Many stories from the period of insurgency have been swept away in the chaos. 'Virata Parvam' is one story, among the many, that was remembered.

Sai Pallavi in Virata Parvam: Venu Udugula's Virata Parvam is a reminder of Telangana’s turbulent past
Flix Film Commentary Sunday, July 03, 2022 - 13:36
*Not a review, but spoilers ahead 
 
"February, 1992. One woman was killed on suspicion of being a police informer by Naxals in Telangana. The grievous event made me contemplate and was finally chiselled into Virata Parvam," we hear the voice of Venu Udugula, director Virata Parvam, as the final credits roll, dedicating the movie to Thumu Sarala.
 
For nearly a decade and a half – through the 1990’s till mid-2000 –  the resurgence of Naxalite-Maoist insurgency reverberated in the form of gunshots and blasts across the state of Telangana. Many lives were caught in the crossfire between the State and the Left Wing insurgents.
 
Few stories are remembered and many have been swept away in the chaos. Virata Parvam is one such story, among the many that was remembered. Venu Udugula, the film’s director, in his quest to revive a memory, takes us through the grim realities of the era through this story. Besides the narration and treatment of the historical context of the story, performances by Sai Pallavi and Rana Daggubati respectively as Vennela and Ravanna have drawn critical acclaim. 
 
Though the film begins with Vennela's birth, gradually drawing viewers into her story, Venu's vast canvas ambitiously accommodates an explosive era that is filled with lores of blood and gore, glory and darkness.
 
Many youngsters in Telangana, like Vennela, were fascinated by the "dream of revolution" in the late 1980's and 1990s. Some embraced naxalism as a solution to feudal exploitation while others saw a path in it to fight caste inequalities.
 
The story of Thumu Sarala is still etched in public memory. A young girl with intermediate education, she left her home in Karumanchipalli of erstwhile Khammam to Nizamabad's Sirnapally forests to join the Naxalite movement. 
 
Curious and keen, Sarala was apparently moved by a police encounter in which a naxalite woman was killed. The tumultuous atmosphere around Sarala forced her to walk towards the universal fascination for the cause of the oppressed, “love and revolution". 
 
The circumstances and events that led Vennela, the character inspired by Sarala, to leave home eerily matched with many who joined the different factions of outlawed naxalite parties. Some joined these outfits as they felt it's "necessary", many were "inspired" while others were recruited given the socio-economic situation that prevailed. 
 
Before Vennela undertakes her journey, there is a conversation about how reading certain books can cause trouble, a known reality and an experience many would be able to relate to. 
 
In a scene during the initial parts of the film, when the police abuses a Dalit man and also beat Vennela's father, which provoke her to question police authority, Venu depicts how Dalits and peasants belonging to lower castes are usual suspects of the state. 
 
This draws me to recollect stories that I heard as a boy who grew up in the neighbouring village along the same stretch of the forests where Vennela supposedly gets killed. 
 
I distinctly remember several instances of Dalits and other lower castes getting "interrogated" by the police and "punished" by the naxalites on suspicion of being "informers" or "supporters." Though, the top brass of naxal parties used to be from the upper castes. 
 
Ironically, in many cases it was the oppressed who were seen as a threat to both the state and the naxals.
 
The movie is somewhere unsuccessful in picturising the dilemma and conflict of interests of an IPS officer, who purportedly hails from a marginalised caste. While the director has attempted to portray this in a scene where the police officer in a conversation with Vennela's Father expressed his concerns over the sacrifices of Bahujans even in the Naxal movement, the scene somehow does not do justice to the mental conflict that numerous Dalits and lower caste police personnel invariably goes through. 
 
Interestingly, the director, during the same scene, establishes an emotion and the lived experience of these communities during the period through a dialogue delivered by Vennela's cousin Ramesh played by Rahul Ramakrishna. 
 
Ramesh, in response to a question posed by the police if any good has come out of the Naxal movement, replies full of rage how the Naxals have come to rescue them from feudalism and its crimes when the state turned away its eyes. This dialogue is crucial to the understanding of the film as it reveals the hope that the Naxal movement brought to the lives of the downtrodden. 
 
But of course, that doesn't reflect the broader reality of the naxalite movement. One such instance was the killings of two first-generation Dalit youngsters in 1999 in Nizamabad district. 
 
One of them was killed by an armed naxal faction and another by unknown gunmen but both murders were an apparent outcome of "narrow politics" being employed by the Peoples' War Group (PWG), Janashakti naxal groups and other parliamentary Left parties. There were scores of such lives that got crushed amid the dreaded conflict between the state and naxalites in Telangana. Of course the state had an upper hand in this power play.
 
Human rights activist, lawyer and founder of Human Rights Forum (HRF) K Balagopal had minced no words while taking on the politics of naxal groups and parliamentary Left parties. In a historical article titled 'One Abraham Katha' written in Nigah weekly he said that neither state/police nor naxal parties nor parliamentary left want to see "independent Dalits" or "assertive Dalits". 
 
Any senior police officer or a senior journalist who has worked in northern Telangana' or seen developments from Hyderabad can certainly recollect the internal conflicts of naxal groups and how the state took advantage of it, like the way Venu depicts it in the film.
 
This journey of Vennela takes us from her being a curious child of a shepherd family whose father is a "Oggu Katha", oral storyteller to a naxalite who imbibed idealism to becoming someone who is accused as traitor in the very place she was hoping to find love, camaraderie and hope of revolution. 
 
This is not the first Telugu film to have spoken of the far Left movement in this region, but the release of Virata Parvam at a time when the history of this insurgence has vanished from public memory, has managed to reinstall them for those who were witness to the turbulence.
 
Movie has several scenes that reflect subaltern aesthetics. In the beginning of the film a scene where young Vennela is seen sitting by a crop field where her mother and other women are busy planting paddy saplings. They sing 'Madanasundaari', a folk song which essentially speaks about the daily lives of women like them. This is a scene that was integral to every village until very recently and the director manages to place the incidents perfectly in the milieu.
 
And in the end, Vennela becomes a victim of a "conspiracy" and as Ravanna carries her corpse, a sorrow-filled voice reverberates through the atmosphere. The song is a tribute to the wrath that put Vennala through this turmoil by the revolutionary singer Vimalakka and it goes as "moonlight (Vennela).., hasn't descended from the sky or is it bubbling in the wild bushes? ... How come the mother forest which aided your birth has agreed to take your life?" ("Mogulupai Vennela nela ralenannada mogilivanam podala cheri gubaalusthunnada ... niku puruduposi kannadamma Adavi, nee upiretla tiskuntanannadi?"). The song plays along by sketching an atrocity that was committed by "her own comrades". 
 
Though the cinema has portrayed Vennela's gruesome killing episode in an artful manner, in reality the PWG naxals had to pay a heavy price for Sarala's killing. The news of her murder at the hands of a top naxal leader was broken by Manchikanti Narender, a senior journalist who then worked with Andhra Jyothi daily. In a memoir, Narender has recollected the incident and its aftermath, the efforts by naxalites to cover up the incident and subsequent outrage against them by progressive civil rights voices. 
 
Virata Parvam is not a masterpiece but it definitely endears us by piecing together fragments of lived history and emotions in a single narrative.  
 
Director Venu, who started his career as a journalist, has shown us something that faded writings on the wall and memorial structures in parts of Telangana try to whisper but it is to be seen whether the film will inspire others to tell untold stories from the era.
 
Views expressed are the author's own. Charan Teja covers the two Telugu states and writes predominantly on caste, politics and forest-environmental rights.
 
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