Dr. Shrawan Kumar Aerrola
The primary purpose of any artistic medium is to engage the audience, emphasis on the word “engage” & that holds true to the medium of cinema also but unfortunately most of the film makers have substituted “engage” with “entertain”(read : comedy) . Most of these film makers believe that we the Telugu audience are too dumb to focus on the film at hand & assume that we have the attention span of a gold fish, so that’s why they resort to all sorts of tomfoolery to entertain us so that we don’t wander off into the recesses of our imagination & lose our interest in the film. Such ploys are as old as cinema itself . Now, if such shenanigans assimilate into the overarching narrative without changing the tone of the film outright, it will be a much welcome digression, case in point, the recently released brilliant caper “Matthu Vadalara”, but most films fail horribly & irritatingly so & the pioneer of this revamped age old technique is Mr.Trivikram Srinivas who used this sporadically & effectively in his earlier films but it reached a dizzying & nauseating heights in Attharintiki Daaredi & died a whimpering death in “Agnaathavaasi”. We, the audience lapped up his proverbial biscuit like an eager to please Labradoodle, so like any smart man, Mr.Srinivas played to the gallery & continued to pander to us but with diminishing returns as evidenced by the debacle that was “Agnaathavaasi”. To Mr.Srinivas’s credit he did genuinely try to raise the standards of his audience by making “Khaleja” but we rejected it so badly that Mr.Srinivas had to recalibrate his intellectual compass after realizing that we’re not worthy of his intellectual prowess, so he went back to pandering to our plebeian & simple brains but with the result of Agnathavasi, Mr.Srinivas realized that the jig was up & went back to his strengths & made a honest film like “Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava” & with that film proving to be a hit, he realized that the audiences have evolved . Amidst this revamped confidence in his audience comes the sophomore film from Trivikram 2.o, “Ala Vaikunthapurramlo” starring Allu Arjun, Pooja Hegde, Murali Sharma, Tabu & a bevy of other respected artists. So let’s dive into the narrative structure of “Ala Vaikunthapurramlo”
SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!
For the sake of this argument let’s divide the movie into Four acts & let’s analyze it act by act.
ACT-1 – There’s a saying in screenwriting courses , it goes “when you want people to like your protagonist, make him save the cat” . It doesn’t literally mean to save a cat, it means a writer should make the protagonist do something so that the audience will like him because only when we like the protagonist we will follow him through the perilous journey that he’s about to undertake. when it comes to this film Mr.Srinivas comes out at us with his bat swinging with in the first five minutes when a jealous underachiever Valmiki (played gleefully by Mr.Murali Sharma) decides to swap his son with that of his erstwhile companion & now his boss Ramachandra’s son , who grows up to be Mr.Allu Arjun (who just owns every scene that he’s in with his understated charm & sincerity) & names him “Bantu (servant)” as a screw you to his erstwhile companion . Valmiki never misses a chance to berate Bantu for his poor luck & this right here creates a sympathetic character out of our protagonist & Mr.Srinivas milks this plot point like a Right wing sycophant with a cow fetish. Almost every interaction Bantu has with every other character reiterates to us & him about his misfortune that in turn will create a sense of sympathy & most importantly raises a curiosity in us to see how he goes about righting this wrong & get his due & that is how you engage the audience, by making us invest in the journey of the protagonist, emphasis on the word “ENGAGE”. Mr.Srinivas also finds a subtle yet brilliant way of highlighting the importance of consent without being heavy handed or didactic. It’s also established that Bantu is averse to lying & he would rather tell the truth & suffer it’s consequences than lie. All the plot points are set up beautifully, so far so good.
ACT-2 – This begins with Bantu getting in the good looks of his biological father by virtue of his inherent character & some deeds he does, but in this course he puts himself in a precarious position of being not liked by his biological mother played by Ms.Tabu (she doesn’t have much to do except sulk) & also stands to lose his object of affection played by Ms.Hegde, all because of his said virtue. We also get some rote bad guys who are there only to move the plot along & inevitably make Bantu & his biological father cross paths & Bantu finally gets to learn the truth about his birth courtesy of some happenstance & it is here that things shift into the next gear all the while showing us that, to quote Mr.Srinivas “we can only give a person a position but not the stature that comes with that position, which has to be earned” & most importantly puts Bantu in a very exciting position (at least when viewed from a story tellers perspective) & raises our curiosity to zenith by positing two questions to us, “How would a man, who lives by a code of truth & honor would react to the fact that his entire life has been a lie & the guilty party is none other than his father?”, “will Bantu overcome his biological mothers dislike for him?”, at this point I was hooked in , deeply engaged with the movie & was seething with anticipation & excitement at the many number of directions the story could take in the rest of the two acts (second half).
ACT -3 – The third act starts strong with Bantu refusing to use the new found information to seek retribution , but to free himself of the burden of being a failure in the eyes of his father. The rest of the third act is a rehash of the favorite trope of Mr.Srinivas, I.E to get the protagonist lodged in someone else’s house & raise hell. In this film Bantu does the said deed courtesy of some other hapless characters sprinkled in to bring in some dose of comedy & as expected he takes care of the issues plaguing the family like the fledgling family business , sort out the chinks in the personal lives of his biological parents without even drawing a drop of sweat on his brow. Watching this, one can’t help but get a sense of deja vu partly due to the fact that this all looks like a filler till the final act kick in & partly due to the fact that we’re not engaged anymore by the proceedings as Mr.Srinivas decided to play it safe by toning down the intensity of the film by substituting it with run of the mill entertainment. To his credit Mr.Srinivas never goes overboard . I guess even someone as prolific a writer as Mr.Srinivas isn’t immune to the agony of the much dreaded third act.
ACT-4 – By this time due to the virtue of the excellent first half & the bearable third act we enter into the last 40 mins of the film, still very much invested in it , everything is in place for the protagonist to face the music & get the answers for the central dramatic question posted in the first half of the film. So, do we get the answers we’re looking for?
If I have to come up with an analogy to draw a distinction b/w the first three acts & the last act, it’s like this, if the questions put forth by the former are akin to the complex questions that are asked to a candidate appearing for his Masters in philosophy exam, the answers given to us by the latter are written by a drunk kindergartener with learning disabilities I.E silly, redundant, whimsical & farcical. It is here that I feel that the movie completely falls apart, here we see Mr.Srinivas fall prey to his old habits of pandering to the audience & playing it extra safe complete with Gabbar singesque sequence in the form of medley of songs belonging to all the superstars of our industry performed by yours truly Bantu, now, I’m not a prude who detests a chuckle or two but it’s the time where it comes that irks me. This should’ve been the act where all the principles, world views & the emotions driving the protagonist should be questioned & challenged by the opposing forces & out of this chaos the protagonist should emerge a changed man for better or worse, but we never get any chance to explore such complexities but instead of it what we get is a gamut of tried & tested formulaic plot points (if we can even call them that) including but not limited to a mandatory pre-climax catchy song , a fight set to a folk song & a twist so banal & so contrived that it made me throw up my hands in frustration. It’s particularly frustrating to see such brilliant set up thrown down the drain just for the comfort of familiarity, given the talent Mr.Srinivas has this act could’ve been truly electrifying but instead we’re treated with a bland final act that leaves a bad aftertaste.
I do not wish to write an opprobrium about Mr.Srinivas. I’m a huge admirer of Mr.Srinivas’s writing & directing especially when it’s not constrained by the myopic view of “commercial cinema” as evidenced in “Athadu”, which is arguably the greatest Telugu film made in the last 30 years or so. Mr.Srinivas is a proponent of utilitarianism by nature, a sage by virtue of his writing & a revolutionary at heart & we can see all these aspects of him shine through his films & speeches. I’m just disappointed by the misuse of his MASSIVE potential & hence my lament. I know that the chances of Mr.Srinivas reading this are slim but if he is, గురువు గారు , తెలుగు ని మీ అంత తెలివి గా వాడే తెగువ నాకు లేదు , కానీ నిజం ని నిబ్బరంగా చెప్దామని నిశ్చయించుకున్నాను అందుకే ఈ సాహసం. మీ మేధస్సు సముద్రం అయితే , మేము ఆ ఒడ్డును పట్టుకుని వేలాడే తీరం, “ఖలేజా” అనే సునామి ని వద్దు అన్నందుకు మీరు మొత్తం గా వెనక్కి వెళ్లిపోకండి , కొద్దీ కొద్దీ గా మమ్మల్ని మీలో కలుపుకుంటూ వెళ్ళండి. “అత్తారింటికి దారేది”, “son అఫ్ సత్యమూర్తి” “A aa” “అల వైకుంఠపురంలో ” లాంటి చిత్రాలు తీసే స్థాయి కాదు మీది గురువు గారు, ఆలా అని అవి మంచి చిత్రాలు కావు అని కాదు. అయినా అలాంటి చిత్రాలు తీసే వాళ్ళు ఇప్పుడు చాలా మంది వచ్చారు, మీరు అంతకు మించి , అంతకు ఎంతెంతో మించి రాయగలరు. మా దృష్టిలో మీరు శిఖరము లాంటి వాళ్ళు, అందరిలో ఒక్కరుగా మేము మిమ్మల్ని చూడలేము, ఎందుకు అంటే, భారతం రాసిన వ్యాసుడు ఎంకి పాటలు రాస్తే అయన అభిమానులు తట్టుకోలేరు. తెలుగు చలన చిత్ర కీర్తి కిరీటాన్ని దేశవ్యాప్తంగా రాజమౌళి గారు ఒక్కరే మోసి మోసి అలసి పోతున్నారు, మీ లాంటి మేధావులు ఆ భారాన్ని పంచుకునే చిత్రాలు తీస్తే, మన తెలుగు చలన చిత్ర ఖ్యాతి ప్రపంచం అంతా ఇనుమడిస్తుంది, ఇట్లు, సదా మీ మేలు కోరుకునే లక్షలాది మంది అభిమానుల్లో ఒకడు. ప్రణామములు.