The Hindu (Mumbai)

Has moments of

Lavanya Tripathi and Abijeet Duddala’s Telugu romcom fun, but struggles to shine above its superficia­l storyline

- Gopinath Rajendran Sangeetha Devi Dundoo sangeethad­

here’s a scene in Devil where Hema (Poorna) and Alex (Vidharth) get married, and the sequence intercuts with that of a beggar outside the church receiving alms. It leaves you wondering who the giver and the receiver is in the new relationsh­ip, but the rest of the film is so basic that it feels blasphemou­s to read much between the lines.

In Devil, Hema suffers from unrequited love from her newly married husband, who, unknown to her, is having an affair with his employee Sophia (Subhashree). Before she comes to terms with it, an accidental meeting introduces her to Roshan (Thrigun), a handsome youngster who initially finds a mother in Hema, but that changes soon. As the film progresses, it leaves you wondering what will come crashing down first — Alex’s double life, Hema’s hold over her chastity, or the audience’s tolerance to randomness.

On the surface level, the story of Devil has enough meat only for a short film; it is about a woman stuck between a husband indulging in adultery and a stranger ready to lay the whole world at her feet. But the makers unnecessar­ily drag it out. The climax involves thriller and horror elements and fascinatin­gly, a few moments of brilliance there bring in the muchneeded ingenuity the film lacked. But Devil never really sinks its fangs into the interestin­g concepts too.

The film repeatedly reiterates how Hema also doubles as a motherly figure to both men. While Roshan’s character is vocal about

“seeing a mother” in Hema, it is her inlaws who “ask” her to be like a mother to Alex. For a film about a woman, the stand it takes is regressive and misogynist­ic. While Sophia gets reduced to an opportunis­tic vamp, Hema is expected to forgive her husband’s infidelity, only for Alex to charge at her with a butcher’s knife when he assumes she is up to something with Roshan.

Adding to this mess is a cameo from Mysskin, who symbolises the lord himself. There are tons of Christian imagery, making Devil look like a knockoff of yesteryear Hollywood classics. Speaking of Mysskin, who has also made his debut as a composer with this film, there is obviously strong inspiratio­n from his favourite Ilaiyaraaj­a, but the background score is just slightly better than the songs.

Devil surprising­ly feels extremely amateurish and shoddy. Poorna is one of those rare performers who has not gotten the spotlight she deserves, but the film does not offer her much, despite being centred around her. Mysskin’s Pisasu is a revelation in the Tamil horror films space, and Devil could have been another such attempt. But it suffers from an identity crisis as it fails to pick a particular route and, in the end, gets reduced to a thriller that offers no thrills. The film literally ends with a ‘let there be light’ moment, and ironically, Devil left us thanking for the same when the lights in the theatre got switched back on.

TDevil is currently running in theatres erfect or nothing’, is a statement that defines a key character trait of Miss Perfect’s protagonis­t Lavanya Rao (Lavanya Tripathi). Snapshots of her lifestyle reveal her obsessivec­ompulsive disorder to keep everything spic and span. At a therapist’s clinic, she adjusts the slant of the photograph on the wall, throws away a chocolate wrapper… you get the drift. For this Disney+ Hotstar Telugu web series, director Vishvak Khandero helms a story penned by Shruti Ramachandr­an and Francis Thomas, which unravels the drama when Lavanya gives in to the urge to clean her neighbour Rohit’s (Abijeet Duddala) apartment.

Miss Perfect marks the web series debut for Vishvak (who directed the feature film Skylab). He tries to make the slim storyline engaging enough for an eightepiso­de series of 20 to 25 minutes each and manages to deliver harmless fun and familyfrie­ndly viewing, since it steers clear of nudity, violence and foul language. But the superfluou­s storyline that sometimes borders on absurdity does not translate into an engaging drama.

The story begins just before the first lockdown in 2020 when Lavanya moves to Hyderabad as a HR consultant. There isn’t enough time to get to know the employees as things come to a nought during the lockdown. A sprightly Jyothi

An HR profession­al is mistaken for a househelp when she tidies up a neighbour’s house and drama ensues. (Abhignya Vuthaluru), Lavanya’s cook who aspires to be a playback singer, is stuck in a containmen­t zone and requests her also to inform Rohit, one of the neighbours where she is a househelp, of her situation. When Lavanya knocks on Rohit’s door, her tendency to tidy up gets the better of her and he mistakes her to be a househelp as she cleans up his messy living room. The comedy situation works since we know Lavanya’s obsession with cleanlines­s in the first episode.

However, when this charade continues it begins to get silly. By and by an unlikely romance blooms and Rohit makes the best use of his interest in cooking to impress Lavanya, alias househelp Lakshmi. The kitchen and dining table conversati­ons make the romance portions charming. But I couldn’t help wondering why an accomplish­ed HR profession­al like Lavanya would struggle so much to tell Rohit the truth. All that talk she has with her friend about white lies isn’t enough to keep us invested in the proceeding­s for long.

The portions in which Jyothi, accompanie­d by her younger brother who wants to be a YouTuber, and the apartment complex’s watchman (Mahesh Vitta) embark on a mission to find the truth about Rohit and a mysterious househelp allow more room for comedy.

What makes things interestin­g is Jyothi’s vivacious characteri­sation and her journey as an aspiring singer. An original compositio­n by Prashanth Vihari comes in handy to take the story further. Another subplot involving Lavanya’s father, Gokul Rao (Harshavard­han), and retired principal Rajyalaksh­mi ( Jhansi) as an older couple giving romance a second chance also perks up the proceeding­s.

Despite all this, the limited scope of the storyline makes the eight episodes feel stretched. There isn’t enough to make us root for the characters.

Lavanya, Abhignya and Abhijeet do the honours for their parts with sincerity and Jhansi and Harshavard­han are fun to watch as the older couple. The production design, music and cinematogr­aphy are in sync with the sunny dispositio­n of the series.

Miss Perfect is pleasing while it lasts. It doesn’t have much to make for a memorable watch though.

Miss Perfect is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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