When was the last time you saw a girl or woman on screen immensely enjoy the food she eats, and the camera observing the act of love with a certain aesthetic and not ridicule? Bheemasena Nalamaharaja could be about Latthesh (an utterly charming Aravinnd Iyer) and his amazing cooking skills, but it is also about Vedavalli and her love for food.
Chitrali Tejpal infuses a young Veda with an infectious charm. Food, for her, is love. She has to sample everything made in her father Varadarajan's Bombay Iyengar bakery. Her mother makes her dose with benne (butter) and chutney podi (gunpowder), and Veda's eyes light up with excitement. This love for butter from the pot, baked goods off the tray and a freshly creamed cake land her in trouble and change the direction of her life, but even in protest, she eats. Food is also a channel of anger, of disgust for her father.
The film is said to be about the six tastes in food, but bitter and sour win the battle initially, before Latthesh tries his best to infuse some 'sweet' into everyone's life. He makes ragi mudde Ganesha, airplane dosas and snowman uppittu to awaken the love for food and life in a grown-up Veda (Arohi Narayan/Priyanka Thimmesh), a woman who loves fiercely, fights just as violently and cusses freely. Her love for food stays, though. She loves her biryani, and watches in amazement as Latthesh cleans a fish they caught together. In her head, it is referenced to the Keechaka vadha. Her friend is disgusted seeing it, but for Veda, Latthesh is nothing less than a scientist who infuses food with all things magical.
It is initially easy to enter the world director Karthik Saragur creates. After all, it is peopled with characters who can easily be loved. But once there, you feel a little out of place. When two people from varied backgrounds are thrown together, you need a certain something that allows you to make that leap of faith, to believe they will make it. Here, you know you have to leap, but the faith's missing.
Everything is black or white or a blur " Latthesh begins life in an orphanage, and then goes on to live in a resort by the water. He moves to an apartment, and then you don't know where the money comes from. There's little struggle shown, and so you are not invested in what's happening. But, if you do, despite that, all credit to Aravinnd, who infuses Latthesh with a child-like innocence, a man who refuses to be hardened by the world, despite all that it throws at him. Arohi hits the high notes often, even when her character does not call for it, while Priyanka is like a dignified gentle stream, going against the grain of her character.
Karthik made a mark with his first film, the multiple-Karnataka State Film Award winning Jeerjimbe, about a young girl and her fascination to ride a cycle to school. In that film, you saw how beautifully he handles child actors. That continues in this film too, be it with Chitrali or Aadya Udupi as Lalli, Veda and Latthesh's daughter. Look out for the scene where she goes to pierce her ears, and in between her tears, smiles and insists she's not in pain.
This is a film that needed better pillars to stand on. The thread with Varadarajan, the Tamil and Kannada speaking father is the weakest. He has been a monster, but his character gets a strange justification for what he did. And because an actor as consummate as Achyuth plays him, you almost buy it, much to your discomfiture. And what is with the extra 'di' to turn a word into Tamizh, as his character tells Lalli? Tch tch.
Vijay plays Kenda (meaning fire), Latthesh's childhood friend. Like his name, he smoulders, wondering what his place is in his friend's life. The friends go through a forced break, and you really wish to know more about the bond they forged over 25 years of living together.
Full credit to Karthik for pushing the envelope in two cases " getting the hero to cross-dress and role-play because his wife wants him to, and getting him to rush to hospital dressed in a sari when his wife goes into labour. And then, two women there see him, and all they ask is: "Did you get the sari from Chickpet? Looks good". One just wishes to see more of this confident Karthik, who shows a certain courage in his writing. This film is not bad on flavour, but I'm quite looking forward to seeing what this director has to offer next.
Bheemasena is like that meal that looks great, and initially tastes good too, but makes you wonder after some time about what's missing.
Bheemasena Nalamaharaja is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer here "