Jathi Ratnalu loosely translates to jewels of the nation in Telugu. The descriptor is ironic. The three friends it refers to are far from it. Srikanth, Ravi and Shekhar are slackers, desperate to escape the confines of their small town, Jogipet. They long for the big city and the respect it brings – especially if you have a job that hangs an identity card around your neck. Led by Srikanth, who convinces his father to give him two months to make something of his life, the three make it to Hyderabad. But instead of landing jobs, they find themselves embroiled in a murky political controversy, which involves corrupt ministers, a cell phone with an incriminating video and bribes of hundreds of crores. They must now extricate themselves from the mess and also ensure that Srikanth’s love story with their neighbor Chitti stays on track.
All of this plays out with outlandish humour that doesn’t flag despite the film’s daunting length of two hours and twenty-eight minutes. Writer-director Anudeep K.V. stitches together a sparkling comedy that is cheerfully silly without being lazy. The chemistry between the three will remind you of 3 Idiots and the absurd plot of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. The narrative veers into nonsensical but the inspired lunacy keeps it afloat – the jokes keep coming and they almost always land.
So Srikanth, who pretends that he can speak fluent English, says lines like: ‘I’m also a responsible Citizen Kane of this country’ or ‘according to Indian constipation, I’m still uncriminal till proof.’ There is a hilarious thread about Ravi’s love interest – a woman he has never met. The two have painfully banal conversations but with great passion and refuse to hang up on each other. When Chitti’s disapproving father angrily asks Srikanth if he’s ever even heard of a PhD, Srikanth replies, I’ve heard of the letters but separately.
Into the laughs, Anudeep threads in social commentary – the film touches upon the lack of opportunity in small towns, the dazzle of the big city, which ultimately proves hollow, the venality of politicians, and their rabid, ignorant followers who will do anything to keep them in power. The three friends are, as Srikanth says, good people who tell small lies. They just want a slice of the shiny consumerist dream reflected in the tall buildings and swanky offices of Hyderabad. There’s a lovely moment in which Srikanth, sitting with Chitti, tells someone on the phone that he will call him later because he’s at the Taj Banjara. He then smiles gleefully saying, he always wanted to drop that line. Banjara Hills, the posh locality of Hyderabad, is a symbol of the good life, which Srikanth aspires to. At one point, he declares, “I will be a Banjara Hills son-in-law.” But ultimately the boys realise that Jogipet offered something that Hyderabad never will – warmth, familiarity, home.
The actors – Naveen Polishetty as Srikanth, Rahul Ramakrishna as Ravi and Priyadarshi as Shekhar – are terrific. The film might be purposefully absurd but they are playing it straight, which adds to the laughs. Srikanth is a charming everyman. His yearning for something better in life than his father’s bangles shop in Jogipet is instantly relatable. But do keep an eye on Ravi, the drunk in the trio. There’s a laugh-out-loud moment when the cops give the three a narco-test which doesn’t work on Ravi because, as he proudly says, he drinks so much. Thankfully the script doesn’t relegate the heroine to a glamorous entry and two songs. Chitti, played by the lovely debutant Faria Abdullah, is pivotal in resolving the mess the boys find themselves in.
Through the film, Anudeep also pays homage to the movies and how they shape our lives and dreams. It’s apparent that this film has been made by a film fan.
For too long now, the film industry has peddled mindless comedies – or what is called ‘Dimaag Nikaal Ke Dekho’ cinema. These are shoddily made movies in which anything goes because you aren’t meant to think. Jathi Ratnalu isn’t big on craft or logic either. But the intelligence and hard work shines through. The film shows us that laughter and brains aren’t mutually exclusive.
In the 1941 classic Sullivan’s Travels, a film director named Sullivan, who is keen to make a serious and important film, discovers through a series of misadventures the importance of comedy. He says, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all some people have? It isn’t much but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”
Exactly. Jathi Ratnalu is the infusion of good cheer you need right now. You can watch the film on Amazon Prime Video.