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.

 

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Gautamiputra Satakarni- A cinematic celebration of an epic

The screen opens to the kid’s conversation with his mother. He’s puzzled about the need for so many kingdoms and so many rulers to rule them.He swears on her to bring a day where there would just be one kingdom and one king to rule, in the place of so many. The proud mother laughs at her son’s simplistic solution of governance. We don’t see them having this dialogue, we get to hear them. What we instead get are visuals of sculptures from the era, that just about gain enough movement to come alive briefly, over the banter. It’s a poetic way to bring to life, an untold story of a legend whose life has hitherto been chronicled through sculptures mostly. These are grace notes of cinematic liberty and we get a glimpse of them, even before the first sequence begins to roll in.

We’ve had quite a few movies- effective ones – set in the times of emperors; Jodha Akbar, Bajirao Mastani to name a few. Gautami Putra Satakarni, set in the similar space does all that these movies did to service the legend and a little more. Akbar and Bajirao from the movies were well waxed fitness models, who could audition for Step-Up movies, who spoke and strode with English theatre precision. They could’ve been Hamlet or Caesar- albeit, in a different milieu – still made sense. Their enunciation was punctuated by exaggerated breathing, a pointy chin position and some times even fervent quivering. I’m not saying they were ineffective; that would be sacrilegious. Just that they spun a sensibility to their interpretation of these kings from thousands of year ago, to make them palatable to the hoi polloi of today. This is where Balakrishna’s Satakarni is a different creature. The character draws heavily from his impulsive offscreen persona as much as he draws from its towering stature. The result of this leverage is pure bliss onscreen. Satakarni is no fitness icon with a well waxed chest; in fact far from it. But his deft wielding of swords, the ferocity with which he acquaints to the battlefield, the glint in his eyes in his wife’s company and the authoritative gait that cuts him distinctly through a gathering more than make up for the thick waist and unruly grooming abilities. If anything it brings an air of authenticity to  the proceedings. Why does every king played on the big-screen, need to possess boulder shoulders, well curated facial hair like men of these days. We know these men through scriptures and sculptures, at least whatever is left and authentic. Safely speaking, weren’t statements and faux-pas supposed to look way different, a few thousand years before Gold’s Gym, Naturals and Manish Malhotra happened?

The women in the movie are the only ones without a weapon, but are as strong as their male counterparts. Take for instance Vasishti(Satakarni’s wife), she’s no timid doll content on deriving warmth from the laurels of her luminous husband. Her ideologies don’t meet with his and she doesn’t shy away from the resultant friction as well. And once realisation dawns, she’s the one to forgive him and not the other way around. Not a big thing, one might say. But given the ecosystem in which the film is set and also the chauvinistic oeuvre of its lead, this is no mean feat. Shriya who plays Vashisti lends dignity, grace and seductive appeal to the character.

Epics are things of mythology; makings of fantasy. If actors bring them to vision, dialogues bring them to life. And the lines in the movie do exactly that. Every time as a king reads Satakarni’s letter of truce, the voice over echoes, “Sharanama? Ranama?“(Surrender or War?). Balakrishna might be a loud actor, but his prowess with the lines is a sheer love affair between phonetic beauty of the Telugu language and unbridled conviction. See him in that sequence, where he corners a traitor. Like a possessed man he flares up,”I defeated you, you didn’t change. I befriended you, you didn’t. I’ll now end your life, you needn’t at all.

What’s a movie about an ambitious ruler, without his conquests in the battlefield. The war sequences have a hand made quality about them, the strategies and the tactics are industriously staged. As a result, we consistently see the war through him and sometimes around him, with a sense of vicarious participation. It’s infectiously delightful to watch him plot his battle moves in his camp, like a game of chess. A project this ambitious needs to be helmed from the thin space between heart and mind. Krish, director does this with fervent dexterity. His love for cinema; love for aesthetics, love for Telugu all of it comes to life in a picturesque Amaravathi, with extras who feel like citizens.
An intimate moment between the king and the queen segues from the royal bedroom to a group of courtesans performing for the ministers, set to the tune of an enticing track. A film that finds the necessity to augment even its duets with narrative imagination is a special one, to which I doff my hat.