Miss India (2020) – Netflix Movie Review

 

An Important Story that Unfortunately Lands Awkwardly

A significant story depicting the way Indian women are regarded not only in the workplace but within their families. Miss India sheds light on a culture still ingrained in traditional societal roles. Conceptually this Netflix movie is quite powerful, but unfortunately it plays out awkwardly.

Director Narendra Nath’s debut film is a subtitled Telugu-language drama following Manasa Samyuktha (Keerthy Suresh) from her village of Lambasingi, India through to chasing her goal of becoming a career woman in America.

As a child, Samyuktha is encouraged by both her father (Naresh) and grandfather (Rajendra Prasad) to think big and follow her dream. Her brother (Kamal Kamaraju) and mother (Nadhiya), however, don’t seem to be quite as progressive. Although they are happy for her to work and contribute to the family coffers, it’s only until it’s time for her to marry advantageously.

As Samyuktha fights to break stereotype she encounters more of the same – men who admire her spunk but essentially want to box her up and side-line her straight into the kitchen. Among them, her investor Vijay (Naveen Chandra) and nemesis coffee business owner Kailash Shiva Kumar (Jagapathi Babu).

One remark by Kailash felt particularly poignant: ‘If we don’t work hard to fulfil our dreams, we’ll end up working hard to fulfil someone else’s dream.’

It says something about how one spends one’s time. Are you a salaryman or a rainmaker? And does it matter to you? Similarly, single-minded Samyuktha makes a parallel comment about being the owner, founder and sole proprietor of one’s own life. It bears consideration.

I wanted to love this piece. As a fellow tea addict, especially chai, I was ready to be pretty forgiving, even with its OTT approach. But what starts as a bit of masala-style cheesiness, goes further south with clunky dialogue and acting that feels like… well, acting. Stiff and abrupt in some places, exaggerated in others, it was difficult to focus on the tale.

Details felt over-dramatized in spots, like a retail business launching from zero and franchising across California over a period of six months. Nothing against extravagant storytelling, but in this case it makes one question the premise – the commoditization of Indian women. And I suspect that defeats the point of the film.

The music was a mix of lovely Hindi original works and overpowering louder-than-dialogue measures, bellowing to make a point. The humour wasn’t winning either as jokes about the father’s Alzheimer’s condition fell flat and frankly, weird.

Oddly all the non-Indians appear to either have European accents or strangely robotic voices. Perhaps it wasn’t filmed in the US. Or is that a veiled observation of business-speak in America today? Additionally, a few settings stood out as possibly Continental or at least not California but perhaps that’s virus-related movie-making in play.

There’s a lot going on here, tackling several issues plaguing the Indian community – the value of women, the importance of following a dream, the idea of self-conviction, the definition of success. Maybe there are too many big chunks to try and chef salad them together.

Notably powerful, with a meaningful message, Miss India lets itself down in the way it’s played out, with over the top dialogue, acting, music – well, everything. With such an important conversation it’s disappointingly presented, like a caricature of the movie it could have been.


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