Sundari Gardens has this aspiration to analyze a character rarely explored in our mainstream cinema. And the movie by Charlie Davis prefers this Jis Joy-ish feel-good template to do that. In the initial portions, when we see the free-flowing life of our heroine, it feels like a breezy comedy. But as the movie tries to create conflicts to make the central character look complex and vulnerable, Sundari Gardens starts to feel very silly.
Sundari Mathews is a librarian in a school. She is a divorcee, and despite bitter experiences in the past, she is trying to bounce back in life. The story here focuses on the phase in Sundari, aka Suma’s life, when a new teacher named Victor Paul joins the school. Suma is interested in Victor, but her insecurity doesn’t let her express her feeling for him and what all happens in that equation is what we see in Sundari Gardens.
A divorcee exploring a second chance at a relationship is a very interesting and sensible theme. The kind of judgemental gaze these people will have to go through daily gives the theme an opportunity to create something that could make the viewers empathize with someone like Sundari Mathews. But the writing part is very cluttered. There is a teenage pregnancy bit in the beginning that fades out quickly. Then the unrequited love track is happening, followed by a tragedy. After that, the film again goes to the funny space and then back to the emotionally clumsy zone. This back and forth is understandable when you look at Sundari as she admits she is a mess. But there isn’t an organic transition from one phase to another to make us feel for Sundari.
Aparna Balamurali is undeniably the major plus point of this movie. Charlie Davis wants Sundari Mathews to be insecure yet visibly very chilled out. Aparna understood that zone of the character, and in the beginning portions, I really rooted for that character. Neeraj Madhav is playing the character of Victor, and the performance was in sync with the warmth the movie wanted to have, and the on-screen chemistry was also quite lovely. Lekshmi Menon plays the role of Lekha, a character written comically. Even though it was a minimal role, Binu Pappu delivered a memorable performance, and I really liked the banter chemistry between him and Aparna. The rest of the characters were largely inconsequential to the film.
If you are a fan of Sunday Holiday, yet another Aparna Balamurali movie, I would say this movie might feel like an okay romantic comedy. And just when I wondered whether Jis Joy was associated with this project in some way, a song pops up where the hero and heroine are in a restaurant, and singer Sithara, along with music director Alphonse, is singing at that restaurant. In developing a character-driven drama, Charlie Davis is struggling to find solid moments in the screenplay. Be it the family dynamic in Sundari’s life or how she is treated by Victor’s mother, all those moments kind of stick out, and when Charlie takes the movie back to the “cool” zone after every conflict, it almost feels like belittling the struggle of the heroine. The cinematography by Swaroop Philip primarily focuses on the lushness of frames. The songs on an album level feel nice. The movie is, in a way, drenched in music, and that wasn’t really helping. It almost felt like one song was playing in the backdrop for the entire first half.
Sundari Gardens, as a one-liner, had an interesting premise, but the lack of imagination in writing makes it a dull and cheesy drama that uses its feel-good texture as an excuse. The central character in this film deserves a better set of hurdles. The flawless performance of Aparna Balamurali can’t cover up the excessive “goodness” you can see in every corner of this movie.
Sundari Gardens, as a one-liner, had an interesting premise, but the lack of imagination in writing makes it a dull and cheesy drama that uses its feel-good texture as an excuse.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended