C/o Kancharapalem movie review: An authentic ensemble of realistic yet heart-warming love stories

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

September 06, 2018 16:19:11 IST

4.5/5

Love has rarely made me write. (If you discount my letters to Ms De Costa, my Class 3 teacher, that is.) But I have seen C/o Kancharapalem, and am a changed man. I write now with love and hope.

Dear angst-ridden brothers-u and sisters-u from Andhra, Telangana and the Bay Area, all ye who have been wandering about like me in a semi-catatonic state in the arid wasteland we call Tollywood, I recommend you drink deeply from this sweet oasis, and quench your thirst for good cinema.

The good news for the average Telugu filmgoer: C/o Kancharapalem, despite its arresting poster featuring real people, not actors pretending to be people, is first and foremost a love story. Actually, make that four love stories for the price of one. Next, all those fearing they will not be transported without notice to Prague or Vienna when they are least expecting it, there are songs, too. Set entirely in and around Kancharapalem, though. Trust me, five minutes into this film and, you won’t be missing the parking lots of anonymous malls abroad, that Telugu filmmakers think are de rigueur for songs. You won't even miss the bewildered-looking East European dancers.

The poster of C/o Kancharapalem.

In C/o Kancharapalem love comes in all sizes. And ages. The first  – or second, or third, depending on how you look at it – features fifty-year-old Raju, the ‘attender’ in an indistinguishable government office, and his friendship with a widowed superior, Radha, an Oriya woman who has been recently transferred to Kancharapalem. The next features Sundaram, a boy of ten or eleven, and his infatuation with Sunita, the most cherubic girl in his class whose big challenge is the song she has to sing on Independence Day. Sandwiched between these two stories is the story of Geddam, a shop boy in a liquor store, and his obsession with Saleema – a mystery woman whose only visible features are her mischievous, yet tragic, eyes – who he waits for every day when she comes to pick up a quarter-bottle of Mansion House brandy; and that of Joseph, a local strongman’s hired-hand, and his hate-turned-love for Bhargavi, a feisty girl from an orthodox (as if there is any other kind) Brahmin family.

It isn’t hard to detect the varied influences on the fine young filmmaker, Maha Venkatesh, and how deeply internalised these influences are. Sundaram and Sunita’s puppy love has a whiff of Mooga Manasulu, Joseph and Bhargavi remind you of Mouna Ragam’s Karthik and Revathi, Geddam and Saleema hark back to Pakeezah. This is the difference between plagiarism and inspiration. This is how inspiration should work. Here's a new voice, one hopes, capable of infecting future storytellers.

The average viewer tends to think of ‘Indie’ films as dry, not light enough for general viewing, and low on humour. And this is an Indie film through and through, despite the commercial behemoth Suresh Productions’ name attached to it. But C/o Kancharapalem does the impossible by being both succulent and light as peechu mithai. With a steady stream of racy, unforced humour, the idiom and irony of which aren’t always captured entirely by the subtitles. (Which is understandable.)

C/o Kancharapalem loves its women. Radha, the government officer, doesn’t believe in pecking orders, breaks the custom of the attendant not eating with the clerks, and is the proactive one in forging a friendship with the tentative Raju. Bhargavi isn’t intimidated in the least by a local dada, and even less by his protégé, the wild-eyed Joseph. Saleema, the sex worker, neither craves a ‘normal’ life, waiting for a man to ‘save’ her, nor is she going to be told how to live her life, be it by a client or a hardliner from her own faith. Radha’s daughter, a small but important character, is not going to be dictated to by men either. Even the idol-maker’s wife, who plays an even smaller role, we get to see, is an equal partner in her marriage. In a telling scene, the idol-maker says ‘Let me ask my wife, too, before I give you my decision.’

While the actors playing the principal octet of characters, Raju, Radha, Geddam, Saleema, Joseph, Bhargavi, Sundaram and Sunita are refreshingly, if sweatily, real, mention must be made of Ammoru (the strongman) played beautifully by Uma Maheshwara Rao. It is a small role. But he stays with you. As does the stuttering idol-maker (Kishore Polimera), whose character, without giving anything away, turns out to be critical to the story.

There are two kinds of movies. Ones like Baahubali (god bless its success) and Avatar (sorry, James Cameron, for mentioning it in the same breath) which create their own worlds with unlimited budgets, hundreds of technicians, and state-of-the-art CGI. Then there are films like C/o Kancharapalem that catch you by the collar and drag you into the real world — one right among us, one we rarely pay to see — with nothing but the horsepower of their beating, beautiful hearts.

Debut director Maha Venkatesh gives you one of the sweetest, stand-up-and-clap climaxes you’ll see in a long time, with a denouement that will make your heart and mind meet in a head-on collision.

Note: Everyone save one starring in this film is a local from the eponymous town, and a first-time actor.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is novelist, humour-writer and columnist. Jump Cut, his seriocomic second novel, is set in the Tamil film industry.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2018 16:19 PM