C/o Kancharapalem: A collage of broken dreams made whole by a gripping tale

C/o Kancharapalem: A collage of broken dreams made whole by a gripping tale
Photo by GR Stocks / Unsplash

It’s said that life is a series of accidents stitched together by an observer’s memories. And what better example of this statement could be made available than the work of maverick auteur Maha Venkatesh, whose C/o Kancharapalem seems to cement the suggestion that we, indeed, are a product of accidents, which we carelessly call experience.

Understated brilliance

Again, this is not a review, but an expression of the cinema’s impact on a mind in search of newer experiences. If one were to draw a list of most entertaining and touching Indian cinemas of the 21st century, Kancharapalem would definitely find a place the top 25. It’s not just the simplicity of the storyline that makes Kancharapalem a modern great, but also its understated exuberance, in the sense that it is a celebration of life even when there is little to rejoice. And just like Lijo Jose Pellisery’s ground-breaking Anagamali Diaries, Kancharapalem is a rich fare served by a host of debutants. We are introduced to four seemingly separate love stories, each a well-nourished universe, with its own compact sets of tragedies, comedies, aspirations, expectations, and failures.

There’s an RK Narayanesque touch to every character, with none being aware of their viciousness even while tearing apart the lives of others that happen to crisscross with theirs. A sort of innocence not devoid of malice. How these storylines intertwine and make a wholesome whole form the major part of Maha Venkatesh’s attempt. And let’s not forget the twist at the climax that weaves the disparate elements into a fine yarn, emerging as more of a thriller than an unassuming tale of a Telugu neighborhood that the film masquerades as.

Collage of four love stories

It would not be amiss to call Kancharapalem a love story. It would also be not out of place to call it a comedy, or a thriller, or a coming-of-age drama. The four love stories are presented to us as montage of four disparate lives. The first one revolves around peon Raju, whose life changes with the arrival of a new boss Radha, a spirited single-mother whose take on life is in stark contrast to our peon’s.

The second story concerns a schoolboy Sundaram infatuated with his classmate Sunitha played by Nithyashri Goru of the Tok-tok's ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ fame. The efforts he makes to woo her forms the meat of this episode. The third one is about a rising politician’s small-time henchman Joseph and his ill-fated love affair with Bhargavi. The fourth story, which according to me is the most intense of the four, is about Gaddam, a staff at a liquor outlet, enamoured by a woman customer, whose eyes through the thick veil she drapes around her face captivate him.

Now, to say that the film is an easy-go-merry foray would be sacrilegious, for Kancharapalem is also a social commentary. It teaches without preaching; it questions the social mores without sermonising. An apt example is the conversation between Radha and her daughter, during which the latter opposes her mother’s desire to marry the peon. The dialogue in which Radha assails her daughter’s pseudo-feminism is one for the textbooks.

And then there is the love story between Gaddam and the mysterious customer at his liquor joint. There is a scene where our hero realises that the buyer is a prostitute. The agreement they reach to nourish the blooming relationship is something no ordinary director could have mustered the courage to depict. I was completely shaken by a scene wherein our hero gives the woman a packet of condoms while she is going with a client.

Meanwhile, Joseph grudgingly falls for a Brahmin girl Bhargavi, whose strong will and resolve wilt under the age-old tactics of Indian parents to emotionally blackmail their wards into submission. And our schoolboy Sundaram accidentally sets into motion a chain of events that ends with his father committing suicide, all because he was pining for his crush, who was whisked away by her father for singing a film song during a school event.

A different take

There definitely might be better cinemas, handled with much more brilliance than Venkatesh manages here, but what he brings to the table is undiluted innocence, made possible only by his disregard for failure and how his foray would fare. Kancharapalem is a documentary of those small lives often ignored in the tedium of living. Venkatesh achieves much not because his characters are well-thought-out, but because he aims at performing the fundamental duty of a director to be a story teller.

I’m told that Venkatesh pitched the story to Praveena Parachuri, an Indo-American cardiologist, and she immediately latched on to the idea and even paid him `3,000 for the project, claiming the proposed cinema is definitely one for the Cannes festival. Praveena, incidentally, portrays the role of Saleema, the love interest of Gaddam, in the film.

If I were a hardcore movie critic, I definitely would have given the movie 4 out of 5 stars for the sincerity and sheer courage of the director and characters. Here is a movie that does not shy away from raising probing questions; it highlights the issues more like a documentary than a sermon and refrains from taking positions, which is a rarity in the times we live in where the thin line between art and activism is blurred every day.