An Jo on c/o Kancharapalem

You know there are those kinds of films that make you feel as though you are watching – from the outside – your life’s years and their itsy-bitsy, or otherwise, momentous events pass by? Some are events to you, but maybe just tasks for others: likewise, the reverse holds true too. If one were to summarize the Telugu film ‘C/o Kancharapalem’, the afore-mentioned brief would be it. It’s a whole-some movie organically built out of the moment-to-moment joys and pains, some given to you, mostly given by you; some of them forced by society as a construct, and most of them because you have to live in that society.

This is basically an ‘adult’ Malgudi Days set in the town of Kancharapalem near Vizag with love as the back-drop, spread across the age-spectrum: 2 kids in 8th grade; an alcohol-shop worker [Gaddam] and a prostitute [Saleema] belonging to the Muslim faith, a Brahman-caste girl [Bhargavi] and a ruffian Christian named Joseph; and finally, the most poignant of all, the love-story of lower-caste office attendant [Subba Rao] and his superior in the office [Radha] who happens to be hailing/transferred from Orissa. The director cuts-through different slices of these love stories through the usage of blanked-out screen, both as a form of continuity and a mooring device – one blank screen cuts to a different character’s story, but the audience never feels any dis-connect, precisely because first-time director/writer Maha Venkatesh weaves these different threads into such a beautiful commonly-themed tapestry.

As if to infuse life into my sentence that I wrote in the first paragraph, the one about standing outside and looking at moments passing by, I can’t stop but wonder how beautifully the director uses the passenger – not a goods’ train— as a metaphor to weld-in such moments cinematically. After a scene when Joseph comes to know that his love Bhargavi is married-off to someone belonging to her caste – note, profession here is never mentioned as a hindrance— there’s a scene that shows him dejectedly walking on a service road by the railway tracks and a railway engine runs by, no bogies attached—railway cars, for the Americans; signifying the beginning of a lone journey for him. In another scene, later on in the film, Radha’s brother and his friends try to stop the eloping ‘oldies’— he’s 49 and healthy since he practices Yoga and jogging, she’s 42, a widow, and a diabetic – by thrashing Subba Rao right in front of a railway-crossing gate [they couldn’t cross-over into his village because the crossing-gate came down due to an oncoming train passing by.] After the train passes by, the goons see that almost the entire village that Subba Rao belongs to is standing on the other side to unite the couple. A few scenes earlier, some folks from the very same group from Subba’s village had called in a ‘panchayat’ of sorts to admonish Subba that he was being called a ‘gay’ and a ‘pedophile’ – he finds himself asleep beside a kid on a verandah after a drunken night with his buddies mumbling out love-somethings – by almost the whole town since he remained unmarried even at the age of 49. There are many such instances where the director ‘talks’ to the audience and not ‘shows’ the vicissitudes of life. When it comes to the kids’ love story, the boy praises to skies the ‘power’ of Lord Ganesh’s idol when things go well but smashes parts of the idol when his love is packed off to a different school in Delhi by her father; all because she sings a ‘love’ song in a school competition. [To paraphrase the father, what a terrible influence on the youth!] Now, this very act triggers the kid to inadvertently destroy his own father’s labor of love and literally, his livelihood, and thence, his life. What in irony! The father ‘built’ an idol of Ganapati that would make his livelihood possible, but now the son, in pursuit of a ‘mere’ act of child-hood love, ‘killed’ that very possibility. Is God so trivial that a mere act of vandalizing his idol would extract such a morbid revenge? There are many such scenes that provoke thoughts in the audience; that call for greater introspection and examination. The director never indulges in dramaturgy to strike home these contradictions, but is respecting you enough that some might or all viewers might venture home and explore more on the complex relationship between God and the human, or the more supposedly perfunctory things that love, and hate, force us to do.

In continuation from the above thought, the idiosyncrasies of life are beautifully brought-forth here. Subba is an atheist but it’s love that makes him take-up a 30 kilo-meter journey to the Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple in Simhachalam because Radha wants to go on-foot. These two spend innumerable hours thinking about what society would think about them marrying at this age or eloping to get married – even though they have the ‘blessing’ of their daughter—she is worried about the man’s intention; he makes just 8000 rupees, and her mother 22000 rupees per month—but do not think even once when they are trying to check if their horoscopes are compatible to their aim of becoming a couple! Subba once wears a shirt that has this written on its back: DO not quIT: On the face of it, the camera panning on this statement makes it look cheesy, but look at the context the director weaves it in: This is after a night of regular drinking with buddies. You can take it anyway you want: Do not quit alcohol, OR; Do It, to paraphrase a tag-line of a shoe-company. Bhargavi’s father is trying to sell a life-insurance policy to a certain Paul Rajesh: the agent’s face brightens when he hears the name Rajesh, but when the name ‘Paul’ registers slowly in his mind, his expressions change; but he carries on filling the form – as Ramu once said, ‘सब गंदा है पर धनदा है ये’, right?

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the movie, for me, remains the scene where Gaddam hands over a packet of condoms to Saleema when she is starting out on her daily ‘business.’ To me, it reminded me of the that lung-crushing initial scene (at 09: 00 mark) from Mira Nair’s SALAAM BOMBAY where the shrieking under-age girl is yanked out of the car in Kamatipura into the cesspool of flesh-trade and the other prostitutes are viewing this as something as normal as a line of women waiting early morning in front of a bore-well to fetch water. Gaddam knows both he and Saleema are sitting on the lower-rung of a society; and there’s little they can do to change it – but within the facilities and faculties available to them, whatever it takes to remain true to love and to sustain it, he will do it for her, and she for him, be that as simple as having a sip of ‘Old Mansion’ brandy with him.

The director/writer, brilliantly inter-weaves humor into the proceedings: Don’t make the mistake of assuming that this is a ‘deep’ film or a serious one. The film is as faithful to life as life is to you on a daily basis the schizophrenic treatment it metes out to you. Right after the thrashing Subbu receives at the railway-crossing, there’s the first-night scene between the couple which will have you rocking with laughter in your chair—or wherever it is you are watching the movie from. The ‘difference’ in what a ‘party’ constitutes to boys and girls is hilariously brought out in a scene involving Bhargavi and Joseph and buddies.

Earlier, I was talking of the co-relation between a task in one’s life and its effect/transformation as an event on another person’s life. The task of a kid vandalizing his own father’s labor of love results in the event as a tragedy; the task of a group of ‘up-holders’ of purity of the Islamic faith ends up as an event that forever changes the ‘lives’ of both Saleema and Gaddam. But life goes on, and we stand as mere puppets, yet continue to be arrogant and petty when we know that we are NOTHING in front of a higher power’s machinations.


7 Responses to “An Jo on c/o Kancharapalem”

  1. Pleasantly surprised to see some telugu films being different from the run of the mills. I will try to watch it when it releases on net.


  2. Thank you for this note Satyam.

    This is highly recommended.

    Satyam/Q/Saket/Rocky & all:

    Do catch this when you get a chance. And like all the so-called ‘event’ films from South India starring those super-stars, the prices are hiked to 15 or 20$ at all – even on the first day!! A pleasant surprise..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just saw this post — what a beautiful review, will definitely keep an eye out for this. Telugu films tend to make it to US streaming services so I imagine this one should be on Amazon soon enough…


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