It is rare to come across a tale of complicated family dynamics in the Telugu cinema space that thrives on stories that project families as perfect entities, Kumari Srimathi tries to break in and impress you with the realities of how families function. Written for the screen by Srinivas Avasarala, Kumari Srimathi is a Telugu-language Prime Video India original that was released on September 28, 2023.
Kumari Srimathi is about a diligent woman, Srimathi, who is in her thirties, fighting tooth and nail to get her grandfather’s ancestral property back from her scheming uncle, Keshav Rao. The man is himself trying hard to win this property case so that he can sell it off at a good price. The verdict issued is not in favor of Srimathi, as the court gives her the option of buying her uncle’s share of the property for 38 lakhs, and she wonders how she will ever get hold of this amount. Srimati’s strained relationship with her mother does not help her case, which is why she decides to start a bar and restaurant in her village, Ramarajulanka, to get quick money in the next six months to get the property back. Is the village ready to see a woman running a bar? Will her family and friends support her decisions? All these questions are answered in the seven episodes of the show.
The story of Kumari Srimathi is the biggest highlight of the show. It is heartening to watch such rooted stories about women empowerment coming out of the Telugu film industry. The story highlights the hypocrisy of society in a subtle way, rather than making noise about it. A man could own, run, and be given business loans to run an establishment that serves alcohol and food. Meanwhile, a woman is looked down upon for running the same business even though she abides by the same rules and regulations. While men of her age are thriving financially, Srimathi, as her name suggests, is expected to get married and settle down. The writers, thankfully, do not go into sermon mode. The female lead is hardly affected by the comments thrown at her, and she keeps moving forward because running a legitimate business is her right.
The dysfunctional family is always an interesting subject to tap into. Many films and television shows have dealt with this subject. The writers of Kumari Srimathi handle the dysfunctionality of Srimathi’s family humorously. Srimathi’s mother, Devika’s qualms, lie in the fact that the girl is not yet married and is willing to sacrifice her ‘youth’ to establish a business and subsequently save her ancestral property. The emphasis on women getting married and Srimathi steering away from the subject without making any unnecessary noise is peak feminism. It is endearing to watch women taking center stage in the storytelling, and most of the story surrounds them and the ideas they have been raised on, something Srimathi unconsciously wants to break away from.
The narrative does start to drag a bit in the last two episodes, which are taken over by the family drama that involves the disputed property. A lot of that portion could have been reduced to talking about Srimathi’s fight for her rights. The runtime of the last episodes could have been at least ten minutes shorter to make the narrative tighter. A lot of the story is dedicated to the time spent by Srimathi working around the bureaucracy to get her bar and restaurant up and running.
Kumari Srimathi becomes satire when the leading lady goes from door to door asking for business loans and wanting government approvals to acquire liquor licenses and registering her establishment. The humor of the show is another highlight. It is well-laced with the narrative and allows the viewer to relate to it. It is subtle, nuanced, and packed with the right kind of punches. There are unnecessary gags involving the uncle’s twins, which are mirrored around the “Ramesh-Suresh” of the popular ‘5 Star’ advertisements. The gag loses novelty after a point and unnecessarily adds to the length of the episode. Certain subplots were introduced, but the makers did not explore much about them. Dubbing is still an issue with Telugu shows and movies.
The direction of Gomtesh Upadhye feels a little tacky in places, especially towards the climax of the show. An overstretched screenplay coupled with unkempt direction messes with the viewing experience. The director was unable to harness the potential of plenty of the supporting characters, which puts off the audience to some extent.
The direction at other places works in favor of the narrative because the world-building is excellent. The home and the surroundings feel lived in and will be reminiscent of places the viewers grew up in. The show nicely captures the nostalgia factor that a young woman like Srimathi has toward her ancestral homes. It is always the third generation that understands the value of a home where they were raised with bountiful memories. It accurately projects the tussle between the parental generation and their need to go after necessities and not be bogged down by nostalgic factors.
The platonic and romantic relationship is written with a lot of maturity. The friendship she shares with her friend Sriram is organic, and it is not rushed through the narrative. The same could be said about her relationship with Abhinav, her childhood crush, who might have had feelings for her as well. Kudos to the writers for not taking the commercial route to discuss relationships. They are slowly built and only become better once we get to know the person and accept them.
The performances of the leads make them highly watchable from the start until the end. Nithya Menen is excellent as Srimathi. She faces issues from every possible corner and still manages to get past them and do what needs to be done to achieve her final goal. In the process of getting her ancestral property back, she ends up becoming financially independent. She is excellent as a woman who is working hard and unconsciously imitating her mother in her struggle to sustain a family.
Gautami, as Devika, is a mother who is conditioned by society to forever remain worried about her daughter’s nuptials. She is also brainwashed to think women can run only certain kinds of businesses. The mother goes from a hyperactive parental figure to finally coming to terms with what Srimathi wants from her life. Rameshwari, as the grandmother, is an endearing addition who oscillates between the mother and the daughter. She tries to find a middle ground to understand what women of her granddaughter’s generation want, apart from having a partner for life.
Kumari Srimathi is a wonderful watch, and it allows us to see the Telugu film industry from a different perspective where women are not objectified. Their life choices and opinions matter in the bigger scheme of things, which makes the show highly endearing.