a little sweet, a little sour

Exploring the detours that mind wanders into …


Mahanati – passion incomplete

It is very pertinent that whatever emotion the character is going through, the audience should also go through with the same intensity. Only then the emotion strikes a chord, gets registered and audience too get involved and invested. This applies especially for a love story. Mahanati had love story of savitri and Gemini Ganesan (GG) as the basis but somehow what ever savitri had for GG was not very palpable to me. They were going together and talking but not really seemed to be desperately in love. Why not make savitri long for him or wait for him or when asked to say dialogues for her first scenes get entangled with the dialogues thinking about GG and there by struggling to hold her senses in tact. For a simple girl to fall in love with already married GG, the intensity should be much more than normal and should have a strong resonance and shared interests/views or something that GG did for her beyond the ordinary. He did take the photographs that brought her into movies but still some more subtext needed here. And the scene when GG convinces savitri should have been fire and waves in the background to make it look like the fire of intense love fighting with the calmness of common sense/society/convention which water resembles. Each dialogue causing fire and water waves compete for affection and going back and forth. One of the scenes should look like water extinguished fire, well almost but not totally. A sliver of fire still remains and it starts to kick again and the conversation which seemed to end will start off again. As that is what love is, it does not bind to any definition and has no control. And finally fire triumphs over water as passion of this kind always does.
Also, what better way than a movie scene where they are in same movie and acting out roles and GG guiding her how to emote and show love. But Savitri is not able to show that emotion convincingly. GG asking her to look into his eyes and feel that love. Savitri locks her eyes hesitatingly and then is totally besotted and tells the dialogues and impresses everyone. That was the first time, friend became a lover, that transition from friend to lover should stand out with a scene and music, so we all realize something changed. This should be a free-flowing scene and should not look contrived or staged. And from here a mere touch or look take a different meaning for both. Even GG says, he never loved anyone like savitri so some real emotion from his side too should be captured when he’s away from savitri since we always see GG scenes with Savitri around but never alone, pining for her.
The best way to capture longing/avoiding/separation is through a background song which is actually saying – I am NOT missing you at all – but on the contrary the action that is unfolding in front of us is just the opposite. And scenes show that better with no dialogues but just longing and sad eyes, unsteady gazing for long hours with mind totally occupied with the other person who you want to avoid at all cost. You want to move on and get on but not as easy as said. And at the end of the song, the main protagonist – savitri here just keeps running and finds GG and again tries to go back , and as GG sees her he starts to talk to her and then she turns back and the embrace happens with no more words to say. Love has found its latest victim and from here, no turning back. Ready to wed as a second wife and knowingly accepting the repercussions whatever they maybe.


Arjun Reddy – A triumph of character

Arjun Reddy is introduced to us as a brilliant medical student and later on as a surgeon dealing with addiction issues. The most impressive part is the way director stayed true with the choices that the character makes at various stages and faces the repercussions of those choices with utmost honesty. We are mostly used to characters that are rebels for various reasons, some of which we empathize with and some not so. But it’s still hard to take the character through so many upheavals and all along keep those choices strictly within the purview of the character and not tone down based on what society and common sense expects or stipulates. The reason Arjun’s love for Preethi (who is a fresher in the college) starts to stand out is the unique way he openly declares his love for Preethi, with his friends first and then Preethi’s class and hostel-mates even before he confronts Preethi.

Arjun’s scant regard for game regulations was evident when he’s confronted by atrocious tactics from his opponents which opens up the flood gates of his anger.  His actions thereafter devoid of any regret, makes us aware of his irate and impulsive nature. Arjun never provides explanation for his actions which is always the turn of his buddy – Shiva. Even when faced with ominous consequences Arjun does not cave in to pressure. We will see patterns of this aggressive behavior repeat at other equally dire stages and events that confront him and even for things so beloved to him, he’s never the one to budge. That is something very rarely seen in an Indian movie not just Telugu, where most of the rebellious characters are pushed into a crater that they themselves dig into but they rarely venture into an endless abyss. This aspect of staying true with the character and not delving into a character’s motives halfheartedly made it look as if we were looking into someone’s life in an autobiographical fashion but not as fiction unfolding. Vijay Devarakonda breathes fire all through the film and his scenes when doused with anger are simply cinema at its best.

Arjun’s sensitivity to a women as an individual who needs proper respect and space were given to us in ample evidence esp. during the Holi festival incident. And also when discussing the way women need to be cared for during their menstrual periods or when his friend Shiva introduces his future brother-in-law who seemed to objectify a women’s body in a crude way. In continuation of this chivalrous theme, Arjun’s scenes with Preethi were very well written to show us that there is a very fine line between expressing your love to your girlfriend and in trying to impose yourself on her in deference of her wishes. Initially Arjun does appear to be doing the latter on Preethi but slowly we (and Preethi) realize when she gets injured or when she’s physically abused that there is much more to Arjun’s passion that is out of the ordinary. And the scenes that surround the first time prolonged separation between the lovers when Arjun goes to Dehradun for his further studies show us the depth and intensity that has engulfed both the characters.

Again there have been lovers (at least on screen), with similar passion and longing but never before have we seen a physical aspect to their relationship (549 times ?) being treated and talked about very casually without any guilt pangs on either sides. There have been umpteen moments in Bollywood where the consummation of a romantic relationship was talked about, meandered but never carried through for obvious reasons. Marriage was the license that had to deliver it. How come that sacrosanct principle was casually broken and we accepted it without a fuss? Is it just the new generation talking or is it how the director views physical needs as just an extension and natural expression of love? The same attitude towards the physical aspect comes into picture when Arjun post his breakup with Preethi, looks for sexual gratification with no strings (read emotions) attached, with his patients which includes a movie heroine. And even from a sex worker he would not seek that gratification. Spoiler alert – liked the way the episode with the heroine was added back to the story when Preethi confronts Arjun.

Looking at how the director cares so little about the physical aspect of a relationship, the cause for pregnancy might have originally been her abrupt marriage and she might have moved out of her marriage by the time she met Arjun again in the end. And the kind of love that Arjun professes and lives for, he’s prepared to embrace the unborn child as his and be a father to Preethi’s kid. The ending seems a tad tame considering the risks taken and the age old conventions that the movie has bashfully enjoyed in breaking all along its narrative. Sandeep, should we wait for the Hindi version to see the ending you had originally written?

One other aspect, which was very impressive, is the rawness that has made it look so life like. There are multiple factors that add to that realism. The dialogues were written in natural Hyderabadi accent which some movies recently have started to use and that was a huge factor in making it feel as if it was happening in your friends’ or cousins’ house and you were just witnessing it firsthand. And a lion’s share of the reason we feel empathy for Arjun (and humor too), should go to Arjun’s friend – Shiva, who just did not act. He simply lived it. There have been sidekicks before but none as endearing and selfless as Shiva. His reactions are so spontaneous that we start laughing at his dialogues and observations from his second scene itself. Very well written and executed, all with a straight poker face. The dialogues also had depth when needed notably when the grandmother spoke and to make her feel real, the director made her multi-lingual and thereby ahead of her times.

The camera does not try to garner attention with weird angles but just stays a silent observer capturing and conveying only what is needed. But when needed the camera did enhance the scene like when the hero after the breakup injects dope to himself.  And without saying much the camera just rotates the frame with Arjun lying unconscious and the camera takes a 180 degree rotation which ends with Arjun feeling on top of the world. Speechless! Here the background score slowly slows down the songs playing in the background and in effect making us go through exactly what Arjun was going through.

The background score is another landmark which added layers to the drama as and when needed. The sound design was eclectic with a very edgy feel and scenes that stood out were the football match episode, the Holi festival incident, and when Arjun gets addicted to drugs and alcohol. The director has a very clear idea of what, where and how much he wanted to add music to the scenes. Like during the break up when Preethi was trying hard to hold on to Arjun on the street and a tussle erupts, there was no music. The music with a symphony feel starts when Arjun breaks away with an ultimatum to Preethi. Very unlike Tollywood and the ensuing effect made it feel very surreal. The recurring image I have been having is that of Arjun going on his Royal Enfield bike to take revenge and the BGM that accompanied that scene was so pacy, intense and raw. Vadavowvow vadavow vadavow… Brilliant!

The length of more than 3 hours for a love story is definitely risky but the director went the extra mile, to give us more and more facets about the hero and his travails as the character was worth journeying with and worthy of all the extra footage and drama. It was not a case of take some bricks/chapters out of the building/movie and the whole structure would collapse. It was more like add some more sub stories/plots to the structure and it would become one of the tallest towers in a landscape of towering love stories. It was a calculated but well thought out move and in the process severely challenged existing norms of content and run times. Maybe because of the extended runtime, towards the end of the movie, it feels as if some of the dope has rubbed on us too.

Arjun Reddy can be called a triumph of character to give well deserved credit to the writer in Sandeep. Writing is a painful process and writers are always chasing a delusion of some kind with their characters. The challenge is in making that delusion palpable without being too indulgent. Most of the writers start with a rough sketch and discover and unravel the eccentricities of the character as they go along. They are together in this journey and it helps the script if they do not out run each other.

We all hope this movie will be a harbinger for many more realistic experiments like this. In the end what decides the fate of any story is how real and layered are the characters and how honestly are the writers and directors willing to explore and to what depths. Will the wait for the next Arjun Reddy be akin to the wait for the next Total Solar Eclipse? Hope not.


Ye Maya Chesave – what lies beneath a woman’s heart

For Love stories to be believable actors making their debut as lead characters lend a lot in terms of credibility and not having any image helps them to be identified as the girl next door or the boy next door. Even for directors it helps them to tell their stories just as they imagined. Coming to YMC, Naga Chaitanya was so easy to relate to as a boy deeply in love and his mannerisms seemed so casual and natural which made Karthik a believable lover boy. And for Samantha, I was floored by her range of expressions and she spoke so eloquently with her eyes. Its as if we knew what was in her mind by just looking into her eyes. The entire first half of the movie rested on her being silent about her true feelings towards Karthik. When she finally does declare her love to Karthik, boy what a moment she chooses, conveyed so sincerely with oodles of compassion in that soothing song – vintunnava. I love this line which conveyed it so perfectly – Mounam tho nee madhi ni bandhincha …manninchu priya. Both these characters had such pristine freshness and in effect it made Karthik falling head over heels in love with Jessi seem so real and too true to be fiction.
Most of the love stories typical to Tollywood strut their stories completely on ‘love at first sight’ notion. Well, it is true that people do fall in love at first sight and yes Love is such an emotion which when organic is entirely in the eyes of the beholder. Just like a beautiful spring flower or a gorgeous sun set it is an emotion driven purely by instinct. No thought goes into it at that very moment or at that first sight. And it only needs a pair of forlorn eyes to see that something that no one else has seen before and instill an unknown and undying passion to behold and take into arms the girl that triggered the hitherto dormant emotion. Thought enters the picture only when the guy wants it all for himself, for all his life and for no real reason. YMC starts with Karthik falling in love with Jessi besotted purely with her looks. And then as luck has it she resides on the top floor of the same building. In fact Karthik is the tenant in Jessi’s home but can he make a home in Jessi’s heart ? Or will he just be a guest is for the screenplay and characters to decide. Jessi is the prime mover and also the obstacle in Karthik’s journey. As any girl in her position Jessi is confused about her emotions and keeps vacillating towards and away from Karthik. As expected the guy is the hunter and the girl keeps denying him his prey but keeps leaving agonizing trails for the guy to chase. For there is no fun in any chase without hope. No surprises here. What makes Jessi more endearing are the occasions/situations she chooses to reject Karthik’s advances, and also express her love …! And then again break away from him just when he least expects it. Whoof..! So much to say and so many ways to say and each time either breaking the heart or taking the breath away or sometimes both in one..! Karthik is the sane and serene presence here and always staying steadfast in his passion and feelings towards Jessi. Though driven to near insanity by Jessi’s fluctuating moods he tries to convince her that nothing can stop him from loving her and making her his lifetime companion. All familial, religious and age-related obstacles quoted by Jessi repeatedly are definitely conquerable with true love and are at best mere excuses.
The conflicts in this case even though on the surface appear to be Religious, age and Language based, on a deeper level they tend to be purely based on Jessi’s confusions partly driven by her insecurities and to some extent by her circumstances. Conflict does seem real and starts to influence their relationship adversely as the relations between both the families keep deteriorating in spite of their best efforts. Jessi keeps talking about her Father being very strict and would not accept Karthik primarily because of his profession and religion. She also quotes her sister’s example who was also in a similar predicament and finally went with her father’s wishes and seems pretty happy. But all through Jessi wants to have Karthik as her friend, which does not seem plausible to Karthik. Aakaasam song accentuates Karthik’s logic perfectly as to why a lover cannot turn into a friend overnight – preminchaka sneham ante manasuki padadhe, munduku velle kaalam epuddu venakaku raadhe, e nesthamayee himsinchakilaa…nee premanani oohinchenela.. ..? Once a lover, always a lover..!
Jessi chooses the most unexpected way and day to convey her love to Karthik. And what a stunning way to say..! She was telling the whole world about her not accepting her Father’s choice for a husband and at the same time telling just that one person how much she loves him and cannot take anyone else in his place. A uniquely unique way of saying ‘No’ to everyone around her and hidden within that ‘No’ was a firm and unshakable ‘Yes’ to Karthik and their love. Which guy wouldn’t feel pride in his love with such a powerful statement and would surely make him feel pure ecstasy. Given a choice Karthik would have preferred a more private moment for her to express her love but love does not choose its moments and more so, Jessi! At that very instance Jessi proposes to run away with Karthik and get married. That was the only way Jessi feels they can be together since its a vain effort to get their families convinced about their love. But when Karthik does not agree to that proposal she states clearly that the same moment might not come again. A decisive moment once gone is gone forever. If it does come back it would be only in the form of a haunting memory to remind them of what could have been a choice between life and death. It felt true and in retrospect, did forecast Jessi’s fears as correct and prophetic. In the end, Karthik uses this same decisive moment strategy that Jessi quoted but with a different result.
Gautham Menon always had an ear for music and all his movies had excellent soulful music but all of them were in combination with Harris Jeyaraj. This was the first time Gatutham was going for the undeniable musical genius Rehman. And their combination did raise the decibel levels of musical expectations to an all time high. And initially when I first heard the songs except for Kundanapu Bomma all the other songs did not ring a bell. But as with all Rehman songs they just took time to pick up and now I like all the songs for conveying the moods so well. Rehman chooses his singers so well and it is really a mystery how he makes non-telugu singers sing telugu songs with perfect diction and with such restrained passion. I liked Vintunnava for the way Shreya Ghosal slowly builds the tempo. First she sings in a tone requesting for forgiveness for making Karthik (the hero..!) wait endlessly and then declares her abiding love that she was born for him. And then Karthik (the singer..!) singing in a high pitch all through, accepts her fervent pleas and considers him lucky to have been fortunate to have heard her true feelings finally. This song rests completely on the singing of these two supremely talented singers with minimal orchestration. Still, as Rehman himself said the songs for this movie are ‘quirky’ and does need some time to catch up. Well, Rehman is known to experiment relentlessly and hats off to him for having tried something new again and finally did eventually cajole me to fall in love with all the songs. But definitely, not at first sight sorry, I meant first hearing !
This movie has the least number of characters that I ever saw in a movie. What more iconoclastic than being the first Tollywood love story which rests totally on conversations between the Hero and the Heroine. All love stories usually heighten up the external tensions and create that as the sole stumbling block for the characters in question. But here though that is cited as being the reason for Jessi changing her feelings too often, the screenplay quotes her insecurities as being a more defining factor in keeping Karthik at bay. That in some ways breaks some cliches that I know about a movie heroine in love. Sets that make Karthik’s and Jessi’s home are as real as they come. You feel that house is just around the corner. Jessi was presented in such simple saris, chudidhars and skirts which made her so homely and yes, devoid of any overt makeup. At least, it seemed that way.
What women really want ? Well, does anyone really have an answer to that ? Surely all men try to unravel that mystery and very few can say for sure if they ever came close. It is a tough notion and to keep it floating all through the movie is complicated and strewn with landmines. It requires an adept screenplay and some real experience to draw from. Mere fiction will not suffice in this case. In fact all of our fiction based on love is mostly focused on what lies beneath a particular gender’s heart and that by itself should make them feel proud and gaiety. If women also were like men what is the fun in chasing and what is left to contemplate and write about !. But I did feel in YMC, the ending left a lot to fate to decide. Yes, surely we all meet by a strange coincidence whether it is an arranged or love marriage or even if you arrange your love marriage ! Call it fate or destiny or what not. But I felt the heroine walked out on the hero and she is remorseful and feels sad about walking out on him and would try to comeback to him after having loved him so deeply. If they did not meet in London are they not going to meet ever ? I know this is Gautham’s opinion about how destiny decides whether we meet again or not but that is leaving a lot to forces of nature. Yes we meet by accident but we do not stay together purely by fate. I would like to believe I am in control of my destiny if I want someone I should try hard to make amends if I’ve done something that needs to be repaired. We fall in love by quirk of destiny but we stay in love or comeback to love by our feelings and actions. I would have preferred the girl to meet just as they would in the movie, making it look like an accident. But when she starts talking to Karthik and finally opens her heart out, she should have told Karthik that she was thinking about coming back to him. In the meantime, she read about his becoming a movie director and he was coming to London for a shooting schedule either through media or his friend – Krishnudu. And then she came there to talk to him and made it all happen. That would make even Karthik feel happy about his love being requited. That makes Jessi responsible for her actions and driving her life by her convictions with a clear heart and mind. Better late than fate !

When I came out of the movie, I liked it but I felt that the movie was still missing something. I was trying to discuss the same with my friends and I was at a loss to clearly state whether I liked it or not. For a moment, I felt like I was in a predicament just like Jessi. So much for lack for clarity. Jessi lacked clarity in deciding about her love but me lacking the same about a movie, I can live with that ! Jokes apart, I was trying to pinpoint what exactly was that missing ingredient. When I started jotting them down in my mind, Krishnudu’s dialogue delivery and body language did not sound right to me – he was just reading out his lines and his friendship with Karthik stuck out as sore thumb. Picturization of the songs seemed to be the same all around with four foreign dancers in the background and looked as if they were choreographed in a hurry. But all these can be lived with. So this made me to write a review for the first time and in thinking about it all through since it has been a week since I saw it, I was being haunted by Jessi’s looks, Karthik serenading on his bike with Jessi in tow, the white house in that street nearby, the lush backwaters of Allepey and what might be going on in their married lives now for life has taken so many twists in their passionate love story. In-fact I was feeling their characters. And frankly I can say now after having lived with them for a week now, I like it. Yes there are some misgivings but it takes guts to make this movie. I can say confidently that I liked this movie more as I lived with the characters but not as much at first sight. This movie at first viewing I believe you would either love it or do not like it but you cannot ignore it. Gautam needs to be commended for he has not bowed to the market demands as there are so many compromises he could have made just to make it accessible to the lowest common denominator. Just like Karthik he was unwavering in his resolve, trusted his characters and his dream. And maybe like Jessi, fortune and box office might turn around and hug him. As I commented above in case of Jessi about the all-conquering fate, is box office acceptance a fate-driven event or can we orchestrate it with a clear vision and strategy ? Remember, we are talking of emotions here. So make a wild guess or take a calculated risk..!

In conclusion, I would say this movie has been created thoughtfully, beautifully. Made to last and to fall in love, at first sight..hmm..?!:)

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