Nostalgia has a funny way of casting softer light on most things that are past, however painful they were at the time of the happening. And it is even kinder on that interesting period, when a person is thrown into the throes of early adulthood, along with several others with a similar bent in a group setting, and challenged to discover his individuality, to chart his own path and mark his own place in the world. Nostalgia is never judgmental, it is never too harsh, and more importantly, it understands. It understands the awkwardness of that period, the level of intelligence (or the lack of it) at that time, and the painful adjustments that a person had to make to fit into the group, and therefore is never too critical of any decision he made, that has changed the course of his life. It understands that this is the first brush of the person with the real world, one where there are no guarantees, safety nets or fall back positions/people, one where the impact of each result is very hard-hitting, and one where hard truths and bitter lessons are handed down in its own ruthless heartless ways. After subsisting so long on the cozy comfortable wings of the parents, the rude shock of having to fend for himself, and survive all by himself, certainly disorients even the best of minds, and the confusion is certainly compounded by awakening sexuality, raging hormones and discovering of the opposite sex. The age becomes a melting pot of all that is wondrous, confounding, complicated and interesting. Oh, there is also that other painful part in a student's life - studies. Nostalgia also has the great power of transforming all the efforts that went into that aspect - the hardwork, the heartburn, the preparations and the examinations - into fond memories. It does that regardless of the place of his education, irrespective of his discipline and immaterial of the nature of his study. All the raw images of yester years with rough edges seem to smoothen out with passing time, attain a gloss and ultimately get haloed in due course, when viewed through the forgiving lens of nostalgia. And that seems to be prime reason why it is so hard to let go of that period, because it is not just a happy memory, it is also a painful one, it is an exciting one, it is an interesting one, above all, it is a memorable one, just like how it is with the first crush, first love and the first heartbreak.
Thematically (cinematically) speaking, the period is a gold mine of ideas. Pick any emotion during the adolescent period, pick any experience in that early adulthood time, and the situation would lend itself quite easily to be explored to the fullest, and the result would be one that is universally understood and instantly identifiable. The period does not belong to just one generation and the experiences are not relegated to one selected sect. There is a commonality in the theme that spans generations, and all that is different is how each generation comes face to face with the same old truths of coming of age and how each tries to confront/overcome/learn from it. Take the old movie "velugu neeDalu" of the 60s, and the song "bhale bhale manchi rOjulae, maLLee maLLee ika raavulae" for example, and one can clearly see, that the future, that held added responsibility, marriage, kids, and even the prospect of unemployment, was as much uncertain and daunting back then as it is now. Move a couple more decades down the line to "Siva" in the 80s, and the song "Botany paaTHamundi maatinee aaTa vundi" makes the case clear enough during the lines "undigaa September March painaa, vaayidaa paddhatundi daenikainaa", that studies were as much a bother, and getting over them was much as a headache back then, as it is now. The appeal of those themes crossing over many ages, eras and periods is unmistakable, and it is more because of the instant identification of the pain. John Hughes, the famed Hollywood maker during the 80s, who specialized in movies that dealt with teenage angst, the eagerness to fit in, the rebellious nature and other troubled aspects during the school/college days ("Pretty in Pink", "16 Candles", "Breakfast Club", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" etc), carved a niche for himself in this genre. He did so not in the usual heavy-handed way that teenage movies get brushed off, but by treating each problem on its own merit, fully exploring the reasons behind and consequences of such angst, in a very intelligent, sensitive, and importantly, an adult way. Ultimately it comes down to the choices as a writer, when penning a teenage/coming of age/nostalgic movie, how does the writer deal with pain, the prevalent permanent fixture in teenage. Does the maker try to understand the mechanics of that age, empathize with the decisions, and provide the right motivations for his characters, or does he just want to romanticize that period, paint the complete portrait in broadstrokes and gloss over the painful parts?
"Happy Days" makes a case for the latter, as Kammula tries to take the easy route, both as the writer and the director, reducing the movie to a glorified music video, than trying to represent the real voice of a generation, that desperately wants to be heard. First, the writing. It is a fair choice that Kammula tried to deal only with the issue of romance, as against other pressing, and thematically richer, aspects of the student's life. (A movie is never what it is about, than how it goes about doing it.) And since "Happy Days" is projected as something a little closer to real life, the romance aspect - the falling in love, the courting, the heartbreak and the eventual patchup, was expected to be little more sincere (read awkward, clumsy, embarassing, not to mention, cute and funny), and all that the characters get to mouth are "nuvvu ivaaLa baagunnav", "nuvvu ivaaLa chaalaa baagunnav", "nuvvu ivaaLa chaalaa andamgaa unnav" at regularly timed intervals, sporting soft, dewey looks, that look cute on a puppy dog for any length of time, but on a person, wears off very quickly. Hiding behind the fact that this is closer depiction of real life, and that nobody would talk like a Kalidas or Devadas when dealing with romantic issues, would be a cheap cop out. Since it avails all the other advantages of commercial movie format, like songs, story arcs, and dramatic situations, that are otherwise denied to stricter formats like documentaries where melodramatic words would feel out of place, the above dialogues (and many more like them peppered liberally through the length of the movie) amount to nothing more than bad writing.
Observe the following two contrasting situations, how writing (read, dialogues) is important to elevate the emotion of the situation. 1. Mani Ratnam's "Gitanjali" - another case of horrible writing, written in typical Ratnam style, in stuttering spurts with botched beginnings and abrupt endings ("yae? yae?", "andukae!", "yae?", "nuvvu naaku isTam laedu", "yae?", "naenu chacchi pOtunnaanu"). But "Gitanjali" still rises above its mediocre writing, because of the seriousness of the subject, and the way it is handled with all the right sensitivity and sensibilities. 2. Trivikram's "Nuvve Kavali" - take the scene, where it becomes evident to Madhu than Tarun is in fact in love with her, as he talks about leaving Madhu and all their past history means nothing in the end ("veLLipOyina kotthallO phone lu chaestaav, uttaraalu raastaav, konnaaLLaki avee taggipOtaayi, eppuDO okaTO, renDO, uttaraalO, phone lO, nee illu, nee moguDu, nee pillalu, nee busy lO nuvvu paDipOtaav, konnaeLLaki nannu poorthigaa marchipOtaav"... or something to that effect). The sitution is real-life like, the dialogues, very much grounded in reality and far removed from theatricality, speak with all the honesty and sincerety, and convey exactly how and what the character feels. Compare it to "Happy Days", (that already treads on very thin ice (plot)), where every alternate dialogue is a "nuvvu chaala baagunnav" during the courting phase, "pOvae/pOraa, nuvvu evariki kaavaali" during the tiff phase, or a "sorry, nuvvu naaku kaavaali" during the patchup phase. If Kammula wanted to depict the feelings visually, instead of relying on the word, even that does not come across any fresh or any interesting either, as the camera overdoses on fluttering eyes, self-conscious and unnecessary smiles, slow motions and countless montages (Compre it with "Kaadal", which tries to depict the same adolescent love, visually, without the aid of any words or any camera gimmickry, for greater effect and better results). The writing point needs to be stressed, because the potential in most of the situations that Kammula chose to depict in the student life (ragging, courting, betrayal, jealousy etc) for drawing out the right effect, is too great to be frittered away in clunky and tired dialogues.
Next, the acting. It is quite unfortunate that a worldwide search for talent netted these guys and gals, most of whom, cannot talk right, leave alone acting right. With exception to Nikhil (who seems to be a very good prospect and a quite competent one, both in terms of dramatics and dialogue delivery), none of the other leads seem to have a basic comprehension or even a minimum understanding of what constitutes Telugu, with their terrible accents and irritating dictions. If this is indeed how college people speak in real life, as though Telugu is not their mothertongue but some special third language requirement they take to honor the curriculum requirements, it is a sad day for Telugu movies, Telugu language, and Telugu culture as a whole. It is high time that Telugu makers take the route that Tamil filmdom has taken a long time ago - pay scant respect to the looks and concentrate on what it takes to make it right - right acting and right writing. The deplorable state of the language (and the prospect of it getting even worse) is never more evident than in "Happy Days", which needs to be appreciated on this one count, of bringing this burning issue to the fore, albeit unknowingly. With exception to Telugu, probably no other filmdom willingly allows its language or its culture to be butchered or subverted to this extent, in the name of fashion or style, and it is quite unfortunate that makers as Kammula, who proclaim themselves as torch-bearers of good Telugu cinema, stand as mute spectators or unwitting participants in this carnage of the language. Right acting is not just putting on the right wear and looking good on the screen. Dialogue delivery is inherent to good acting, in just the same way as bad delivery and mock accents make up terrible acting. Non-existent plot, mediocre writing and horrendous acting - "Happy Days" is just false advertising.
If this is what Engineering students are, how they walk, talk, sound and move around, enough to say, that students of other non-Engineering disciplines aren't missing much!
Ramblings on films
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Batman Begins (English)
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Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article