Just Math Mathalli

This weekend, I watched my first Kannada movie in a long time. For someone who has spent the better part of the last decade living in Bangalore and is something of a movie buff, this seems like a curious gap in the resume. Then again, I’ve managed to live here for so long without learning much more than the basics of the local language (I’m a bit of a lard-ass that way), so why should this be any different?

Anyway, I managed to watch a movie called Just Math Mathalli (which translates to something like Baaton Baaton Mein), starring Sudeep and Ramya. You might recognize Sudeep as the guy who plays Amitabh’s son in Rann. I strongly recommend that you don’t hold that one against him. Tamil film viewers might remember Ramya from Polladhavan (among the finest Tamil films in recent years) or Kuthu (which is a lot closer to the other end of the spectrum, and earned her the unfortunate sobriquet of “Kuthu” Ramya, until she changed her name to Divya Spandana in Tamil cinema).
The film is narrated mostly as a conversation on a flight to Singapore between a reticent musician and a somewhat annoying filmmaker. The former (Sudeep) narrates his story — one of love lost, then lost again — and explains that he is on his way to Singapore to find the girl that got away. You can guess much of the rest. The beauty of it is, the story doesn’t cop out of the ending it is moving inexorably towards, and that is as rare as it is gratifying.

While the story itself may be as old as the hills, what makes it interesting is the central performance by Sudeep as the musician Sidhu. This is not a showy performance, and there are very few scenes where he really lets go. But by suggesting deep reserves of emotion reined in through an almost physical effort, Sudeep draws us into Sidhu’s world and makes us root for him. He reminded me of a young Raghuvaran, but with fewer mannerisms. And God, does the man look good!

Ramya doesn’t occupy too much screen time. Much of it is spent in establishing her as a motormouth. Still, the lady has a natural charm that begins to work when the proceedings (and her character) settle down a bit.

One of the supporting performances deserves a special mention — the man who plays the father of an ex-girlfriend and has just one scene in the film. This is among the most powerful scenes in the film, and works as well as it does because of the restraint of all the characters involved.

The icing on the cake is the music. I’ve heard one of the songs so many times on the airwaves and as cellphone ringtones that I am heartily sick of it. But a couple of the others stay with you. Munjaane manjalli especially has wedged its way into my head and refuses to leave. Have you any idea how annoying it is to find a song playing on repeat loop in your head during a meeting, Raghu Dixit?

Of all the nice things I could say about this film, the one that is most heartfelt is this. I saw it on a supremely uncomfortable van ride back from Kukke Subramanya to Bangalore, and for a sizeable fraction of that trip, I wasn’t even thinking about the discomfort. For that, Sudeep, I thank you. I am, in fact, so thankful that I will even forgive you for Rann.

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5 thoughts on “Just Math Mathalli

  1. The old man who played the role of ex-girlfriend’s father is Sudeep’s father Sanjeev (who is not an actor actually)

    I actually loved the performance of Sudeep’s band mate Arun Sagar, and the rooftop sequence where friends talk inanely looking at the sky. And background music, what a beauty!

    • True, Arun Sagar was quite good in that role. Usually, a guy looking like that would be cast in a character with shades of grey — it was nice to see him talking sense and looking out for Sidhu’s character throughout. Very nicely written, that.

  2. S says:

    I hope you’ll forgive the Kannada-challenged me for presuming (from merely perusing the post’s title) that you were proclaiming your passion for your profession thus: “I Math, just ALL Math!” (You know, how when people have an epiphany about something/someone they love very very much, they suddenly get all speechless and start to blabber when trying to articulate their emotion? Like that.)

    But then I read the first line and was clued in. So the focus wasn’t so much on the “Math” as the “Halli” heh (with the hard “L”)?. 😀

    I haven’t watched a Kannada movie since I was a kid, when something with “mookku” Raj Kumar (as dad called him; cheap tactic to use dead person as shield to keep from incurring Kannada ire, I know!) in it, came on DD, on Sundays. Wait, wrong! I did watch Pallavi Anupallavi. Yeah. That was my last Kannada movie.

    This one sounds like a lovely little mix(up?) that’s part JWM, part Anbe Sivam, with a bit of (the Brothers Grimm’s) Bremen Town Musicians thrown in for flavor (wiki tells me that instead of the Donkey, there’s a similar moment with an Ox in a barn?).

    Sad ending though. Cha! I’ll definitely check out the songs (despite my general aversion for songs whose lyrics I can’t catch; only exception being T Rajendar ‘mouth music’).

    • I thought the same thing when I first saw the title — some movie about college-going kids and math.

      My last Kannada movie before this was the Ramesh Arvind-Sudharani starrer Aragini, which I loved. The ending works brilliantly — it’s the only sensible way to finish. I kept watching the movie and praying for them not to cop out with a happy ending. There’s nothing even remotely complicated about the plot, so it all depends on the treatment. Which, in this case, is lovely.

      • S says:

        I’m actually able to understand “the only sensible way to finish” sentiment coz, sometimes, in life (as in a movie), letting go / moving on becomes mandatory, even foisted. I mean, there’s always stuff to do such as books to be read, kids to be fed, bills to be paid, love to be made…

        It’s laughable isn’t it, how life — caught up in its own, almost OCD-like, tendency to to JUST GO ON — doesn’t give a damn about the emotions roiling underneath your skin? I’m always fascinated by the depiction of this aspect, on screen. Like in Cheran’s Autograph.

        The scene which had me tearing up was the last one, when “everyone” shows up at his wedding. They could easily have simplified the damn movie by having him remarry the widow, or by going for Sneha (which is what many of us were perhaps guessing would happen), but the so-called “suspense” ending is (as you say) “the only sensible way to finish.”

        PS: Loved the last two lines of your comment. The way you refer to the “treatment” as “lovely” almost seems to suggest that each movie is a patient, desperately in need of a “lovely treatment” from the Dr. (Director!)

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