Some Ramblings - Kanche (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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It is merely codification of labor categorization, caste, claims its apologists, conveniently ignoring the glaring lopsidedness in the award of the different types of labor not on any justifiable standards or even, say, lottery, but solely on the right of the might. And so, the strongest in the group gets to become the protector and the weakest, the low life. But work is worship, no one work is superior or inferior to the other, goes on the corollary. True, but that applies only at an individual level and not at a societal level. When work of varying physical demands is being distributed among a group, common sense (and compassion) dictates that the toughest (and in some cases, the most repugnant) of jobs be handled by the strongest, who has the physical prowess and the wisest, who is equipped with the equanimity to not differentiate among the degrees of work. And therefore the Brahmin, the well read in the crowd, should had handled the most menial of jobs in the society (say, scavenging), the Kshatryia, the one with the brawn, should had remained the watch dog, not in any ruler sense but in a foot soldier way, and the weakest in the tribe should had been at the top of the pyramid with the rest of the society closing ranks around him throwing a blanket of safety and security around him. Now that is truly the right division of labor meant for a harmonious progression and propagation of humanity and its kind. Sadly, the practice is just the reverse, where the strongest remains the constantly served, the weakest, always serving. But those demarcations that have been drawn up around lines on strength aren't just relegated to the original players of the game, instead they propagated into perpetuity and eternity, wherein the progeny of the rulers rarely stepped outside their stipulated boundaries and the descendants of the downtrodden almost never got to the top rung of the social ladder. Those are the twin tragedies wrought upon the society by the dark and tall shadows of the caste system - unfair awarding practices, undeserving inheritance rights. That was then and this is now. Though democracy has opened up the system and has given a voice to the once squeezed and squelched strata of the society, paradoxically, both sides, the once oppressed and now resurgent, and the once ruling and now serving, have retreated into their corners further, one claiming reparations for the historical injustices, and the other asking of a moratorium (or even a clean erasure) of the past and moving ahead without any baggage, and none willing to drop the tags (castes) altogether both fearing a loss of identity. The old battle lines are merely redrawn now, and the centuries old barriers and boundaries, just as strong and separating.

'Kanche', though set in the Second World War era, is quite a contemporary social commentary. That it uses the genocide during the last greatest war ever fought, to show the parallel between the plight of the Jews in the Nazi era and the subservient class in the then Indian social context is quite fitting and valid, in that, in both the cases a section of the society is picked on for no other reason than being born in it. This is probably the dumbest and the most cruel of reasons for trampling on an individual, not for his views, opinions, ideologies, practices or any reason that involved his choice or exercise of his will, that is at least understandable if not justified, but for a downright stupid reason (like being born as someone) that he has no control over whatsoever. It is akin to killing someone because their skin pigmentation is a bit more pronounced (wait..., and there is that too) So, labor and legacy made up caste, color made up race, squiggly lines on parchments made up nationalism, praying practices to the non-existent drummed up religionism, money created class (ironically, sometimes the 'haves' had to suffer for their success, ask the Jews). Save for the last one, none of the above deserve to serve as the motive for killing or being the vehicle of hate. And yet, more people die and even more divided on lines that they have absolutely no say on. The foundations of 'Kanche' are probably the strongest ever depicted on the telugu screen in recent times. The writing is poignant, witty, thought provoking and hard hitting, all wrapped in a tender love story. Though the message is sometimes on the nose and the dialogues driving home the already obvious, full credit to the writer and director for attempting (and mostly succeeding) at making a social statement by not just restricting themselves to one place, one area, one nation, but by moving much much higher in space and scope juxtaposing the injustices meted to out one people to the inhumanity served to another, reminding of

వేట అదే వేటు అదే నాటి కధే అంతా
నట్టడువులు నడి వీధికి నడిచొస్తే వింతా
బలవంతులే బ్రతకాలని సూక్తి మరవకుండా
శతాబ్దాలు చదవలేదా ఈ అరణ్యకాండా

Krish (and Sai Madhav Burra) deserve all the applause for penning a love story, that is not just about love, a war story, that is not merely about war, a social commentary, that is not just about one society. The scale is global, the reach is ambitious and the result, pure epic.

Sirivennela's contributions to the proceedings refuse to remain in the background and come bursting afore front and center. Sadly saddled of late with opportunities that refuse to engage, challenge and benefit from his intellect to the hilt, 'Kanche' allows him to stretch his creative limbs to the fullest, philosophically, sociologically and anthropologically. What more could a social scientist (who also happens to be the best in business compacting his philosophy in terse verses) ask for, a situation that prods him to ponder on the human condition, the past and the present, and comment, critique, chide and celebrate the best and worst it has to offer. These are the kind of opportunities that lyricists live and crave and fight for and 'Kanche' (and the audience too) is all the better for having Sirivennela anguishing in verse.

However, a few hiccups remain. The stellar writing seems let down by at times amateur direction and the wooden acting. All the war scenes look like friendly reenactments of famous wars on lazy weekend afternoons, with none of the urgency, sense of threat or even the slightest awareness of its topography. This is not because of lack of budgets or technical exposure to war. The war scenes appear as though the director wanted to quickly film just about everything that happens in a war (explosions, people running helter skelter, hero waving his arms heroically calling his troops either to take cover or attack, alternately, enemy troops advancing like school boys in assembly sessions, worse, all in wide angles, nonetheless, making the mistakes appear even egregious) and then decided to make sense of all that footage later in the editing room. The costumes look delivered straight from the dry cleaners with nary a speck of dust on them, and the helmets, freshly dipped in a drum of green paint, no chipping or denting anywhere. The detailing is too squeaky clean to its own detriment.

In spite of all these, 'Kanche' sparkles in its stirring writing. A rare feat for a telugu movie that calls to look inwardly while being outwardly.

Nitpick: Srinivas Avasarala's character, a fellow soldier in the second world war (1939-1945) quotes from Srisri's Maha Prasthanam though written between 1930-40, wasn't published until 1950 :-).


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