Geetha Govindam- A highly entertainining, yet problematic movie

I remember this one particular interview of Vijay Devarakonda. It was on the heels of the release of Arjun Reddy, which was quickly turning into an avalanche of sorts in Indian cinema. It wasn’t one of those padded-insulated vanilla affairs, in the sense that it did away with the usual vanity riddled surface level enquiries . It was intentionally uncomfortable and there was no beating around the bush.

But what caught my attention was the grace with which these questions were handled. Vijay Devarakonda spoke about the sanctity of kissing and how it was different from sex and lust. While the anchor went on a condescending tirade, enumerating the number of cigars stubbed, drugs abused and liquor bottles emptied— not to mention the cuss words spoken to the fairer sex —through the movie’s running course, here was a man preserving the movie’s dignity and intention, while holding on to his own in great style. Suddenly Arjun Reddy felt more than just a movie. It was a moment. It marked the victory of a piece of art forged with the highest form of dedication and passion, by well intentioned gentlemen who wore their hearts on their sleeves. And there was finally a hero, who didn’t need weird monikers before his name, to join the galaxy littered with a lot of lineage produced stars. It was heartening to see someone among us occupy the ivory towers.

That’s probably why Geetha Govindam didn’t work for me as much. Agreed, not every other movie is going to be an avant garde offering. But there were some plot contrivances that didn’t just feel cliched, which is totally fine as far as I enjoy my popcorn. They were problematic. Take for instance, the creepy manner in which the hero attempts a selfie in a moving bus, with a girl who’s asleep. Or how he later chastises a similarly(or even more) disturbing display of fondness by another girl. Or the worst of all, how the girl from the bus returns his favour with an attempted selfie while he’s asleep or her reason to fall in love with him.
These aren’t mere jolly good overtures that can be brushed under the rug, for some innocent comic relief like the movie nudges us into buying with its feel good staging and musical cues. These are outright displays of disturbing behaviour, with dollops of double standards. When would our mainstream filmmakers understand that being creepy ain’t cute?

In a movie like Arjun Reddy, sex, substance abuse, expletives blended organically with the narrative . They set the mood. They were the fizz to his cola. They weren’t mere vanity prone idiosyncrasies and indulgences, but scaffolding that held the protagonist together in that dark phase of his life. While they would act as an ersatz crutch, they would eventually come to cause his fall. In a way, they completed his character arc. In other words their reason to exist was justified. Unlike the overall stalkery and creepiness that get doled out as innocent acts of romance in Geetha Govindham.

Let me make one thing clear. I’m not some tightly-wound prude who polices the conduct of onscreen activities for a want of a better identity. I step into a mainstream film, with my brains left far behind. I’ve got no problem buying into loopholes and cinematic liberties, as far as it is entertaining. I was one of those people who fell in love with the violent sequence by the waterfall, in which Bahubali confronts Avanthika with her femininity. It was sensual and done in good taste. And more importantly, it felt aesthetic given that it was a periodic film.

None of this is to say that GG doesn’t entertain. It delivers big time on all counts. The songs are gorgeous. It’s got some really great production value that renders each frame with a screensaver quality. The performances are terrific across the board. It’s just the fact that I found it hard to stomach the ticks that came along as innocent or incidental. All the more from the guy who gave me Pellichoopulu and Arjun Reddy. And not to mention, that interview.

Advertisements

Goodachari- A loving ode to the spy genre

In the initial portions of the movie we’re shown Arjun a.k.a Gopi as an orphaned child; he constantly keeps asking about his deceased father to his foster one, to only be met with loud silences in return. This keeps happening as they keep moving from one place to another as he struggles to come to terms, with this sudden permanence of change in his life. In the process we see him harden from within. We understand the place from which he would go on to make an unconventional career choice with frantic devotion. Goodachari is the recent addition to Telugu cinema’s dalliance with hitherto untouched genres. These movies are not just made with a solicitous finger on the check boxes that have come to become mandatory of a genre, but with a feverish passion as avant-garde offerings that manage to please the masses as well. Kshanam by the same writer(Adivi Sesh) was one such gem in the thriller space. It put a civilian in the centre of a whodunit involving the missing child of his former lover. This time around the stakes get higher. It’s just not a personal mission and he’s an actual professional with a license to kill. Though in hindsight— the narrative dexterity, the emotional conflict, the eleventh hour smarts, the powerful woman prototype and the unrequited romance of both the movies do overlap, albeit with their own reasons to exist.

I smiled at the doff of hat to the Kingsman movie, the way the secret bureau here is also set in the basement of a Tailorman store. This is where we see our greenhorn protagonist get molded with the manners that maketh him the eponymous hero of the movie. Be it the Bond or Bourne movies, we are introduced to the agent as an already savvy pro with some serious hand combat techniques in the middle of an ongoing crisis. Each time a diplomatic figure is saved from an assassination attempt or a continent from being nuked in those films, the believability comes from the credibility of the franchise. Goodachari explores the “how” and “why’ of a spy’s invincibility in the genre.The training portions, in which we see the spy getting raised, brick by brick drip with authenticity. We for once see the gruel. The sweaty, clumsy parts of these portions usually play as montages, set to the tune of a pulsating number in the end of which we get the transformed self of the protagonist as the last note of the song lands. This film doesn’t resort to such genre conveniences. It takes the hard route and celebrates these messy moments, as these are the scaffolding that would hold this man together when he’s hung out to dry. We’re constantly hand held in these portions, through every deceit and modus operandi that would come in to play later on. When Arjun’s learning how to clock locate men from his superior, it’s just not him, but us as well. Later when we see him do a number on a bunch of thugs with his pistols, we buy that for this very reason.It is to the credit of these portions that we buy his espionage, as he slides from one tight situation to another, like a slab of butter on a pan. The pleasant surprise is the tight rope walk of being intelligent without being indulgent that is done in style, while remaining high concept and international.

I also loved the emotional beats involving his father. They lend him with a relatable vulnerability, that is hard to come by in a guy who is shown to do macho stuff with both his eyes closed.  His identity is a lie. His biological father becomes a lie, memories of who would continue to haunt him. It’s the same memories he leverages as a trump card when nothing’s going his way. These thoughts seem to constantly cloud his judgement. While they do motivate him initially to become a spy, they ensure there on that it’s not a cakewalk. This play around these stray paternal epiphanies, raises the stake for the red herring that comes our way in the end. This is not the “nation before everything” trope, we’re so used to. It does operate within the tick tock survival template a la the Bourne movies. But instead of the stone cold mercenary, we get a vulnerable man on the go, figuring out the spy in him, as theories become applications and professional blurs into personal.

It’s not often that you walk out these movies with a sense of satisfaction often reserved for course altering cinema. Who said spy thrillers, especially the ones churned  from this part of the world have to be campy, cliché riddled affairs? They can be imaginatively written puzzles as well— with a symphonic quality —that acknowledge the intelligence of the lowest common denominator in the audience while staying true to the genre. And if the standing ovation in my theatre was anything to go by, the audience did like being taken seriously for once. Bring the missions on.

 

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.”

 

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 a constant 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.