Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
In Venu Sriram’s MCA (Middle Class Abbayi), the stranger is Nani, who’s forced by his brother to accompany his sister-in-law Bhumika, an RTO officer, when she’s transferred to Warangal. Meanwhile, the city is under the clutches of Shiva (Vijay Varma), who runs a transport company, and everyone is scared of him. The formula to bring these two opposing forces couldn’t be more easy, and Venu Sriram unravels his story on familiar lines. And here lies the catch with the film – its setting gives us some of the most charming moments in the film, whereas its conflict kind of sucks the life out of the whole drama.
The whole concept of MCA is explained in one of the punchlines in the film which translates to – “Middle class people are quite peculiar. We don’t like confronting anyone, but when someone tries to harm us deliberately then we’ll do anything to fight back.” In a way, MCA encompasses two stories, which are supposed to complement each other; however, the more you understand Nani’s conflict with Shiva, the more you realise that it’s an unimaginative subplot that pales in comparison to what Venu Sriram has in store for another story featuring Nani, Bhumika, and Sai Pallavi.
Right from the beginning of the film, we are told that Nani doesn’t like the way his sister-in-law treats him. In his mind, he’s almost like a manservant for her, and his daily routine includes helping her with the daily chores. He doesn’t communicate with her, and everything she says comes across as orders. He wants to run away from her, but his entire perspective changes when he realises the motive behind her actions. This moment of realisation is the biggest payoff in the first half of the film which rests on the equation between Nani and Bhumika Chawla.
Then, there’s Sai Pallavi, who is quite forthright about her views and doesn’t mind taking the initiative to propose first, which comes as bit of a shock to Nani. Sai Pallavi owns the screen with her expressive eyes and charming personality, and her onscreen chemistry with Nani is a treat to watch.
While the film draws most of its strength from its lead characters, it’s biggest drawback is the dilemma it faces in how to turn a cat and mouse chase between the protagonist and the antagonist into a thrilling encounter.
The hero is just way too smart for the villain and there’s hardly a moment where we begin to doubt Nani’s capability to win the mind game that the two indulge in. And that’s when you begin to slowly lose interest in the tiff that forms the basis of the entire second half. There’s a lot of things at stake, but you pretty much know that all’s going to end well.
The final twist to the tale is perhaps its most striking idea, but it comes a little too late into the narrative to make a big change to the overall experience. Vijay Varma, who played Shiva, performs well, but he’s let down by an underwritten role, where the strength of the character feels underwhelming when he begins to face the heat.
In the end, the film truly belongs to two actors – Nani and Bhumika Chawla. It’s the awkwardness of their relationship that sets the ball rolling, and making MCA an endearing watch in the first half; however, the moment the narrative shifts to another segment, everything changes. Nani pulls off his role with plenty of sincerity and it clearly shows in every scene, and the consistency with which Bhumika underplays her role is truly noteworthy. She’s the emotional anchor of the film.
MCA is not a bad film, but it also leaves you with a feeling that it could have been a lot more. In another era, a similar plotline, of a guy wanting to save a girl from the clutches of a villain, formed the basis of Mahesh Babu’s Okkadu. MCA doesn’t venture into the same arena, because its protagonist doesn’t think he’s a hero. By the time he realises that he’s one and does everything to save the one whom he begins to admire, it feels like watching two different films because the tone changes quite drastically.