When Anvitha (Anushka Shetty) tells her friend Kavya (Sonia Deepti) of her plans to have a kid, Kavya immediately jumps in and says, “Idhi vishayam kaadhu vishesham” (this is not an incident, it is an event). Now this puts us in a lot of doubt. How does one distinguish between vishayam and vishesham? I tried to look at the film for all possible clues and resultant categorisations.
According to Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty (MSMP), a woman having a kid via artificial insemination is a vishesham. A man pursuing a career in stand-up comedy is a vishesham. A younger man falling in love with an older woman is a vishesham. These stories which make for interesting articles in a newspaper, are the plot points here. Now, is a 'boy-meets-girl' story (which is really what MSMP is all about) a vishayam or a vishesham? In a world where all kinds of love stories have been told, putting a new spin on this is far from easy. However, a filmmaker is expected to deliver a film that engages or surprises with its treatment. But, walking out of the theatre, I am convinced that the love story between Siddu (Naveen Polishetty) and Anvitha should have been the vishesham while the unconventional nature of their meet-cute should have rather been a vishayam. What we do get here are two conventional tales — of a man, Siddu, growing up and of another man, the film’s director Mahesh Babu P narrating a series of shocks that barely register, let alone sink in, owing to a narrative that offers little to feel about.
A good starting point for understanding this film’s limitations lies in the way our Miss Shetty and Mr Polishetty are written. MSMP starts with Anvitha losing her mother. Her mother leaves Anvitha with a parting thought on how she must need a person by her side throughout life, to keep loneliness at bay. Averse to relationships, Anvita decides to birthe a child, in a way to honour her mother’s life and last wish. After this, Anvitha becomes inaccessible, even unlikeable. The sight of grimy men donating their sperm in the hospital convinces her to choose a donor she can personally know and approve. We then see her swiping on apps, and meeting different men in coffee shops, making the whole ordeal of finding a sperm donor about as complicated as finding a husband. For a film trying so hard to wow you with its linear iterations of “Look how city people behave”, it leaves you with the sobering, unamusing takeaway that dating or sperm-donor-shopping is about as eugenics-driven as arranged marriage is.
But at the very least, MSMP wants you to know that stand-up comics, in all their “we're following our passions” newspeak, deserve a shot at being loved and validated, just as much as the software engineers or government officers do. Anvitha seems to be an emphatic believer of this sentiment, which is probably why she keeps meeting Siddu in order to vet him to be her sperm donor, while he falls for her in all his gullibility. The scene where Anvitha decides to “pursue” him is particularly funny not because she meets him at an open mic, but because this is exactly when she decides that this person might be a good donor. While women falling for funny men is a stereotype by itself, a woman selecting a donor because he is funny was another reinforcement, a la eugenics.
If Anvitha’s character is terribly underwritten, then we have Siddu, whose arc is sandpapered with jokes. We are expected to understand who Anvitha is, because that is how she is written, while we are expected to understand who Siddu is because that is all every other man is written. It is not the most original or interesting character, but Naveen plays to the gallery, drawing in laughs effortlessly. For the most part, MSMP is fun, because of his jocular screen presence. This, unfortunately, cannot be said of Anushka. A powerhouse of an actor is reduced to a glacial, facile mess here. There are a few moments here and there that remind one of the formidable yet adorable presence she is, but for the large part, Anushka’s Ravali feels like a wasted opportunity.
Despite my set of specific scruples, MSMP is not a bad film. I liked the way Murali Sharma warms up to his son’s new profession, his show of solidarity with his love story. I liked the way Siddu’s friend (Abhinav Gomatam) protects Siddu by not making Anvitha meet him. I loved how Siddu grew up and became responsible in the benevolent, respectful shadow of an older woman (Wake Up Siddu?). Radhan’s music is passably charming. And yet, there is so much to be desired. Maybe, a decent yet heartfelt romcom that is light without taking things lightly is harder to find than an ideal baby daddy.
Director - Mahesh Babu P
Cast - Anushka, Naveen Polishetty, Sonia Deepti, Abhinav Gomatam, Murali Sharma
(The story originally appeared on Cinema Express)