Life is a series of accidents stitched together by an observer’s memories. And what better example of this could be made available than maverick auteur Maha Venkatesh’s C/o Kancharapalem. The cinema cements the suggestion that we are a product of accidents, which we carelessly call experience.
This is not a review but an expression of the cinema’s impact on a mind searching for newer experiences. If one were to draw a list of the most entertaining Indian cinemas of the 21st century, Kancharapalem would definitely find a place in it. It’s not just the simplicity of the storyline that makes Kancharapalem a modern great, but also its understated exuberance.
It comes across as a defiant celebration of life even when there is little to rejoice about. 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 forms the central 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 not be out of place to call it a comedy, a thriller, or a coming-of-age drama. The four love stories are presented as a montage of four disparate lives. The first one revolves around peon Raju. His 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 TikTok’s ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ fame. The efforts he makes to woo her form 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 in my opinion is the most intense of the four, is about Gaddam, a staff at a liquor outlet, enamored by a woman customer whose eyes, visible through the thick veil she drapes around her face, captivate him.
To say that the film is an easy-go-merry foray would be sacrilegious.
Kancharapalem is also a social commentary. It teaches without preaching; it questions the social mores without sermonizing. An apt example is a 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 realizes 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 entirely 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. But her strong will and resolve wilt under the age-old tactics of the Indian parents to emotionally blackmail their wards into submission. Meanwhile, a pining Sundaram sets into motion a chain of events that ends in a family tragedy. He was triggered after his crush’s father whisked her away for singing a film song!
A different take
There 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 storyteller.
I’m told that Venkatesh pitched the story to Praveena Parachuri, an Indo-American cardiologist. She immediately latched on to the idea and even paid him `3,000 for the project, claiming the proposed cinema was definitely one for the Cannes. 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 film that does not shy away from raising probing questions; it highlights the issues but refrains from taking positions. It is a rarity in these times where the thin line between art and activism gets blurred daily and easily.