Mail on aha: Priyadarshi props up a story about a young man obsessed with computers

Posted on January 22, 2021

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mail aha

The actors are lovely and this is a sweet, impossible-to-dislike nostalgia piece, but I wanted it to be more.

Spoilers ahead…

Which eye twitches for a bad omen? The right one, or left? That’s the extent of the concerns of the young men we meet in the sleepy little town of Mail, written and directed by Uday Gurrala. Imagine the change that’s about to arrive when they can actually find out the answer, by typing out this question! The millennium has just begun, and a man named Hybath sets up a gaming centre. It’s a lovely touch that Hybath is an outsider, and Priyadarshi plays this man as though he were a magician. (And given the smallness of this town, what’s his clunky computer if not a “magic box”!) His reaction shots and gestures are paused, deliberate, like someone performing for an awe-struck audience. The most awe-struck of all is Ravi (Harshith Malgireddy), one of the young men we met at the beginning. Forget the eye, his whole being twitches with excitement when he realises there’s now a computer within cycling distance.

This twitching is downplayed, like everything else in Mail. Ravi is the son of a debt-ridden farmer, but the family’s financial woes aren’t transformed into high melodrama. Ravi falls for his classmate Roja (Gouri Priya), but this isn’t exactly a “romantic track”, with songs and cheek-pinching cuteness. Ravi falls for a scam, but this development doesn’t feel like a Tragedy™. The pacing, the staging – everything suggests a minor mishap, a slip on a banana peel that’s only slightly bigger than usual. The only (mini) explosion from Ravi occurs when Roja says she has a boyfriend – what’s worse, the chap’s a software engineer. If only Hybath had come to this town earlier! Ravi could have been that software engineer. Even the comedy is downplayed. When Ravi’s friend Subbu (Mani Aegurla) ends up the recipient of a series of slaps, it never turns into… slapstick.

Mail is a sweet, impossible-to-dislike nostalgia piece, but I wanted it to be more. The director, I think, wanted to emulate the sleepy rhythms of a town where no one is in a hurry to get anywhere – but this comes off as too thought out, and even at two hours, the film feels stretched. Kamran’s mandolin-accordion score paints a heavy coat whimsy on the proceedings – I wish the music had been downplayed, too. The ending feels forced. You can see through the contrivance – unlike, say, in a Sudani From Nigeria, which is also sweet and sleepy and charming, but always filled with something more than just texture. There is a strong sense of what next, either in terms of event or character development. But enough with the whingeing. The actors are so good, the atmosphere so felt, and individual scenes are so lovingly crafted that the coming down hard on the film feels like wearing an “I hate puppies” T-shirt! And I simply refuse to be that guy.

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