Bharat Ane Nenu- The most potent Mahesh Babu film after Pokiri

It was a sultry Saturday evening in Summer 2006, we Tamil guys had landed ourselves, plum middle row seats at Jayaprada for Pokiri. A Telugu friend had dragged us into this, over another Tamil film which all of us wanted to check out. This was my first Telugu big screen experience. Hitherto, familiarity with Telugu films involved loud-jarring footage at stay-overs,of rotund elderly uncles doing things, one generally has come to associate with a chimp on cocaine and Spiderman movies. So I wasn’t specifically upbeat when the screen came alive. But moments into the film, my prejudice changed, as air bound vegetables paved way for Mahesh Babu. He was nothing like the last Telugu hero I remembered- The punk; the shirt folded over a long sleeved tee; the swag; the devil may care attitude; the laid back dialogue delivery, like chewing betel mid-slumber; the effortless larger than life persona, made me an instant fanboy. For a while after that, he was suddenly everything I wanted to be subconsciously. I went for a bunch of his movies after that, even enjoyed Dookudu a lot, loved every bit of SVSC, didn’t understand the euphoria around Srimanthudu and felt bad when Spyder(I’m one among the handful who enjoyed it for its ambition) tanked. But nothing came close to the Pokiri experience as far as the MB persona goes.

So mind was a bit of a mixed bag, when the morning show of Bharat Ane Nenu commenced. Another Utopian story of a proverbial leader, served masala style, I thought to myself, from the trailers. For how better is it going to get from Leader or Mudhalvan, which form the realistic to commercial bandwidth around political-one man narratives. Then this scene happened minutes into the movie. Bharat’s driving his car and gets to know the people he’s about to rule, through the chaos they make around traffic signals. The means doesn’t seem to matter to them, everyone’s just preoccupied to get to the other end. This traffic signal’s a microcosm of the people’s attitude It’s a beautiful visual metaphor of falling civil standards. These are the kind of scenes that make you sit and take notice of a commercial movie’s integrity.

Bharat is an upright guy, not necessarily uptight, notwithstanding the monochromatic power clothing. He’s a creature of details. Look at how he finely moves his name plate, just enough to be in a straight line with his seat, on his first day as CM. MB plays him with characteristic dignity, lackadaisical arrogance and elusiveness, just enough to remain endearing, with accessible reverence. But that’s MB from any social gathering in reality. But it really doesn’t matter. The real and reel life elusive persona play off each other nicely, creating a synergy, larger than life. Like his contemporary Vijay, after all these years, MB too has still got some amount of boyish charm left in him, while going over men deliverables in fallen patriarchal set ups.

I loved Mirchi. It was raw, intense and unabashedly mainstream, with no other ulterior motives to pull. To me Srimanthudu wasn’t as spontaneous cinematically. It was overwrought with an Utopian central deceit. Janatha Garage was a much better mainstream experience, but again Siva was chewing more than he could swallow, trying to be environmentally conscious, while making a Thalapathysque film with a triangular love track and what not. In that sense, Bharat Ane Nenu doesn’t try too hard to be any particular thing, in the process finds it own distinct voice. It’s a simple story, narrated with a grand vision in a freely flowing style.

Wolf whistles are born, when a great story marries a superstar. But that’s the thing about stardom. It can be worn like a flourscent shirt, loud and on the face. Or can be worn like a perfume, subtle and classy. He’s amongst the rare breed that does the latter.  All of this is another way of saying, “Mahesh Babu is back. And in style.”

 

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Mourning Sridevi and falling human standards

It was an usual morning, blank and staring back. Usual, till I heard my sister scream from the room next. I had never seen her so agitated before. She was animatedly trying to wake my bed-bound grandmother up, who had tipped over to the other side only moments ago. She had literally seen the two of us from the time we were palm sized womb fluid covered creatures till the time we could adult around in the evening of her second childhood. To me she was the ersatz world till I could step out into the one with roads and traffic rules. She was the guardian angel who never minded being taken for granted, while continuing to unconditionally give. We always get the chance to say goodbye to our close ones, before leaving out of town, before going out for dinner or even before hanging up. It’s the saddest of ironies, that we never really get to say the one goodbye that actually matters in the end.

The room was filled with stench, her bed was wet. The bowels are the last to ditch to one, bringing indignity to death. We carried her to the hall, like moving a furniture that once used to be animate, where she lay on display for all to mourn for hours together. That place by her wooden corpse, was the longest and hardest of minutes of my life. And the crematorium, where the engulfing  fire summarized her into a compact urn was the last kick at the groin of an already numb heart.

Mind you this was a woman, who had died close to her eighties, a death all of us were expecting to come sooner or later.

Now imagine a hale and healthy middle aged woman, who while attending a wedding is let down by her coronaries in the middle of her bath to drown to her demise. Terrible, right. Imagine the shock of her husband of many years moments after the freak death, from outside the bath. His helplessness. Shattering, right.
Now imagine the woman in question- looks dialed up to a celestial extent, fame the size of a comet and wealth a little more than a third world nation’s GDP. Does the extent of tragedy feel watered down, by the quality of life that preceded the moment of death.No. Does the fact that she’s the second wife of the man outside, strip the tragedy off her death. No. Should the glamorous high flying lifestyle of her husband render him immune to the gravitas of the situation. Hell no.

Then why can’t we let Sridevi’s death be solemn. Hours after the outbreak, we had lowlifes solicitously spreading conspiracy theories, mostly involving excessive Botox, like vengeful syphilis ridden sex workers. Some news channels, went  a step further, to recreate the damned last bath with morphed images of the actress. Everyone wanted a piece of the coverage, even if it meant the bereaved family’s peace of mind was collateral.

The human code of conduct is a constantly evolving doctrine— that exists parallel and within the subjective law of the land — kept abreast with evolving understanding of rights and wrongs, with some taboos that’re alone eternally carved in stone like- no incest, no cannibalism, no non consensual intercourse and no drawing pleasure from a death to name a few. While the rights and wrongs are to make the world a better place to live, the taboos are intended at keeping away the primordial chaos that existed in the caves.

That’s exactly what got me worried about with the coverage of Sridevi’s death. The violation of a taboo that wasn’t to be slighted with. And the tumbling standard in humanity that ensued. Yes, her metier was mainstream and vanity prone. She was a fascinating creature. A seductress who drove hordes of men and gentlemen into weak knees and sweaty indiscretions over two generations. Such actresses and their personal lives are prone to constant public discourse and curiosity, agreed. It’s okay to be inundated by the heights of their irony tower from the streets. Even mock its dwellers out of envy.  No tectonic plates dislocate. But that card isn’t a hall-pass to orchestrate a mocking circus over a funeral. As much as we would swear to the contrary, wealth and fame no matter how much, fail to insulate one’s family from the sting of their demise.

Mind you, these are not naive snafus to be overlooked as uncouth behavior. These are major red flags that mark the breaking point of a morally infertile generation, on the cusp of degeneration. Of slipping human values, like turds of a wet rock. Of the constant inorganic labour to make everything cool. Of the inexplicable itch to make a meme out of a monument. Of  endlessly looking over the shoulder,  with little room for introspection. Violating a dead person’s dignity is not much different from rape. We don’t need to guilt trip. We don’t need to debate. We just need to ruminate on the acceptability of our behavior. And if we feel don’t feel that proud,it’s about time we change. For karma is a bitch that’s been around since the time of dinosaurs.

Arjun Reddy- The anatomy of a heart break

His suffering is personal, let him suffer.”, Arjun’s grandmother tells midway into the latter portion of the movie. That pretty much is the length and breadth of Arjun Reddy, a cinematic ode to yet another romantic left high and dry. Just that he isn’t yet another guy. And this ain’t yet another chronological account of his self destruction that ensues a failed relation.
AR is one of the rare movies that serves as an epitome, bottling up the personality of its protagonist. Like him, its rough on the edges, uncouth without an iota of polish or political correctness. It’s a rugged, in the face account of a hopeless romantic with the constant stench of his inebriation to suffering.

His entitlement exists in this fleeting space between self respect and ego. And his state of mind keeps see sawing from self pity to self loathing.In Arjun we get a rare tragic hero, whose idealism doesn’t end with the matter of hearts alone, but trickles to ickier spots of everyday life. Like his unreasonable expectation of ‘dignity’ of non commitment in a heated moment with an attractive woman. Or the brutal show of honesty in a career ending juncture that puts his backers in a spot of bother. These are moments that don’t exist to persuade us to agree with this guy. If anything, they make you loathe him more. But by now you’ve become privy to the suffering he inflicts as an ointment on his wounded soul. While empathizing with his close ones who’re pulled along like rag dolls in this masochistic pursuit.

We’ve got quite a lot of films that’ve come out of this ecosystem, but none get as down and dirty with the psyche of a heartbroken soul as AR does. While most movies trace this downward spiral of a breakup from an objective fly on the wall perspective, AR abruptly drops us in the middle of his lonely world, devoid of a modicum of humor,hope or purpose. We get a panoramic view of this handcrafted hell of his, with the life of his friends, family and his pet even, being torn apart as collateral damage.

The love story that plays as a flashback is whiff of fresh air. It’s an imperfect love story between two incongruent young things. For once between a better looking guy and an ordinary girl. She’s timid, he’s flamboyant.  He exudes attitude, if not cigarette smoke. She well, contemplates and breathes. The contrast between them keeps piling up as their unusual chemistry begins to manifest. There are innocent moments in this portions like the awkwardness that precedes their first kiss. They’re seated next to each other. Fingers entangle in an undramatic way. And he changes position to make his legs face her, only before adjusting his inners along with the jeans from his crack. Then the first kiss trickles. The next one. And the next one, before the dam breaks in a series of montages.

For a movie intending to serve as an ode to torn hearts and fractured souls, AR effortlessly oozes so much spunk and attitude. Mind you, it’s not the usual showboating you find in such auteuristic attempts, but aesthetic appeal that comes organically from dexterity of scene conceivement and unconventional character arcs. Take for instance, a scene in the present where Arjun’s shown smoking in his dingy living room with heavy metal in the background, that segues seamlessly in the music of his Enfield’s engine in an episode from the past.

It’s refreshing to see a movie operating in the old-wine-in-a-new-bottle territory with such panache, moulding every aspect of its narrative from a clay chaster than cliche- a cool granny with an unconventional perspective to things, a conservative brother who beats up in a show of concern, a girl who continues with her extended awkward hug with scant regard to the guy’s growing discomfort, the wallowing friend who looks for his friend’s sign off on his romance days before his marriage , the college gang war that ends in a cigarette and not to mention the man who solicits sex from random women as “physical help” to his ailing heart.

AR feels like a doff of hat to everyone who’s ever been in a self respecting relationship once and seen it burn before them into unrecognizable pieces of nostalgia, only to be locked in a distant part of their memory. It celebrates the purity of those painful bouts of churn in the stomach. The morning awakenings to the eternal gloom of nothingness. The alcohol soaked mind trips. The condescension of every seemingly functional relationship around for the want of a better sport. The friend who babysat with blind eyes and deaf ears to each and every shenanigan. The glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. And the long drawn out redemption. AR is a colossus to the bitter sweetness of love failures. An eulogy of sorts to the deceased love story, buried deep within.