Cast: Nani, Swathi, Srinivas Avasarala, Bhargavi, Jhansi, Hema, Tanikella Bharani and Others. Cinematography: PG Vinda. Dialogues: Mohana Krishna Indraganti. Editing: Marthand K Venkatesh. Lyrics: Sirivennela. Music: Kalyani Malik. Story, Screenplay & Direction : Mohana Krishna Indraganti. Producer: Rammohan P. Presenter: D. Suresh Babu Banner: Art Beat Capital P. Ltd. Release Date: 5th September, 2008.
It's cute, it exudes old-world charm and it's 'The Importance of Being Ernest'. Some clichéd plot turns and predictable groan-worthy twists notwithstanding, Ashta Chamma makes a good watch with it's urbane first half and well-written lines; it's fun, fresh and 'in' this season with a horde of other young love stories coming up.
Plot Lavanya is heartbroken when her heartthrob actor Mahesh gets married. Her aunt and guardian wants her to marry an NRI, but she finally concedes to marry someone who's at least named Mahesh and even tattoos herself with his name. Her rich, jobless neighbor and endurer of her constant Mahesh mania (including playing Pokiri repeatedly on full volume) gets fed up and decides to scout for a guy himself and get rid of her. He finds a Mahesh in a pub, who seems like a rich guy so he sets them up together for a coffee and the duo fall in love. The only problem-Mahesh is not Mahesh but Ram Babu, an orphaned heir from a village where he is looked up to and from where he escapes to the city once in a while with this new identity. The confusion begins, with his sister Varalaxmi's obsession for the name not helping matters.
Story, Screenplay and Direction If Jhandyala used characters from Chekov and Moulier, Indraganti picks Oscar Wilde. The movie is nothing but Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. Instead of Ernest, its Mahesh mania here and then the second half with two Ernests but none really, well, that's the same too. To Indraganti's credit, he does justice to Wilde and the Indianized, urbanized humor in Ashta Chamma is proof of a pretty good adaptation. The first half is full of grin-inducing lines, light entertainment and establishing the characters.
For those who've read and loved Wilde's play(s) will know the ending consists of some deep mush. So when fluffy pink towels (thankfully replacing a handbag) and long-lost children come up, either it's downright nauseating in today's world in today's cinema or it's in the ChooChweet category-it's a totally personal opinion. And unbelievably clichéd, simply because it has been adapted about a million times before. But there are some direct quote unquote lifts, but there's no way he could have substituted anything for that. The clever ruse of taking Mahesh Babu's name, a star's name instead of any random name is good and works for the movie. The 'vibrations' that come with Ernest/Mahesh and the 'high moral tone' Ram Babu/Mahesh has to apply as Varalaxmi's brother/guardian, nothing's being tampered with. Some things have been changed for the good-both Maheshs are not related.
It's a decent adaptation of Wilde's extremely likeable play. Wilde calls it a 'Trivial comedy for serious people' in all his tongue-in-cheek element and it is as much. The casting has been done well, from Colors Swati to RJ Nani and Bhargavi and Jhansi as Lady Augusta Bracknell/Mandira. Indraganti repeats his Grahanam taking of making the characters talk directly to the audience with the full awareness that they are in a movie. Oh well, you can't have everything. Note: Adopting old English plays does not amount to copying. But a dedication would have been appreciated, like Sriram Raghavan dedicated Jhonny Gaddar to James Hadley Chase.
Performances None of them really have a movie background or a backing. They look like normal people, behave like normal people and this credit goes to the director and the actors too. Swati is perky as ever, and the charming 'Colors' girl does a good job in her first full-fledged commercial lead role. Nani is pretty good, oscillating between uber cool to Godavari accent which he does with a cute twist.
There's Srinivas Avasarala who plays Anand/Algernon he fits the role perfectly. His comic timing is good and the comedy is full of punch lines and still subtle. Jhansi as the formidable and regal Lady Augusta Bracknell turns a little screechy as Mandari, Swati's guardian but still suits the character and does it with conviction. Varalaxmi is played by Bhargavi who suits the rural chick role well. Tanikella Bharani, Hema as his love-interest and the rest of the household help and village folk justify their roles.
Song and Dance The music is not bad. Nothing memorable, but tolerable. One song with Anand and Varalaxmi with the dancing around trees and old-movie costumes a la 'Woh Ladki Hai Kahan' from Dil Chahta Hai is cute. The title track is hummable.
Last Word It's a cute movie and targeted at urbane multiplex audience, who are sure to smile/grin/laugh and pass a pleasant 2+ hours courtesy Wilde and Indraganti.