaration from the teacher that girls have won a writing competition. The camera lingers on the disappointed faces of young schoolboys, the failed team, before the story moves to the present. This opening finds its real meaning only in the end b ut it sets up the stage for a character that’s battling failure.
From a screenplay perspective, just when you feel that the film has introduced an arc that might snowball into the ultimate conflict or a resolution, we learn that this arc ends soon enough and the writing is jumping to the next level. For instance, when Padmabhushan hits his lowest, having received criticism for his work and after feeling that his book is equated to trash, he breaks down and decides to quit writing until he is truly driven. Here ends a chapter and a new one begins. Bhushan’s life changes when he receives praise and love for a book he hasn’t written.
He knows he doesn’t deserve it but a part of him tells that he needs to leverage the opportunity. This interesting plot point—one that also adds a mystery layer to the narrative—pushes him into a confounding state of mind that he has to live in throughout the film.
This, solely from a writing perspective, makes the first half of the film, backed by endearing characters in the form of Bhushan’s parents (Ashish Vidyarthi and Rohini Molleti), an amusing and pacy watch. Even the rom-com bits featuring, which often come across as the blandest part of such lively films, are full of energy and charm. A scene set in Navrang theatre is an absolute scream and that too stems from the character’s nativity. Likewise, in another delightful scene, Bhushan vows to his mother that he won’t have food until he meets a writing deadline. When he learns that she is cooking chicken, the vow, naturally, goes for a toss. See, these are simple, relatable moments.
At heart, Writer Padmabhushan is a personal coming-of-age film that many of us are bound to relate to on some level; be it the longing for appreciation or the heartbreak when our efforts don’t yield the fruits. It has a quirky and pleasant vibe that we often find in Malayalam films. There is not even a single character with a shade of grey in this light-hearted dramedy.
However, once the identity of the person who instigated the change in Bhushan’s life is revealed in the big interval bang, the second half of the film becomes, for the lack of a better word, stale with no surprises to pull off and too little motivation for the character and to the audience. I antagonised these portions much more severely because the sheer pace and liveliness that were suffused in the first half, go completely missing here and it begins to feel like the narrative is wandering without an intent—one that was clearly present in the earlier portions—to going forward. Thankfully, it all culminates in a beautiful climax stretch that (like last year’s Tamil film, Don) comes out of nowhere and moves you. Don’t worry, there is no death here. The only tears to be shed be happy tears in the end. And the background score accentuates these moments fabulously.
Suhas wonderfully humanises what could have been a caricaturish character, with all his desires and vulnerabilities intact. Bhushan is a beautiful character, one enhanced further by his performance, imbuing tiny mannerisms that make the character look less like a protagonist in a film and more like a real person. Is there anything that needs to be said about Rohini? About how she effortlessly makes the love she has for her on-screen son feel so real every time, with every actor? It is a pleasant detour for Ashish Vidyarthi, who made a career in Telugu out of playing cruel and crude villains, as the protagonist’s lovable father. He is an affable presence but one cannot help but be bothered by the disconnect created by the dubbing.
Writer Padmabhushan is not a flawless film. It has some issues craft-wise (continuity errors and budget limitations) and writing-wise too (in the second half, where you know that pressing a character further would have answered many questions) but it is the kind of lovely little film that we often see in Malayalam and wish something like that was made here, in our world. Well, they made one. A pretty neat one. In fact, in his introductory voice-over, Bhushan tells about the love Telugu people harbour for films. Earnest films like Writer Padmabhushan definitely warrant it.
Cast: Suhas, Tina, Rohini, Ashish Vidhyarthi
Director: Shanmukha Prasanth