A schoolboy wears a pink shirt to be ridiculed by everyone except by his crush – it’s her favourite colour, the reason he wears it – who defends him. Thus, starts a friendship, that leads him to encourage her to sing her favourite song ‘Bhale bhale magadivoy’ in a school function.
A young man, Joseph, is in love with a woman, Bhargavi, and wants to fix his life so he could be worthy of her, till religion plays havoc with their innocent love. A charmingly sincere Gaddam falls for Saleema, a sex-worker who visits the bar he works at for a bottle of Mansion House, every night, so much so, that he buys her condoms to stay safe, when she asks him for time to consider his marriage proposal – a proposal he innocently, charmingly makes on one knee with her favourite alcohol brand.
A 49-year old man impresses his 42-year old boss at a government office with his sincerity and zest for life, so much so that she considers marrying him. It has to be her 20-year old daughter who exhorts them to elope when her maternal uncle tries to play spoilsport.
Such are the wonderful tales interwoven in C/o Kancharapalem, already the toast of the town, having become the first Telugu language film to be featured at the New York Indian Film Festival.
Written and directed by Maha Venkatesh on a shoestring budget and produced by Praveena Paruchuri, who is a cardiologist based in NY (she has also essayed one of the most crucial roles in the movie). Kancharapalem recreates the magic of a small town nestled amidst railway tracks, which metaphorically feature in every important scene in the movie, almost making you pray they are not the director’s sadistic clue to tell you this doesn’t end well.
The movie captures four love stories across four different age-groups (adolescence, youth, middle age and the twilight of one’s middle age), cutting across societal lines. That Maha was able to elicit such lovely, performances from so many new actors is in itself is a source of wonder, but not the last. The movie blends so many mini heartbreaks and tragedies - a conflation of short stories, as if you were reading a book, peacefully and patiently - to create a stew, which leaves you with a very interesting aftertaste, not to mention the fact that it fills your appetite with its detailing.
From accents (including Odiya for one of the characters) to palm-leaf umbrellas and old-world lyric books, the movie’s detailing betrays the eye of an auteur, except it is a debutant, who has pulled it off. The movie, layered in many ways, questions social prejudices without being didactic, expresses the warmth of friendship and companionship without being jingoistic, and builds moments one detail at a time, one unmasked, unadulterated smile at a time, without being condescending or over-indulgent. The closeups capturing the expressions on every character, the humour woven into the narrative with a natural flow rather than a burdensome afterthought, and the subtle message of how one can find the best and the worst of people within a small radius – these make the movie an indie to cherish.
The best part about C/o Kancharapalem is how it uses the melange of lives in a small town as a microcosm of society in general, performing a coup d’etat on the usual norm of movie-making. That one can use four beautiful love stories to produce a commentary on religion, god, friendship, love, marriage, hypocrisy, and culture is a revelation that makes you happier about the direction cinema is taking in this part of the country.
A stammering artist, an amiable political bigwig-wannabe, a 20-year old who taunts her mom, and a town that stands in unison for the person they love – the movie tries to portray how in the muck of society, one can still conjure a lotus of hope.
All in all, C/o Kancharapalem, thanks to the charming performances of the cast which includes Mohan Bhagath, Praveena Paruchuri, Subba Rao and Karthik Ratnam, not to mention a great OST and precise and razor-sharp cinematography, will remain for a long time to come, ‘the indie film that started the rebellion’!
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.