Velugu Needalu
Ram Gopal Varma (part 3)
Srinivas Kanchibhotla

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Velugu Needalu
Here is the the series that focuses on the many greats who lurk in the shadows behind the silver screen bringing out the best in them, to radiate and redirect their brilliance onto the silver medium. We hope that these articles would focus our attention and applause to these true "stars" to whom limelight and spot lights do not usually beckon upon.

Cont'd from the 2nd part

Comedy, discounting slapstick, is all dialogue when it comes to telugu cinema, at least in the modern era. A retort has to be met with a riposte. A punch should be countered with another. Words, words and more words - the only problem with it is they need to be clever all the time, or at a minimum more clever than its precedessor. And that is every single time. It is like an addiction whose dosage should constantly be upped to feel the high. And the problem is rooted right within the setup - words cannot be rib tickling at all times and attempts to raise the bar (or lower it, in some situations) often fall flat or appear forced, which is the worst reaction that comedy can elicit. For every Jandhyala's laugh riot, there were at least 10 that failed, when he tried the same formula by amping up the eccentricities and wierdness and simply tried coasting with his words. Telugu movies have rarely used the strength of the situation to come to the aid of comedy. Take 'Missamma', for example. For a comedy movie, none of the dialogues in 'Missamma' is a memorable one, in the strictest sense. The dialogues take a backseat to the situation, and whatever conversations that come in the way simply aid the situation, and not build it, meaning, there are more transactional than they are intentional. 'మీ ఉద్యోగం ఐడియా కంటే మన చలివేంద్రం ఐడియానే బెస్ట్ గురూ' is not funny, per se, along the lines of a, say, 'నీ నవరంధ్రాల్లోనూ మైనం కూరతానురా కుంకా', but within the context of where Relangi tries to propose an alternative career to NTR, the dialogue is surely amusing. And that is the reference to comedy being a captive to words in modern telugu cinema, as opposed to the Chakrapani era, where words were simply filled in without the pressure of having to be funny allowing the situation to carry all the burden of the comedy. And suprisingly, unlike with words, situational comedy works all the times, at least more often than a dialogue oritented one. Case in point, the constable comes in and informs the SI that the person whom the SI just slapped hard and shoved into the slammer is the minister's brother-in-law. And the SI coolly turns towards the constable without missing a beat and says 'sorry చెప్పొద్దాం'. Those words aren't least bit funny when taken out of that context. But within that situation, they are as cool as ice and funny for being too casual and matter of fact. This is situational comedy at its finest. And rolling a red carpet back to that bygone era of (Vijaya movies') situational comedy is RGV's ode to it - kshaNa kshaNam.

Though premise is rooted in Robert Zemeckis' 'Romancing the stone', everthing else about 'kshaNa kshaNam' is sited in unconvetionality. The marquee star doesn't appear for the first 20 minutes, the villain is more humane than he is menacing, the dialogues roll off the tongues like natural conversations, and the comedy is more from the lead pair trying to extricate themselves out of the sticky situations they keep getting entagled in than from clever word play. For an audience that has grown up on having their heroes' lifecycles (or at least, half of it, till marriage) play in front of their eyes before the end credits roll on, the fact that the entire movie happens in a matter of a couple of days was definitely a culture shock. This is not a regular telugu movie, where the hero runs away from villain when outnumbered, where wits are more at play than fists, where the flawed hero even mocks the movie cliches for why he turned out to a petty theif. There is an interesting paradox when it comes to telugu (for that matter, Indian) movie audience. The real world hardcore cynics (or too smart to a fault) that they are (never is it more evident than their relationship with the political class), telugu audience wishes its movies to never wise up, to never catch up to the real world, to remain eternally in that blissful built-up dream world where the hero, however flawed, rude and sociopathic he might be, behaves that way for a very sympathetic reason, and the villain gets his comeuppance for just a single fault, like harassing the heroine (which, to be fair, the hero did too to a fair degree for the entire first half of the movie). But then again, that was the norm that no director dare flout....until 'kshaNa kshaNam'. Here, the hero is just as selfish as the villain ('ఆ అమ్మాయికి చెప్పడం ఎందుకురా, మనమే డబ్బులు తెచ్చుకుని పంచేసుకుందాం', 'బావుండదేమోరా!', 'అరేయ్! కొంపదీసి ప్రేమలోగాని ఏమన్నా పడ్డావా', 'ఎహె! అలాంటి పిచ్చి పనులు నేను ఏమీ చేయను ') in trying to get to the bag full of hard cash, and the only reason why he keeps fighting with/outsmarting the villain is he simply stands in the way between him and the bag and not for any ulterior philanthropic/moral motive. This is a great departure from the usual characterization of the telugu hero, who till then had to either be completely good or completely bad operating with none of the grayness of the real world. And when after the introduction fight sequence, the jeep slowly rolls in to a cramped bylane and the hero gets out the jeep in his khaki uniform and starts distributing the stolen booty among his henchmen and says 'అరేయ్! ఆ జీపు కొట్టేసి పది రోజులవుతోంది, పట్టుకుంటే బొక్కలో వేస్తారు, వదిలేసి పారిపోండి ', it was clear (apart from the initial shock) that the sanctity of the hero has undergone a tectonic shift and that he wasn't going to remain the same untainted soul that he once was. One small (mis)step for the hero, one gaint back-flip for the herokind...

'తెలియదు తెలియదు, ఏమి అడిగినా తెలియదు ', 'ఈ జీపేమయ్యిందిరా! ఈ జీపేమయ్యిందిరా!!', 'నర్సి, ఇది ఏం పాటో చెప్పు ', 'ఏయ్! అది ఇచ్చేయ్, వన్ టూ లు కూడ చెప్పను ', 'ఈ పందుల్ని అసలు బస్సులో ఎందుకు తీసుకు వస్తారురా', 'విషం పామారా? ఏయ్! దగ్గరికి వెళ్ళకు ' - Nayar is one exasperated villain. Surrounded by (what he thinks are) bumbling idiots, Nayar could not catch a break, even after planning and nearly executing a perfect bank robbery. On the other hand, Nayar is no villain, anymore than Chandu is a hero. Had there been no breach in the trust by one of his cohorts, Nayar would have remained a tax-paying law-abiding regular citizen, but for his bank robbery. And his humanity truly shows in the small acts - 'వర్షం, వర్షం ఇటురా', 'బ్రదరా?', 'కవర్ ఇచ్చేస్తే మేము ఇక వెళ్ళిపోతాము '. RGV merely mirrored the humanity of the hero in his villain, in that both their character flaws stem from their opportunism, nothing more. In fact, calling Nayar the villain of 'kshaNa kshaNam' seems to do a disservice to his character. He is the true character actor of the movie, in that, all his actions are guided by his situations and not by his tag. There is an oft-used phrase when it comes to describing movies, 'ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances'. The phrase could not be more apt to the characters in 'kshaNa kshaNam', for, the only reason an interplay exists among them in the first place is because of their vastly divergent paths converging around a single incident. But for the chance meeting between Chandu and Satya, the rest of the characters come together in a truly organic way, with none of the situations seems forced or out of place, including the comic relief of Brahmanandam.

And now, the comedy. Like the 'Missamma' example above, none of the dialogues in 'kshaNa kshaNam' are intentionally funny, they are only funny because of the sitations they are uttered in. 'ఏమే! ఆ BP గాడు మళ్ళీ వచ్చాడా?', 'పద అంటే ఆ డబ్బు తీసుకు పారిపోదాం అంటున్నరేమో అనుకున్నాను?', 'మా అమ్మ అప్పుడే చెప్పింది, మగాళ్ళని నమ్మొద్దు నమ్మొద్దు అని ', 'ఒక నాలుగు కాఫీ కప్పులు టీకప్పులు తెచ్చి లైన్లో పెట్టండయ్య, కాఫీ హోటల్ అనుకుంటారు '. But the strength of the situation is such, that even the most natural of words end up sounding hilarious. Frustration and anger are easier to depict, portray and be identified with easily. And that is the reason why 'Siva' is hailed as the greatest achievement in RGV's career, despite 'kshaNa kshaNam' being the more polished, confident and difficult to pull off product. Comedy as its highest aspiration is merely a relief with a hearty laugh, unlike, frustration, which can aspire to be a catalyst to ever lasting change. This is the only reason why 'Siva' is remembered more than 'kshaNa kshaNam', in spite of the latter's better scripting sensibilities and directorial capabilities. The tepid reaction to 'kshana kshaNam' was paid back ten fold when RGV collaborated with Siva Nageswara Rao with 'Money', with similar situational strenghts and transactional dialogue. Nonetheless, 'kshana kshaNam' remains RGV's best work till date and more path breaking than its predecessor, the impact of which wasn't as instant or as tangible as 'Siva' but certainly more long lasting and far reaching.

Cont'd in the next part - RGV's first misstep - rAtri.

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