Arjun ready: the audience is; the censors are not

Arjun Reddy is not a breath of fresh air. It is a whirlwind, a very welcome one. it does not tread the path of dozens of so-called youth movies; revelling in meaningless attitude and in an endless line of songs proclaiming that the hero is one of a kind (usually a self-proclamation). In this story, attitude is not a fancy cloak, it’s the very character, embedded in every thought of the protagonist, influencing his every action. it is the consistency of this character that antagonises even the people who love him. And the vulnerabilities that lead to self-destruction, the inability to deal with rejection or presumed betrayal, exasperate even his staunchest supporters.

It is this nature, of never considering adjusting a whit to fit in a convention-dictated slot, that makes most of the scenes so happily non-cliched. In contrast to this character is that of the heroine which initially seems submissive in the extreme. You are made to realise her true grit with a sucker punch in the end. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of a strong character and a forceful character. The strongest character is also the most silent, and she remains invisible too in most of the second half. The forceful character’s performer is, of course, the tour de force of the movie.

This coming of age movie is a milestone in the coming of age of Telugu cinema. A liberating freedom of expression, hitherto untested. It may be raw, but it is deliberate and does not make you cringe. It also pays homage to an old classic in a modern idiom. Devadasu: the hero failing in love, hitting the bottle, petting the dog, and not mating with the nautch girl / actress; in fact surrounding himself with a bevy of platonic prostitutes for solace. It’s new wine, it’s a new bottle — the intoxication remains.

Seeing Kanchana on screen after decades is a pleasant surprise. From her cute traditional attire to her easy English, she comes across as a comely grandmother who is, and was, ahead of her times. And she’s given the line of the movie; refusing to visit the grandson she loves dearly and who is in a pathetic condition, she states that suffering is such a personal thing. It is. But when it is shown in a well-made movie, it is owned by everyone, as the flocking audiences are showing.

Sandeep Reddy has ticked all the boxes for thinking outside the box, from casting to conceiving scenes to locations. Maybe he could have told the same story without losing any of the emotion in less time. As for Devarakonda Vijay, the movie rides on his shoulders to glory. The looks of the protagonist across the stages of his life are exceedingly well visualised. And his sheer performance, devoid of crutches or mannerisms, propels the character into the hall of fame.

The august Censor Board (let’s call it like it is, not the euphemistically titled Central Board of Film Certification — which is calling a hitman an Exit Facilitator in the hope of making his actions more agreeable ) has rated the movie to be fit for Adults only. Fine. Then why the hell did they mute the audio and atavistically mangle one of the most endearing and erotic scenes where the couple is counting the number of times they coupled. Those who are watching are adults; my doubt is, if those with the power to censor can honestly be certified as adults.

The censors surely deserve to be censured, but a word of caution about sneering at poster protestors. The content of the movie is the wish of the creators. Only people who wish to see it are exposed to it. Choice. But posters are a different question. Now, politicians are not considered barometers of morality; and the one who tore up the kissing poster may not be the noblest example of the species; but one does have a right to protest. One is exposed to Out Of Home advertising whether one chooses to see it or not, so it could be offensive to some sensibilities and not appropriate for some age-groups.

Congrats, Bhadrakali Pictures. And a big thank you for a cathartic experience.

Notional Anthem

Today, two judges of the Supreme Court showed the greatest disrespect ever for the Indian National Anthem. And displayed the utmost contempt for the Indian citizen. They imputed that only imprisoning people will make them listen to the anthem.
Brushing away individual rights, the bench  imperiously stated that there was no space for individual rights here.
Seriously? I mean, without an individual how do you form a nation? And without an individual delegating a right to the government to appoint them, where do judges get their power from? This practice of forced imbibing of the national anthem will, according to them, instill a feeling of committed patriotism and nationalism! What, are we at war? Is this nation a giant hostel? Are various government servants and these learned men our wardens? In their expansive view, this mandatory music will give the forlorn public an opportunity to express our love for the motherland! Don’t say! Are we still under the foreign yoke and forbidden to listen to nationalist patriotic songs? A chance to listen to them should be welcomed as a god-sent gift?
A lot of questions; does the court have any answers? Or only judgements? The Supreme Court is the last resort when our rights are trampled by big government. What do we do when that court itself talks of shutting the doors of cinema halls while the citizens are forced to listen to the National Anthem? Force, dear sirs, just makes it a notional anthem. To jingoism masquerading as patriotism.
The judges have given the government 10 days to implement this patriotic mandate. Can a free citizen give these judges 9 days to prove that they are more patriotic than any randomly picked group of a 100 Indians? Many politicians too jumped on to the enforced flag-waving bandwagon. Extra power always gives them extra enthusiasm. Can they too be asked to take the common citizens’ patriotism challenge?
The ‘Viswa Kavi’ who sang of tearing down ’narrow domestic’ walls must be looking down in despair as self-appointed patriotism czars leave no spaces ‘where the mind is without fear’. Force depends on fear. And fear does not engender love; towards mother or motherland.

Asatyagraha of a Yogi

Baba Ramdev has much to be proud of. Then why is he angry? Patanjali Ayurved, of which he is a partner and brand ambassador, is the fastest growing company in recent times. It is slated to touch a turnover of Rs.5,000 crores. This kind of success against well established global giants has thrilled me and all Indians. Patanjali should be glowing with the halo of achievement. But the tone of its advertisement in yesterday’s papers was far from happy. It rants at imports in intemperate terms —
“Within just one year, foreign companies are looting our country of 26,60,495 crore Rupees through imports. Hence to rescue India from economic slavery and loot of foreign companies, pledge to use only Swadeshi goods and completely boycott goods which are made in China and other foreign countries.” The Baba’s asanas may be flawless, but some of his positions are dangerous.

Though it is presumptuous of an ordinary person to point out basic economic fallacies to a wildly successful yogi, I gird my loins to do it.

– ‘Loot’ means you have taken something by force without giving anything in return. If a value was given in return to a willing customer, it is called trade. It doesn’t matter if the seller is not from your own community, caste, or even country.
– If imports are bad, how can exports be good?
– In ancient times, India was the leading exporter in the world – cloth, ivory, spices etc. – were sold around the world. Does that make our ancestors looters of the world?
– Last year, Baba Ramdev had told a business magazine that Patanjali Ayurved was earmarking Rs.1,000 crores to expand retail outlets, e-commerce and EXPORT.
– This month, Patanjali has exported products to UK, USA, Estonia, and New Caledonia. Does it mean the company was looting those 4 countries?
– As for balance of trade fears, over 150 years ago, Adam Smith dispelled them in his seminal work, ‘Wealth of Nations.’ Just because gold or money goes out to another country it does not mean wealth has been drained. The goods you got in return are also wealth.
– There is no slavery when there is choice. And more dangerous than a presumed ‘economic slavery’ is ossified mental slavery to out-dated ideas.
– About you pleading and us pledging to buy Swadeshi; this is not British India. Do not rake up a slogan that was meant for a particular time for a particular purpose.

Finally, I want to plead and ask you, Baba Ramdev to take a pledge: to flood the Chinese market with Patanjali products of a quality they can’t reach, at a price they can’t match. Not stretch down to the level of a rabble-rousing politician. You have a following of millions that places you on a pedestal. So please remember; with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t scare impressionable minds and rouse hatred of the ‘foreigner.’ Teach them to be fearless like Swami Vivekananda did: to welcome new thoughts, new challenges; and face them confidently (with a Dant Kanti smile).

PINK –The Colour of Courage

Once in a while comes a film that makes you happy because someone finally made it. The courage is seen in the characters, in the taut screenplay that avoids frills, in the conviction of the makers that such a subject does not require over-dramatisation — the usual high-decibel treatment given in films about molestation. The courage is manifest from the title credits itself. The actors are listed in order of the importance of the characters, not the stature of the actors. First credited are the actors playing the three protagonists, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhar, and Andrea Tariang. Then comes the redoubtable name, Amitabh Bachchan.
The build-up of dread is finesse itself. No false alarms, no menacing musical notes. The brilliance is in nothing happening. The director plays on your knowledge of the antagonists’ nature and the clout they have. You know they won’t keep quiet. That something will happen, and menace is in the silent anticipation.
The courtroom scenes are applause-worthy, the dialogue is pointed, and the performances are bravura; especially Taapsee’s and Mr.Bachchan’s. The defence counsel’s one-word summation will remain etched in memory for a long time. NO. It is a full sentence. It needs no further explanation, no clarification, no justification. A woman has the right to study, dress, work, live, love, laugh as she pleases. Not just to be on paper. But to be imprinted on the minds of antediluvian people, both male and female, to make it a reality — for every girl, in every walk of life, at home or outside, day or night. With telling and touching impact, ‘Pink’ reiterates those rights. Above all, the inviolable right to say, ‘No.’

Sindhu — Pure Gold That Won A Proud Silver

The night of 19th August, 2016. For two minutes every Indian may have felt terribly disappointed. The Telugu people a tad more. We may have sat immobile in front of the TV. But it didn’t take even half that time for Sindhu to recover. She moved across to the opposite side of the net. She placed her arm across Carolina Marin who was prone on the ground sobbing from the sheer joy of being the first European girl to win an Olympic Gold in Badminton. And probably, a few of those tears were a release from the fright that Sindhu gave her in the first game and half-way through the decider. Marin got up and hugged Sindhu in return. Then she rushed towards her coach, leaving her racket on the court.

Sindhu picked up the racket of her opponent and placed it near her kit bag. Like an uncomplaining mother quietly cleaning up after a playful child. This is culture. This is gold. Something that comes from the upbringing of parents and instructions of teachers. Something no ministries of culture or departments of government can dare presume to imbue. In a contrarian way, may be it’s good she lost. How else could we have seen her nature, a mettle more valuable than any precious metal. It is of little consequence to which nation or which state Sindhu belongs; we should be happy that this silver-coated gold is of this world. Let’s salute Ramana, Vijayalakshmi, and guru Gopichand for forging it and dazzling us.

సింధు — వెండి గెలుచుకున్న బంగారం

రెండు నిమషాలు బాధ కలిగుండొచ్చు, ఆశించింది చేతికి రాలేదని. భారతీయులందరికీ. తెలుగువాళ్ళకి ఇంకొంచుం ఎక్కువగా. టీ వీ ముందు అలా కూర్చుండిపోయి వుండొచ్చు. కాని సింధుకి అంత సమయం కూడా పట్టలేదు, కోలుకోవటానికి. నెట్ అవతలి పక్కకు వెళ్ళింది. అక్కడ నేల మీద బోర్లా పడుకుని ఇప్పటివరకు ఏ యూరపియన్ అమ్మాయికి దక్కని బంగారు పతకం దక్కిన ఆనందం తో కన్నీళ్ళు కారుస్తున్న కేరొలీన మారిన్ ని పైకి లేపి హత్తుకుంది.ఇది సహ అనుభూతి; ఇది తన పైన నెగ్గిన వారికి సింధు చూపిన గౌరవం, ఆప్యాయత. మారిన్ సింధు ని కౌగిలించుకొని ఆ విజయోత్సాహం లో తన కోచ్ ల వద్దకు వెళ్ళిపోయింది. తన రేకెట్ కోర్ట్ మీద మర్చిపోయి. సిందు ఆ రేకట్ తీసి, మారిన్ కిట్ బేగ్ దగ్గర పెట్టి అప్పుడు తన గురువు దగ్గరకు వెళ్ళింది. ఇది సంస్కారం. ఇదీ బంగారం. తల్లి తండ్రుల పెంపకం, గురువుల శిక్షణ తో వచ్చేది; గవర్నమెంటు సంబరాలతో, శాసనాలతో ఉప్పొంగేది కాదు. సింధు ఏ దేశానిదో, ఏ రష్ట్రానిదో అన్నది అనవసరం. ఇలాంటి బంగారం ఒకటుంది ప్రపంచం లో. అది మలచిన రమణ విజయలక్ష్మిలకు, గురువు గోపిచంద్ కు నమస్కరిద్దాం.

మనమంతా, ఎందుకు?

ఒక పువ్వు రాలుతుంది. ఒక పదేళ్ళ పాప చెయ్యిచాచి ఆనందంగా ఆ పువ్వును పట్టుకుంటుంది. ఇది మనమంతా సినిమా లో మొట్టమఒదటి దృశ్యం. మహిత అన్న ఆ పాప, ముందుముందు ఒక నాలుగేళ్ళ బాబు జీవితం రాలిపోతుంటే పట్టుకుంటానికి విశ్వప్రయత్నం చేస్తుంది.

మోహన్ లాల్ చేసిన సాయిరామ్ పాత్ర పంక్చరైన మోటర్ సైకిల్ తోస్తూ పరిచయమౌతుంది. ఆ పేచీలేసే అతను ఇక్కడ పంక్చర్ల మధ్యన ట్యూబు వెతకాలంటాడు. సాయిరామ్ వ్యక్తిత్వం కూడా అంతే; చిల్లు లేని సాఫీ ట్యూబు లా మొదలై, తనకు తెలియకుండానే జీవితం లో పైకిరావడానికి చిన్న చిన్న అడ్డ దారుల ప్రయాణం లో తన అసలు నైజం ఆపధర్మ పేచీల క్రింద కప్పడి పోతుంది. కరప్షన్ గవర్నమెంటు ఆఫీసుల కే పరిమితం కాదు; ప్రతి మనిషి దైనందిక జీవితం లోకీ మెల్లగా చోటుచేసుకుంటుంది. ఒకేసారి పేలుతుంది. అప్పుడు, ఇన్ స్టాల్మెంట్ లో చేసిన చిరు తప్పులకి మొత్తం వడ్డీ తో సహా సింగిల్ పేమెంట్ చెయ్యగలమా? అలాంటి భయంకరమైన పరిస్థితి లో చిక్కుకుంటాడు సాయిరామ్.

ఒక వైట్ బోర్డ్ పైన మనకి అర్ధం కాని ఈక్వేషన్, దాని ముందు క్లాస్ లో అభిరామ్ (విశ్వాంత్) పరిచయమవుతాడు. ఎంత కాంప్లికేటిడ్ కోడ్ లోని లోపాన్నైనా సునాయాసంగ పరిశ్కరించగలిగే ఐ టీ స్టూడెంట్ తను. కాని, ప్రేమ ఇరువైపుల కలగాలనే అతి సింపిల్ సూత్రాన్ని కాంప్లికేట్ చేసుకుని చివరికి ప్రాణం మీదకే తెచ్చుకుంటాడు.

గౌతమి కేరెక్టర్, గాయత్రి, వంటింట్లో పరిచయమౌతుంది. ప్రెషర్ కుకర్ పక్కన. చాలీచాలని రాబడితో పిల్లలలకు ఏదీ తక్కువవ్వకుండా చూసుకునే ప్రెషర్ అనుదినం భరిస్తుంది. ఆ ప్రెషర్ కొన్ని క్షణాలు ఈల లా రిలీస్ చేసే సరదా ఫ్రెండ్ గా ఊర్వశి పరిచయమవుతుంది.

అందరూ తమ కష్టాలనుండి ఆదుకొనే అవకాశాల కోసం ఎదురుచూస్తారు, అవకాశం తలుపుతట్టడమే కాదు ఎలుగెత్తి పిలుస్తున్నా తప్పించుకు పోయే జంకు నేర్పింది జీవితం, గాయత్రికి. ఐనా అవకాశం మళ్ళీ వరమిస్తుంది, ఒక అనూహ్యమైన, అద్భుతమైన క్లైమేక్స్ కి దారితీస్తుంది. కాని, అవకాశానికందకుండా పారిపోవటం వల్ల కూడ ప్రయోజనమే. ఒక బేగ్ నీటిలో పడిపోయి, ఇంకో కద్ధ ముగింపుని తేల్చే తెప్ప అవుతుంది. ఇలా నెమరువేసుకోవటానికి, అనుభవించడానికి ఎన్నో ఈ సినిమాలో. ఆ చిన్న పాప చెయ్యిచాపి పువ్వు అందుకున్నట్టు మనం ఈ సినిమా ని అందుకోవాలి. లేకపోతే ఒక అపురూప మైన అనుభవం చే జారిపోతుంది.

మహిత, సాయిరామ్, గాయత్రి, అభిరామ్ — ఈ నలుగురు కద్ధ, మనమంతా. ఇంచుమించు మనందరి కద్ధ. చివరికి — ఇంటి బజెట్ల మధ్య, సరుకుల ధరల మధ్య, ఆఫీస్ పాలిటిక్స్ మధ్య — చిరునవ్వు విలువ తెలిపే కద్ధ ఇది. మనమంతా అందుకే.

Manamantha – A Magic of Screenplay

Twenty two years ago, Mohan Lal, the consummate Malayali actor, played a cameo in a Telugu movie. Nothing much to remember. After these long years, he has done a Telugu movie that will be difficult to forget. ‘Manamantha’ is a brilliant piece of screenwriting. Such originality and innovation are as rare to find in Telugu cinema as snow in the Sahara. Unfortunately, one cannot talk about the movie without spoiling the amazement and joy of discovery for the viewers. Suffice it to say: All of us (Manamantha) Telugus can be proud of the movie and the inventive skill of Chandu Yeleti.

Udta Punjab — An all-round high

Some months back, I had blogged about the censorious chief of the Central Film Certification Board who wished to proclaim as unutterable in movies, 36 ‘bad’ words. At that time, I thought that it’s enough to dismiss such blustering buffoons with a derisive laugh. How wrong I was. He grew into a monster who almost deprived us of watching ‘Udta Punjab’, the loudest wake-up call against the drug menace.
The movie is shocking and captivating. Like it was meant to be. It is a dexterous interweave of four story threads that come together to tug at your heart-strings. The barbed wire of ruthless characters intertwines with the soggy strands of feckless characters; appalling you, infuriating you, leaving you aghast and almost helpless. Till the fallen stagger up. And fight back. Then you are rooting with all your pent-up fury for a well-deserved blood-bath.
One wonders what any sane man would find offensive in this movie. Forget the expletives about genitals and incest, this movie denounces drugs in no uncertain terms. It in no way glorifies them like some preachy movies tend to do. On the other hand, it has a character, a rockstar who had ridden to fame on the cool quotient of cocaine and sings ‘high’ praises to it, realising his folly and struggling to redeem himself. In fact, the movie so graphically and almost didactically shows the downside of drugs that it could very well have been a government sermon; if it wasn’t so brilliantly un-boring. And well-written. And well-acted (have to mention the jaw-dropping performance of Alia). If the movie doesn’t reach loftier heights, it is because it leaves unexplored a bigger problem: banning. Which is more dangerous and takes more lives than the narcotics themselves.
Yes, so one wonders, what pieces of un-evolved protoplasm wanted to hack this praiseworthy effort with 89 cuts?
I honestly feel that anyone who desires to be a member of the Film Certification Board should themselves be certified. They should be checked by a battery of psychiatrists to see what makes them think that they are eligible and capable of judging what a billion people should or should not watch. I pity their souls. And I pity the poor souls in their households who have to put up with these flawless, pure, pompous asses.