In a tech firm in Orange County, USA, a 20-something H-1B visa-holding immigrant, Shyam Kumar (Kaushik Ghantasala) walks in with an air of pride and tells his boss that he has fixed issues related to a bug over the weekend to have a head start to Monday. He is taken aback by what he hears next. Later, in disbelief, he mutters that this shouldn’t be happening to someone like him who scored the seventh rank in Intermediate exams! Little things like this add the Telugu touch to the 89-minute English-Telugu American indie film How is That for a Monday? produced and directed by Sripal Sama, who has co-written the film with Sai Praneeth Gouravaraju.
When Nagesh Kukunoor made the English-Telugu film Hyderabad Blues 25 years ago, it inspired aspiring filmmakers to take the indie route. While his hometown Hyderabad and its people became the muse for Kukunoor, Sripal Sama sets his story completely in the US and shows how to make a Telugu-English American indie within a limited budget.
How is that for a Monday? (English-Telugu)
Cast: Kaushik Ghantasala, Candido Carter, Elester Latham and Keegan Guy
Direction: Sripal Sama
Storyline: A turn of events on a Monday changes the lives of an immigrant techie, a billionaire, an elderly man and a gang of amateur thieves.
Music: Dawn Vincent
How is That For a Monday? has a multicultural cast that’s representative of people who live in the County, and most of the film takes place on a Monday that changes the life of the techie immigrant Shyam, a bunch of amateur thieves, a billionaire and an unassuming elderly man in the neighbourhood.
Shyam speaks English like an H-1B visa immigrant would, without rolling his ‘r’s the American way. He is cash-strapped, pawns some gold for funds and is soon chided by his girlfriend (whom we only hear on the phone) that giving gold away on Akshaya Trithiya can invite bad luck. Shyam doesn’t know that it is Akshaya Trithiya and brushes away her apprehension as superstition. However, everything that can go wrong on that Monday, does.
Meanwhile, in the neighborhood, amateur thugs break into a house and are looking for an elderly man, Christopher Carter (Elester Latham). We learn later that he suffers from dementia. The story of Shyam and that of the elderly man criss-crosses in a way that Shyam and we, the audience, would least expect.
The locations used for this film are an indication of its limited budget (around ₹54 lakh), with Rahul Biruly’s camera closely following Shyam’s journey in his car, his modest-looking office, the lone Telugu friend-colleague and the thieves. The neighbourhood views are limited to a few houses, the streets and a pawn shop. It is all minimalistic but effective.
The film finds its rhythm after the first few minutes and gradually builds the tension. Shyam, initially annoyed that people call him Shayam, soon begins to care less. There are other things to worry about, like having to repay a debt and police and thugs knocking at his door for different reasons. The crime drama mode is intermittently punctuated with humour from the amateurish gang members and when Shyam’s friend has had enough of him and stories of his Intermediate rank. In another situation, a manager says that in the IT sector, managers only manage situations and do not know how to fix problems.
When the mood is well established for a crime thriller, Sripal and Sai Praneeth nudge the story in a different direction, opening up what seems like a small crisis into a larger picture, in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident and Black Lives Matter protests. Neither the incident nor the campaign is spelt out in the film, but its ripples are mentioned with occasional statements such as, ‘you know what is happening in the country’.
Shyam realises his problems are much smaller when he stumbles upon another character and learns his story. To reveal anything more would amount to spoiling the suspense. The film raises a toast to multicultural identities and the need to celebrate lesser-known legends.
The aftereffects of this film might make you read up on Jesse Owens. Like Shyam, we may also learn to acknowledge the bigger picture as we get caught up in day-to-day hustles. Perhaps, we will also learn not to snap at customer care executives who reiterate, even if annoyingly, that they apologize for any inconvenience caused.
Kaushik Ghantasala is impressive as Shyam, wearing his vulnerability on his sleeve as the odds mount against him. We see the weariness build on him through the day and his performance is both earnest and effective. Elester Latham as Christopher Carter, Keegan Guy as the gang’s leader, and Candido Carter as the cop Brandon Mayor are the other worthy additions to the cast. Dawn Vincent’s music fits the narrative like a glove, without drawing attention to itself.
The tonal shift from a crime thriller to a drama that discusses racism and identity isn’t seamless. But the heartwarming end more than makes up for it. This is a confident directorial debut from Sripal Sama and Kaushik Ghantasala gets to showcase his acting chops.
(The film is currently showing in multiplexes in a few cities in India and USA)