Dil Chahta Hai has spawned several films about yuppie urban youth and their dilemmas. None of these had place for the middle class moviegoing public in urban India. Nor did these find real representation in mainstream Hindi cinema unless you count the so-called middle-class Kajol from Chandni Chowk who sports original Manish Malhotra designs in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.
So, when a small film from Bangalore comes to Mumbai with a story about real people, real situations and very real problems, you are forced to take notice. Prakash Belawadi's debut film Stumble handles the topical issue of how the software bust and financial scams have had a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people.
The story revolves around the family of Anand Rao (Anant Nag) who has taken voluntary retirement from his bank job and invested all his savings in a government mutual fund which goes kaput. His wife Nandini (Suhasini) juggles between keeping her frustrated husband's drinking in check, boosting her talented daughter Madhu's (Pallavi Dattu) fragile self-confidence and working in a bank.
Madhu works for a software company whose promoter Darshan Khosla aka DK (Ashok Mandanna) has incurred huge losses chasing the dotcom dream and now wants to switch to the latest business fad, call centres. But in order to adapt his company to this shift, he has to lay off talented engineers who are led by the dedicated Prashant Hegde (Ajit Bhide). Madhu is amongst those who get the sack.
As the story progresses, DK and his 'mother of the year' nominee wife Indu (Priya Ganapathy) are seen hobnobbing with scheming politicians and fly-by-night foreign investors who are in for a quick buck, any way they can make it.
Meanwhile, Madhu's brother Uday (Ajith Hande), a software engineer in the US, returns home after losing his job and the family is plunged in despair.
Stumble contrasts the conscientious, hard-working middle-class against greedy entrepreneurs who have no qualms about exploiting the unsuspecting public to stuff their pockets. While Madhu is ridden with guilt after losing her job despite being talented, DK and Indu are busy wining and dining prospective benefactors without a care in the world for the people who helped build their business.
The film scores on account of its realistic depiction of educated urban youth and their aspirations. Madhu is a representative of the bright young women who may have made some inroads in a male-dominated work environment, but when it comes to the marriage market, it is still the shade of their skin that matters most.
On the other hand, Belawadi is guilty of being over simplistic and loses his way with some characters. The wily politician is a painful stereotype we have had more than enough of. What is worse, Mukhyamantri Chandru, who plays the part, goes overboard with his exaggerated mannerisms.
The two foreigners are crude caricatures, as is Indu, the snobbish socialite who goads her husband on through his selfish schemes. Since the good and bad characters are so neatly stacked up against each other with no scope for grey, the film's conflict becomes too unambiguous.
Having said that, Belawadi handles the problems within the Rao family quite effectively. He is helped along by brilliant performances from Anant Nag and Suhasini. Amongst the young actors, Pallavi Dattu and Balaji Manohar, who plays her friend, are impressive.
Stumble is an interesting debut. If Belawadi can be a little more restrained in his storytelling, he definitely has a bright future.