White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Telugu Movie Review: Miss. Shetty Mr. Polishetty feeds off its endearing leading man

Naveen Polishetty and Anushka Shetty star in the Telugu romantic comedy "Miss. Shetty Mr. Polishetty," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

For the first half-hour or so of Miss. Shetty Mr. Polishetty, I thought I was in for a rough ride, with the movie seemingly better suited for the Hallmark Channel than theatrical screens. With a cloying mother-daughter relationship, feminist politics that struck me as painfully outdated compared to those of other recent Telugu films I’ve seen, and an intentionally prickly lead performance by Anushka Shetty, I was fearing the worst as a viewer. But every so often, an engaging movie simply makes a bad first impression, which thankfully turned out to be the case here.

The premise is as contrived as they come, even for a romantic comedy. Shetty’s protagonist, Anvitha, is a renowned chef currently working at a prestigious hotel in London. She’s on top of the world professionally, but her personal life is nonexistent beyond her special relationship with her mother (played by Jayasudha). Even this bond is threatened, however, when Mom’s health begins to deteriorate. Mom asks Anvitha to take her back home to spend her final days in Hyderabad, where Anvitha remains after she passes. Feeling more alone than ever with only her friend Kavya (Sonia Deepti) to lean on, Anvitha hatches a somewhat desperate plan to fill the void. She’ll get pregnant with a child of her own, with the help of… a sperm donor. After all, she doesn’t have the time, patience, or trust required to let an actual partner into her life.

This setup could have potentially worked if the lead performance had been particularly likable and spunky. But instead, Shetty comes across as a psychologically unstable woman who is downright unwilling to confront both her past family trauma and her troubling inner-formulations of Western second-wave feminism. Why would we root for her if she doesn’t want to change? Despite the film’s stylistic attempts to telegraph a heartwarming tone, Anvitha consistently comes across as abrasive and selfish early on, rather than as a wounded bird worthy of our investment. It’s hard to sympathize with a character’s inability to connect with others when her attitude is clearly what’s at fault. I get that her arc requires her to soften up over the course of the story, as she moves on from her mother’s death, but writer/director Mahesh Babu Pachigolla and actress Shetty don’t exactly give us a reason to want Anvitha to progress toward that better future.

But against all odds, the whole movie really starts to click when its male lead, Naveen Polishetty’s Sidhu, enters the picture. Not only is Polishetty effortlessly charming and funny in the role – it’s hardly a surprise that certain aspects of his character mirror his own backstory getting into show business – he also completely reframes our experience of Anvitha’s character through his interactions with her. Sidhu is an aspiring stand-up comedian who Anvitha sees perform by chance; she realizes he may have the qualities she’s looking for in a donor. Anvitha being Anvitha, she can’t come out and directly ask Sidhu for what she wants, so she approaches him with an offer to potentially perform at one of her hotel chain’s functions as a way to remain in contact. As they continue to meet and get to know each other better, Anvitha is covertly testing Sidhu’s genetic fitness; Sidhu believes they’re falling in love.

In a tried-and-true movie formula, the likable Sidhu begins to bring out the vulnerable, good side of Anvitha that we’ve been overlooking all along, allowing her character to open up and eventually progress. While I’m not sure the script does that much to earn this on its own, Polishetty is so charismatic and endearing in the role, he fully convinces the audience of the development. Sidhu is reminiscent of one of the “lovable loser” leading men in vintage Judd Apatow comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up; he works a dead-end IT job by day and keeps his stand-up aspirations from his parents (Murali Sharma and Tulasi), who would no doubt disapprove. But he’s a genuinely talented guy, and Anvitha – herself a great talent in her own discipline – recognizes this. Initially, this is because she’s looking for a donor who meets her standards, but as the two become more deeply invested in one another, we realize it’s because she truly cares about him. It’s a testament to Polishetty’s performance that the special qualities Anvitha sees in Sidhu translate to the audience.

That’s not to say that Anvitha admits that she’s genuinely falling for Sidhu – either to herself or anyone else. But the audience’s confidence that she is, indeed, keeps the momentum going; it’s a special kind of dramatic irony that successful rom-coms really thrive on. Watching these two characters interact becomes a true joy. And even as Sidhu remains much more individually compelling than Anvitha throughout, with his stand-up performances capturing a magic of their own, she does ultimately become more of a character we can get behind.

Milking its classic will-they-or-won’t-they tease for all it’s worth, the story mounts to a climax that is presented in such a stylistically exaggerated way that it would almost certainly be an unintentional laugh-riot if viewed out-of-context. But I was so invested in the characters by this point that I was fully willing to indulge the movie in its broad strokes – and I suspect most viewers will be, too. I had a moment where I realized how ridiculous the scenario was, but it ultimately only reaffirmed how much the movie was working for me. That I was willing to be charmed by the material and not reject it just demonstrated how far the film had gone to win me over, considering my skepticism toward it at the very beginning.

Beyond the titular romance and Polishetty’s winning comedic performance, there’s not a whole lot to write home about here, with the potential exception of two awfully catchy songs in “Lady Luck” (especially) and “No No No.” The production values are strictly average and unobtrusive, which suffices just fine in a rom-com. Miss. Shetty Mr. Polishetty may not break any new ground, but it should ultimately satisfy both halves of couples going to see it, which is a much bigger accomplishment than I would have guessed early on in its runtime. Perhaps more pressingly, it portends great things for Naveen Polishetty – still a relative newcomer – in the future.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

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