Bharat Ane Nenu, Srimanthudu, Janatha Garage: How director Koratala Siva has redefined heroism in Telugu cinema

Hemanth Kumar

Apr,22 2018 09:46:12 IST

A messiah, a reformer, a statesman, a protector, a warrior... there is no end to the number of ways in which a hero is projected in Telugu films. In most cases, a hero modelled on the lines of Gods like Rama and Krishna: wise, kind and also brave under specific circumstances. At the same time, every filmmaker has his own vision of what heroism is. While most of Rajamouli’s films have an ordinary man as a central character who becomes a hero under extraordinary circumstances, others like Sukumar have focused on the complex nature of human mind which leads them towards a different path. But there’s something distinct about the heroes in Koratala Siva’s films. Not only are they driven by their zeal to reform the society but also by the subtle political statement that becomes impossible to ignore in the end.

Everything that Siva, director of films like Mirchi, Srimanthudu, and Janatha Garage has done so far has given rise to a different brand of heroism, where heroes have a responsibility that’s far bigger than their own personal issues. In the words of Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than themself." And Siva constructs his heroes with this spirit where they become a hero for the working class and the downtrodden. There is a purpose behind their fight, and it is not always restricted to avenging someone’s death or injustice, which is commonplace in most action dramas.

Defining a lead character’s purpose and what he wants to achieve is one of the most important aspects of storytelling. In Siva’s films, a hero’s journey unfolds in the backdrop of a social issue. For instance, in his first film Mirchi, Jai (Prabhas) tries to change the mindset of a rival family so that they shun violence completely, and his journey begins when he loses his own mother due to the rivalry between two villages. The film is filled with instances where one family tries to prove its dominance over another, and the way Siva addresses feudalism — where one prominent character (Sathyaraj) stands for peace and basic human rights, while another is driven by vengeance and ego — made it a cut above a regular revenge drama.

Talking about how he chooses his stories, in a recent interview, Siva said, “I always take up social issues as my story line for a greater connect with the public. Issues like saving the environment, adopting villages, etc, are always contemporary; they never become stale.” The concept of adopting villages was highlighted in the Mahesh Babu, Shruti Haasan-starrer Srimanthudu, where an industrialist’s son Harsha (Mahesh Babu) leaves everything behind to adopt a village and transform it completely. It is also Siva’s most political film so far. Siva sets the story in a village Devarakota, where several families have decided to migrate to other towns and cities in search of a better life. The village is governed by Sashi (Sampath Raj) and his brother Venkat Ratnam (Mukesh Rishi), an MP, who hatch a plan to grab thousands of acres of land.

Koratala Siva Twitter

Koratala Siva with Mahesh Babu. Twitter

The film’s plot became a straightforward commentary on how rural areas are falling prey to rampant capitalism, and how one hero takes it upon himself to restore faith and human dignity against all odds. Towards the end of the film, Harsha tells his family members that he’s better off living in a village because that’s where his heart lies. Although there is never a direct discussion about rapid urbanisation that is prevalent in the country, Siva sneaks in an emotional scene where Mahesh Babu explains why moving to a city might not be a great thing after all. “Except for more buildings around you and less power outages, there’s nothing great about living in a city. You’ll hardly find people to talk to you. But in a village, where you’ve spent all your life, you know everyone around you. That sort of human connect is more important,” Mahesh Babu says. The message lies in the truth, which is rather blunt in this context.

Then, there’s Janatha Garage, which focuses on the life of Sathyam (Mohanlal), who fights for the rights of the poor and underprivileged, and how his nephew Anand (NTR Jr) continues his legacy later on. Beyond the family dynamics, there is a subplot in the film where Sathyam opposes a real estate honcho’s plan to build an industrial park in the land owned by thousands of poor people. And the "Janatha Garage" becomes a symbol of hope and a destination to seek justice.

Another recurring theme in Siva’s films is that of the lead character’s sacrifice for greater good. The heroes in his films make a choice or are forced with live with consequences that break their heart. In Mirchi, it’s Jai who overcomes his short temper following the death of his mother; in Srimanthudu, Harsha tells his family to let go of him because he isn’t a good son; and in Janatha Garage, Anand is willing to give up his love when he is forced to choose between his love and his uncle Sathyam (Mohanlal).

Talking about his writing style, in an interview, Siva once said, “I come from a communist family and right from my childhood, I was made to read a lot of literature. It became a habit, and I got exposed to a lot of ideas and ideologies. Besides, everyone in the family was quite aware about current affairs and we used to discuss a lot about social issues. It has definitely influenced my writing. I see myself as a storyteller first and a director next. In fact, my approach to directing films is more like narrating a story on screen, instead of telling it to an individual. Good writing comes from real life experiences and observation. As a writer, you need to experience a lot of things — happiness, suffering, pain, heartbreak, ecstasy — to be able to convey emotions, and I’ve always been fascinated by lives of ordinary people.”

It’s this aspect of underlining the issues faced by common people — in the midst of celebrating heroism — that has become a trademark in his films, and the message strikes a chord. However, the filmmaker also clarifies that he doesn’t deliberately try to make an attempt to trigger a debate on social issues. “My biggest challenge as a writer is to take a simple story, which might sound boring, and narrate it in an engaging manner. That’s what you see in all my films, so far,” he says.

In Bharath Ane Nenu, Mahesh Babu plays the role of a Chief Minister, who doesn’t hesitate to take harsh decisions for the greater good of the society. The film deals with issues like local governance, education, health, corruption, traffic, and others that continue to dominate the headlines. No matter how apolitical Siva and Mahesh Babu might be in real life, the film leaves a major impact, and it does have the potential to start a dialogue about civic responsibilities. With this film Siva has flipped the narrative that’s usually attached to politicians, who are almost always projected as greedy and evil in mainstream cinema. This time, he is underlining the message that with great power comes great responsibility. Not all heroes wear capes. In Siva’s films, they are ordinary people like you and me, who are enlightened enough to reform the world around them. They are driven by something far bigger than their own persona. There’s a word for it, it’s called Antahkarana Suddhi (inner cause).

“You know what, I love taking a boring theme and narrate it in an interesting manner,” Siva said in a recent interview. The lives of heroes in his films are anything but boring. And in the process, they become role models for a new age audiences who are sensitive towards the society around them.

Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 09:57 AM