There is a fascinating stretch in the middle of Ondu Motteya Kathe, when the protagonist agonizing over his uninteresting love-life wonders if he should look up a childhood playmate on Facebook. As he strikes up an awkward conversation with her, the interaction shown to us through a Facebook Messenger chat window seems to be between Dr Rajkumar (Our protagonist’s display picture) and Deepika Padukone (The display picture of the playmate) and you end up wondering, is that what Raj B Shetty, the writer, director and lead of the movie is trying to do, an attempt to promote Kannada Cinema in a time where Bollywood commands the longest lines while Sandalwood is just scraping by? Is Raj’s debut effort a ray of hope for Sandalwood, being another indie production while eschewing the normal masala tropes, instead narrating a slice of life tale?
Janardhan (Raj B Shetty) is a mild-mannered Kannada lecturer who is constantly reminded of his lack of desirability to the opposite sex owing to his slight build and a case of premature balding. He goes through his days incurring ridicule from his students, and extreme concern from his doting parents (Usha Bhandary and Vishwanath), while envying his more handsome and charming brother (Vinith). Upon being told by the family astrologer that he must get married before he’s 29 or he might end up renouncing the world, Janardhan decides to take matters into his own hands, and launches himself into the choppy waters of modern day romance with the help of his college’s good natured peon, Srinivas (Prakash Thuminad) and ends up facing the attentions of a pretty economics lecturer (Amrutha Naik), a flamboyant young lady (Shreya Anchan) and a feisty, yet good-hearted girl next door (Shailashree). Is Janardhan destined to find love, and marital bliss, or is he on a wild goose chase?
The first thing that strikes you about Ondu Motteya Kathe is how it absolutely does not look like a debut effort. The writing and the direction are so self-assured, except for a few off-kilter bits that it ends up being a real achievement for Raj B Shetty for having handled things with the flourish of a veteran. The writing is straight out of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-Basu Chatterjee era, with some laugh out loud bits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Phani Ramachandra movie, and captures upper middle class life in Mangalore almost perfectly. Add to that a sublime soundtrack by Midhun Mukundhan, and you have a solid cinematic experience.
Coming to Raj B Shetty, the actor, it is rare that we see a character so vulnerable and so flawed on screen, and still end up feeling sympathetic towards him, Raj brings out the inner demons of Janardhan in a performance so subtle, yet so strong that it will stay with you, long after the movie’s over. Out of the 3 leading ladies, it is Shailashree as the plucky Sarala who ends up endearing herself to the audience in a character so charming; you will want to see more of her in the future. Prakash Tuminadu as the good natured peon, and Usha Bhandary and Vishwanath as Janardhan’s doting parents as just fantastic, as is Vinith as the rakish sibling.
To sum it up then, Ondu Motteya Kathe is a solid debut effort, one that has its flaws, but is charming enough to make you overlook it, and walk out of the theatre with a huge smile on your face.