The last time I went to a theatre was in February this year to watch Uppena, and I returned feeling extremely traumatised. You may wonder why I am sharing this seemingly irrelevant piece of information, but there is a connection. Both Uppena and Love Story are stories of inter-caste and inter-religious relationships. Both the male leads in these films are Dalit Christians while the female leads belong to an upper caste community. And caste identity becomes a barrier to the relationship.
Love Story, directed by Sekhar Kammula, stars actors Naga Chaitanya, Sai Pallavi, Devayani, Rajeev Kanakala, Uttej among others. Naga Chaitanya plays the role of Revanth, a single child raised by his poor, widowed mother. Having been subjected to various forms of humiliation and discrimination owing to his caste from a young age, Revanth grows up self-aware of his identity and remains so even when he shifts from his village in Armoor to Hyderabad. He is still practical and knows his â€˜boundariesâ€™ defined by the caste-based society. Coincidentally, from the same village, Sai Pallavi, playing the role of Mounika, moves to Hyderabad in search of a job and to be independent; away from the clutches of her family which is highly conservative.
In Hyderabad, Revanth and Mounika end up being neighbours and both of them struggle to make a living. While Revanth, coming from a poor family, is vulnerable owing to his caste identity, Mounika is powerless due to her gender identity with no moral support from her family. Both these characters, who are in extremely vulnerable positions, seek refuge in each other in the cruel patriarchal and caste-based world. Their romance, their pain, their yearning and their struggle have been beautifully captured by Sekhar. He also has to be credited for rightly understanding the power dynamics between the two, and reflecting it on screen â€” a Dalit man can be powerless opposite a woman from the upper caste, depending on the circumstances.
As Revanth, Naga Chaitanya has delivered the best performance of his career. He has excelled in the role. For an established star actor to choose a role where he is vulnerable and where he doesnâ€™t shy away from showing it on screen must have been a huge challenge. Kudos to Chaitanya for taking the leap and trying to reinvent himself.
It is hard to imagine who else could have performed the role of Mounika other than Sai Pallavi. It must be said that she has lived as Mounika on screen. This character is not one-dimensional. Mounika is assertive with her friends and others, and she behaves differently when she is around her family. Sai Pallavi has done a brilliant job in showing these variations.
There is a common joke among film buffs that if Rajeev Kanakala is acting in a film, his role would be brief as his character would be killed abruptly. Thanks to Sekhar Kammula for giving a full-fledged role to the talented actor. As Narasimham, Rajeev has done full justice to the role. He is absolutely terrifying without the scenes showing him resort to any violence. I also kept wondering why veteran actor Devayani has been cast in such an insignificant role. Though she has enough scope to perform in the end, it feels rushed and inorganic.
While the story seems to be about how a couple overcomes the caste barrier in their relationship, Sekhar's inclusion of another taboo issue into the plot, despite the good performances, breaks its momentum and changes the course of the film. It's almost as if Sekhar had a checklist of all the social issues to be addressed. In an interview, Sekhar had said that some people might call the film a â€˜khichdiâ€™ â€” mixing everything together â€” and I fear that he is right.
One of the biggest strengths of the film is its soulful music, composed by debutant Pawan CH. The music comforts you and helps in the smooth narration of the film. His father Vijay C Kumar has done the cinematography, capturing the emotions of the characters as well as the arresting dance moves. What helps in keeping the film real are the actual locations, but the filmmaker settling for poorly done CGI to show the iconic Puranapul bridge, that too for some important scenes, is definitely disappointing.
I also wish that the team had not included crucial moments from the film in the trailer and ruined the surprise in the theatre experience. Since it is no secret now, there is a dance bit in the movie. Mounika, who is labelled â€˜useless' by everyone around her, tries to make a point by dancing her heart out. This exhilarating segment made me forget the logic of where the song was coming from and why was she lip-syncing to it. Perhaps, this is one of the best reasons to watch the film on a big screen with a quality sound system.
Coming back to my comparison of Uppena and Love Story, in Uppena, the male lead's (Vaishnav Tej) name is Aasirvatham (blessing), and being a Jesus worshipping man, he is crucified and has to make a sacrifice to wash away the sins of others. The film, with a sacrifice forced on someone who's already oppressed, left me feeling traumatised. Love Story is a far more sensitive effort, but it still has the same trope of a Dalit character having to make a sacrifice. My question is, canâ€™t Dalit characters have an happy ending? At least on screen.