Pushpaka Vimanam Movie Review: An enjoyable comedy doubling up as a whodunit
This Damodara directorial is a fun outing that makes some surprisingly brave choices
I have always found flashbacks to be a boring storytelling device. Most of the time, we know how a flashback ends because we know where the characters stand in the present. For instance, when a flashback sequence focuses on the past of a character that we know has already died, it takes the surprise away. That’s a conundrum with most of the films using this technique to further their stories. Obviously, I sighed when Pushpaka Vimanam cut to a flashback in the second half after a jolly good first half. The question that ran through my mind—is this backstory worth spending time on when the present seems much more fun and thrilling? Director Damodara, who also wrote the film, makes sure it doesn’t bore us, though.
Directed by: Damodara
Cast: Anand Deverakonda, Geeth Saini, Saanve Megghana, Naresh
It’s the tiny details that give more depth to the proceedings, if not completely change the narrative. Perhaps, I’m thinking too much. Even an aquarium and the protagonist's house add to the whole picture. Pushpaka Vimanam is neither serious nor indulgent, it’s a simple comedy that also serves as a mystery. The craft is unsophisticated; the hardest the film tries to grab your attention is by placing neon lighting in a couple of scenes. The writing is clean albeit with a few loose ends. The story, however, is serious, and even tragic, if you think about it, but it’s told with so much humour and quirkiness. Even Ram Miriyala's super good soundtrack bolsters in keeping the mood lively. With the story bringing crime, comedy, and tragedy together, it’s an unusual combination, but the film succeeds in striking a balance.
Anand Deverakonda plays Sundar, a timid school teacher, whose newly-wed wife Meenakshi (Geeth Saini) elopes with her lover. The entire first half of the film is devoted to his travails as he runs from pillar to post keeping his wife's absconding a secret from people around him; Sundar feels humiliated that he has to live with the fact that his wife left him for someone better. The film has a lot of fun with this idea and builds multiple fun set pieces from it. The prying neighbour (Harshavardhan), the well-meaning but disturbing colleagues played by Naresh and Giridhar, a travel agent (Bhadram) who books for the couple’s honeymoon, add to the fun. And most of the humour works, thanks to the Sundar’s helplessness, which is often the butt of the jokes.
I suppose the success of Middle Class Melodies encouraged the makers to promote this film as yet another family comedy, which it is, but there’s more to it, especially in the second half when it becomes a mystery film. There’s a crime that further complicates Sundar’s life and the lad now has to free himself from not just the humiliation, but has to absolve himself of the criminal tag. What begins as a low-stakes comedy becomes a high-stakes man-on-the-run thriller. I find it an incredibly brave choice to reveal a crucial (even shocking) point during the interval and spend the rest of the film leading up towards ‘how’ that transpired.
Enter Sunil as the fame-chasing police officer (he gets a terrific introduction scene), the mood of the film keeps oscillating between a dark crime thriller and a light comedy. But I wish the script offered Sunil more than being a stoic, suspecting police officer. The same goes with his colleagues. If there’s a character that stands out from the bunch, it is Saanvee’s Rekha, an actor who Sundar hires to act as his wife. She has a great scene with Sunil in a police station, and although you foresee what's in store, it still lands, thanks to Saanvee’s performance. We are familiar with the humour emanating from confusion: characters give different answers to the question simultaneously, they are not on the same page… you get the idea, right? These sketches work because of the inherent awkwardness, and Pushpaka Vimanam gets the metre right.
This is where Anand Deverakonda’s performance comes into play. He’s excellent as the dorky and ever-apprehensive Sundar. In one scene, he’s pitted against a shirtless man with bulging triceps, and you see that this guy is anything but an alpha male; he’s a very unlikely ‘hero’. Anand embodies Sundar’s perpetual restlessness beautifully.
The issue with the film, though, is it’s all over the place. The comedy, at times, feels repetitive. For a film that makes some brave choices, it’s sad that the filmmaker still feels the need to churn comedy from age-old ideas like a character slapping the other.
In all, Pushpaka Vimanam is an enjoyable comedy that doubles up as a whodunit. After a brilliant take-off, this flight does experience turbulence, but it lands safely.