Anushka Shetty is luminescent as Anvitha – a commitment-phobic chef who is lonely. Naveen Polishetty as Sidhu Polishetty, an aspiring stand-up comedian, is effortlessly funny.
Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty is about an accomplished woman who decides she wants a baby but not a man. As such, this is a shockingly new premise for Telugu cinema though Hollywood films like The Back-up Plan (2010) explored it more than a decade ago. Directed by Mahesh Babu Pachigolla, the romcom brings together two charming actors – Anushka Shetty and Naveen Polishetty.
Shetty’s Anvitha is a London-based chef who is afraid of getting into relationships because her parents divorced when she was young. The film struggles to find its rhythm in the opening stretch, especially with the badly cast British people who don’t sound British. Jayasudha plays Anvitha’s mother and is quickly disposed of through the convenient plot crutch of cancer. The film takes off only when Pachigolla moves past the cliches and lands at the central conflict – how can Anvitha have a baby without a relationship?
Shetty is luminescent as Anvitha, dressed in pleasing pastels and carrying the role with dignity. But Anvitha is also strangely asexual, and that isn’t the same as being commitment-phobic. Though the film wants to depict a “modern” woman, it doesn’t want to challenge traditional ideas of a “good” woman.
Anvitha is only ever shown cooking at her restaurant or staring blankly at the walls in her house, a picture of loneliness. She has exactly one friend (Sonia Deepthi) and they never talk about anything other than how lonely Anvitha is going to be if she doesn’t find someone. How about having some fun, ladies? Pachigolla may have believed that he was making a film with progressive ideas but all that the bleak depiction does is reiterate age-old notions about single women never being able to find happiness.
Naveen Polishetty plays Sidhu Polishetty, a corporate employee who wants to become a full-time standup comedian. Shetty wants a baby, and Polishetty is a man-baby. He lives with his parents (Murali Sharma and Tulasi), is never on time, jokes around at his workplace, frequently gets drunk and is passed out in bed. Polishetty is effortlessly funny and his standup sets are on point – the jokes aren’t too original but his delivery is impeccable. Murali Sharma and Tulasi also add to the comedy, though Sharma appears to have been stuck with the grumpy daddy stereotype since Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020).
Sidhu falls for Anvitha, without realizing that she’s only considering him as a voluntary sperm donor. This is an interesting setup, and Pachigolla milks it to the film’s advantage. Anvitha and the audience are in the know about what’s going on, but not Sidhu. So each time he misinterprets what she is saying, you’re guaranteed a laugh. Pachigolla, though, stretches the material too thin, as if he were unsure about how to let the conflict develop and evolve.
The screenplay becomes repetitive, with Anvitha admonishing Sidhu and Sidhu refusing to understand her point of view. The songs are a drag, especially in the second half when the film meanders too much, hammering in Anvitha’s loneliness with random shots of her being lonely in the United Kingdom. Yes, we get it, Anvitha is single and unhappy. Single women can never be happy. Got it.
Though Anvitha is clearly more mature than Sidhu, the script ends up infantilizing her. She doesn’t know what’s best for her, man-baby Sidhu does. By the time the film reaches its painfully conservative conclusion, you’ve completely lost interest. It rather reminded me of Mani Ratnam’s Tamil romcom OK Kanmani (2015) that promised to explore the dynamics of a live-in relationship. The leads (Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen) had such great chemistry, but the film’s understanding of a live-in and why people get into it was disappointingly superficial. Like Anvitha, Menen’s Tara too is the product of a broken marriage and that’s why she wants to be in a live-in.
Male filmmakers appear convinced that women seek out non-traditional ways of living because they’re “damaged” in some way; they don’t recognize that traditional ways of living are actually damaging to women who recognize it and want something else. This avuncular, patronizing attitude may not be deliberate, and it may even be well-intentioned. It still needs to be called out. Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty had the potential to be groundbreaking for a Telugu romcom – but like a joke that starts out well but ends up being stale, it outstays its welcome.