In #WatchWithTNM, we revisit Sekar Kammula’s cult film that saw massive success among a college-going audience.

Happy Days review
Flix Tollywood Saturday, May 23, 2020 - 14:07

Among the hit films in Sekar Kammula’s filmography, Happy Days was a popular crowd pleaser that wowed audiences when it was released in 2007. The film was a massive success among its intended audience — urban upper caste/class students  — but the phenomenon wasn’t surprising. 

The Telugu film industry has a severe dearth of coming-of-age stories, particularly around the college experience. Earlier films set in colleges used the backdrop to tell dark and violent tales, such as Shiva, Ram Gopal Varma’s 1989 directorial debut, or college life was merely used as an afterthought for comic scenes. Happy Days, which follows a group of friends in their college years, felt both real and refreshing. It simultaneously gave former students a chance to reminisce about their college days, while perhaps giving somewhat unrealistic expectations for Intermediate students entering engineering colleges.   

Happy Days is narrated and told from the perspective of the film’s protagonist Chandu, portrayed by Varun Sandesh in the actor’s Tollywood debut. In quick succession, Madhu (Tamannaah), Arjun aka Tyson (Rahul Haridas), Nikhil Siddharth (Rajesh), Appu (Gayatri Rao) and Shankar (Vamsi Krishna) become the film’s centre as a tight-knit group of friends. Aside from Shankar, all of them come from the same upper caste background, which helps them bond over quickly.

While Sekhar has said that the film is not an autobiographical representation of his own college experience, he noted in interviews that it was deliberately shot at his alma mater, Chaitanya Bharati Institute of Technology (CBIT) as a tribute to the institution. The film is meant to be a nostalgic glimpse of life for urban college students, one that many may recognise from their own experiences.

The film tells stories of the evolution of friendship, love, betrayal and sacrifice, showing the good, bad and bitter experiences of college students. But also peeps into the less discussed parts of college life as well. When we say that Happy Days is true to life, we mean that few college stories are not given the same amount of care and research as this film. For example, in Kotha Bangaru Lokam, which released a year later in 2008 with the same lead, Varun Sandesh, though he studies Biology, Physics and Chemistry in Intermediate, he eventually becomes an engineer.

The portrayal of their friendship — having lunch together, attending classes, studying during exams — are also close to reality. When Chandu falls in love with Madhu and wants to kiss her, the latter's father discovers his feelings in an unpleasant manner. However, the film handles the daughter-parent relationship with care and sensitivity. The father doesn’t fly off the handle and thrash Madhu or create a scene with Chandu. The troubled parents act maturely, discuss the issue, but also feel helpless in not knowing how to deal with it. Madhu becomes emotional and tries to convince them that she can handle the situation. When her father asks, "Why are you crying. We didn't say anything to you, right?" Madhu replies, "You people won't say anything but will be troubled and suffer without sharing it to me."

Though the film is told from Chandu’s perspective, it’s not about him alone. Each friend has their own journey and time is provided for each to tell their own story. What’s interesting about the film is that the most likeable character is not the lead, but Tyson. Tyson is a noble character who unconditionally loves the people around him. Sadly, this is not reciprocated, either in friendship or in his love life. 

Though the film was made almost 13 years ago, it has a special place in the hearts of the Telugu audience, in part, because of the music by Mickey J Meyer and lyrics by Dr Veturi Sundaram Murthy and Vanamali.

While Happy Days mostly focuses on this group of ‘middle class’ friends, it also briefly shows the character of Paidithally, a student who comes from a rural village in Srikakulam district. It’s a cultural shock for Paidithally when he joins the college, and he struggles to fit in and find his place among his peers. Though he only appears in three scenes — when he joins the college, when he volunteers to play cricket although he doesn't know the sport, and when he secures a job during campus placement with his confidence and impeccable English-speaking skills — he leaves a lasting impact on the audience. His character is often compared with that of Shankar. While Shankar is a brilliant student, he ultimately throws away his dreams, but Paidithally, a meritorious student, sticks to his goals and shines. His gradual progress is very endearing, though his portrayal as a comic character could have been avoided.

Looking back though, there are problematic storylines to the film that can’t be overlooked. The film romanticises ragging as a way of creating bonds between juniors and seniors. This, even though the ragging is violent, involving death threats and sexual harassment under the guise of fun between friends. It’s a cycle that continues despite the obvious mental and often physical harm that ragging has on students.

One of the seniors, Naveen (Randhir Gatla), who is obsessed with Madhu, can be seen as a failed version of Arjun Reddy, the misogynistic protagonist of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s 2017 movie of the same name. Naveen is an entitled senior who repeatedly harasses Madhu. He assumes that being a top ranked-student gives him the right to do so, or that they will be impressed if he discloses his academic performance. 

The accent of lead actors like Varun Sandesh, who is actualy an NRI, and Rahul Haridas, create an unnecessary distraction for audiences. The Telugu which they speak is almost unbearable. It makes you wonder whether the roles were reserved for those who aren’t familiar with the language.  

Though the film had significant cultural influence on the Telugu audience (it’s said that most students became aware of Araku in Andhra Pradesh as a tourist destination after this movie), it fell short of being considered a true classic. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be, but the film will be remembered for its entertaining, yet realistic depiction of college life.