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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.
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1. The sewing machine's pedal is worked on continuously
2. The small wheel on the top of the machine rotates furiously
3. The cloth moves from one edge of the machine, through the needle onto the other
4. While the jacket drops on the other edge
5. A lady rises to from the bottom of the frame, wondering about the jacket in an exaggerated fashion
6. Sundaram, a spectacled bundle of undying optimism and false promises, is framed between the triangle she makes with her hand on the hip and the unrelenting needle that is pushing into the cloth
7. All this while the background music is rattling like a twig on a tin roof

And these are 6 different cuts that happen within a span of a few seconds. The pacing is furious, the framing is innovative, the editing pushing the retentive capacity and the discerning capability of the eye in regard to the holding time of each frame, and more importantly the music, the main partner in the crime, is pulling the strings in the background.

Pick any few seconds of his movie, the frames feel like moving at twice the prescribed pace for a regular Telugu movie. Add to that the hurried nature of his characters, which seem to occupy their own frenzied world, caught up in their own whirlwind of activities. His transition from a normal story teller to a different kind of narrator to a 'dynamic' director would however need to observe at half his pace and half his speed. He never deviated from his off beat path and never tried to run the mainstream race. It takes a different kind of imagination to pull off even the weird imagery in a tasteful way like a beautiful woman in a garish dress holding a huge lotus between her teeth, a small face wearing a huge vermillion, the hero's costumes with the dangling price tags, glasses that seem too large for the face, to name a few. He handled the dolly as an assistant to the director, he worked his pen as author of good repute, he wielded his baton creating some hummable tunes, he worked behind the lens that eventually made his name synonymous with weird, innovative, jarring, imaginative, confused, dynamic and many such extremes - Vamsi.

If history is any indicative, a given audience can fairly predict the style of a movie coming out of a director's pedigree. That is because they usually confine themselves to a particular genre they can truly identify with and truly believe in and hence do not stray too far from that comfort zone. This gives some sort of predictability buffer to the audience so that there is a near or an absolute match between what it expects and what the maker delivers. In this aspect it is quite difficult to categorize Vamsi as a 'genre director', for the range he has showed in his repertoire and for the pattern and predictability game that he so willingly refused to be a part of. He balanced a "manchu pallaki" with a "preminchu pellaaDu", he upended a "sitara" with a "anveshaNa", he neutralized the ripples of a "aalaapana" with a "Ladies Tailor", he rib-tickled the viewer with a "April 1 viDudala" while showing the depths of pathos with a "Maharshi". The fact that he never tried recreating successes by sticking to the same formula that brought him monetary rewards and commercial acceptance, speaks a lot about his desire to not fall back on his previous glories but start the reconstruction process with each new venture by deconstructing himself totally. And just like anything, which tries to tread a new ground that is vastly different from the previous terrain that would meet either totally acceptance or summary rejection, quite a few of Vamsi's ventures tried to stand up on failing legs.

Two technical aspects stand out in Vamsi's movies - the hurrying camera and the over worked editing machine. During the times when a framing a shot consisted in placing the camera right in front of the talking parts and observing the action as a impassionate observer, not too far from duplicating the standard setup of the good old drama days, Vamsi's camera has the sort of urgency that would grab hold of audience's attention and virtually drags it at the same pace, racing through the forests, running along the roads, maneuvering through the woods and hurrying through the fields. The energy that the movement infuses into the frame, which correlates with the mood of the scene, is one reason to explain why a picture is worth a thousand words. Sundaram hopes to get rich, and get rich quick. He basks at the idea of having to wait years spending his energy, life and importantly time at the sewing pedal. He seeks quick nirvana and instant gratification. And when a half baked get rich quick scheme back-fires on him, he finds himself caught up in the vortex of a turbulent tornado struggling to keep find some breathing space while furiously trying to score at another half baked quick scheme. Add to this mix his characteristic trait - he is lazy. The camera work in Ladies Tailor reflects Vamsi's getting into the mindset of Sundaram. Sundaram has a deadline before he finds the "maccha unna bhaama" that would bring him name, fame and glory. He whittled down the sample size to 3. He has to work in a secretive manner, lest he becomes the object of some serious "attention" of venkata ratnam. All the 3 "bhaamalu" are closing on him at an alarming pace with marriage proposals. The race against time and life that is rightly depicted in the camera accompanying sundaram at every step, working at double the normal pace, places the audience right in sundaram's shoes in understanding his urgency of the task and urgency of his mind.

Rhythm forms an important part in his style, while cutting between two frames. His cutting almost assumes a lyrical nature that fits into a musical scale that is controlled by the pace and the tempo of the scene. He does not hold on to a scene till it has completely justified its purpose but instead splices in several extra frames that completely changes the way the scene would play out normally, were it cut in a conventional way. This extra information that pertain to either a sudden changed emotion of the characters involved or an exaggeration of an inner feeling, urges the audience to not take the character on his/her spoken word but instead treat it on the 'face' value in light of this new information. Maharshi, who has a dubious distinction in college, rags on a girl to prove his superiority, only to be hard slapped by Suchitra. The moment Suchitra imprints her palm impression Maharshi's cheek, the scene cuts away to Suchitra dousing Maharshi with a bucket full of colored water, some on his shirt, some on his face. If followed conventionally, Maharshi would start a hate-love relationship that would finally culminate into Suchitra accepting Maharshi. Instead, Vamsi cuts down the process of Suchitra adding color to Maharshi's pale and vapid life, with just a single frame of dousing. No love-hate relationship, no courting, no cheesy dialogues, no corny situations. Just one slap across the face, just one spliced frame in between and movie takes a different direction. The forest officer suggests that Bhanupriya and Karthik act intimate to catch the killer let loose in the jungle in "anveshaNa:. And while the mechanics of the process are being worked out between the hero and heroine, the frames of Satyanarayana (forest officer) turning his grim expression into a sly smile while his eye balls roll above to their roof, suddenly changes the equation for the audience and throws it off the scent. Again the nature of the scene that is played out heavily contributing to the rhythm of the cutting. The dynamic nature of the camera and the furious and unforgiving scissors, helped Vamsi trademark his style and vision on the silver screen, as one with little patience for lethargy and scant respect for the gravity of the scene.

(Cont'd in Part II)

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More series of articles by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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