Some Ramblings -A Aa (2016) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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What a refreshing sight it is when the supporting characters have as much say in the proceedings as the lead ones! What a heartening take it is when a mainstream commercial movie can shrug the the 'star' monkey off its back and instead deal in characters! What a load off the shoulders of the writer who finally gets to pen what the characters feel about a situation than worry about the buzzwords/speed breakers (elevation, projection, interval bang, confrontation etc) of the commercial format, not to mention the legacy throwaways about fathers, grandfathers, uncles or others in the blood line. Telugu cinema has been here before, when movies were small, when they dealt with what was happening in the households, neighborhoods, society in general, when characters seemed plucked straight out of real life, when conflict points were indeed genuine. And then it forked in a completely different directions, for any number of reasons, the chief ones being the insecurity of the stars to step out of their comfort zones, the unwillingness of the directors to force their good taste, will and sense on the stars and the trepidation of the producers who viewed the medium merely as a money minting machine and hence stayed away from anything that even remotely resembled a risk. But...but...once in a while when all these three cardinal rules of commercial cinema are thrown out of the window, comes along a movie that reminds everyone that goodness is not a risk, honesty need not worry about safety/returns, and when done with the right intentions (and execution) the reward is all but guaranteed. If one faction movie that stormed at the box office can spawn a generation worth of copy cats, if one revenge formula from one star that set the cash registers ringing can send the rest of the lot turning over every little nook and cranny for similar avenging stuff, then surely a good movie should, must and required to breed its progeny. This should be a lesson to Trivikram himself, who set off strongly with his author backed scripts but unfortunately veered into the ultra commercial lane, that there is always a market and an audience eager and starved for 'decent' content and the same people who were driven away from the theaters by the star system would come back in droves, if only there was someone who catered to their sensibilities ('if you build it, they will come').

The story, an adaptation of Yuddhanapudi's 'Meena', merely provides the stage for the multitude of the wonderful character actors to display their wares in full splendor. The situation reminds of the 'Tanu weds Manu' series where the lead roles are merely the leads in name (and credits), but the true show belongs to the colorful supporting characters who elevate the show to a different level. From the little knowns to the veterans, 'a aa' belongs almost entirely to these background actors, and full credit to Trivikram who has reserved the best of the lines to them leaving the lead characters with merely the plot fulfilling words. Rao Ramesh deserves a special mention here. He continues the rich vein (and baritone) of his illustrious father, who had that great ability and gift to reflect villainy with a deep growl, just as easily as the shift to the comedy gear. This is a man who knows the right enunciation that separates cruelty and self deprecation, the right pronunciation that turns the villainy screws with the same ease as he could tickle the funny bone. After Satyanarayana, Rao Gopal Rao and Kota Srinivasa Rao, Ramesh seems to be the new find for telugu cinema who could portray any shade, enact any emotion and mouth any dialogue for that right great effect, and 'a aa' shows just how good of an actor he is, if provided the right material. The side kicks of both the leads, Naresh, Srinivasa Reddy, and several other (and in a minuscule role, Annapurna) small yet significant actors prop the proceedings up with their stellar contributions. The movie could have saved a bit more on its production costs had it cut down the unnecessary visual effects that contributed little to the proceedings. A movie like this is an important experiment the result of which is keenly watched, particularly in this day and age when telugu movies are trying to get bigger to attract more audience, and any scale down in size and budget would be a welcome lesson to future film makers that more could be done with less.

A note to Trivikram:
To the constant complaint of why telugu movies could not come out the rut of the star system, the oft quoted reply is there isn't enough critical mass in the way of multiplexes and educated audience that can visibly demonstrate the profitability of choosing a star-less subject. And the other misconception in the matter used to counter content based movie making is that the present day audience is currently splintered among a variety of options, internet, tv, video games and the like, and that star system caters the lowest common denominator (mindless and senseless) that at least assures a minimum return of investment. All these arguments run afoul of the basic tent that good movies almost always attracted sizable audience and this was proved over many generations and experiments. Profitability is more about the budgeting, and surprisingly, more than the content itself. Keep the budget in check and risks and experiments and contents and subjects sans the stars cease to risks anymore.

All this is to urge Trivikram to return to his roots. This was what has been missing in his last few outings. His words have always been there, his observations, his insights were all intact. All that was needed was a context to settle them all, where they could make more sense, convey more meaning and become more heartfelt. Helming big budgets, expanding the horizons, crossing over into new realms remain perpetual dreams to all filmmakers. But if they could balance a big venture or two out with a couple of such small and meaningful outings, that would be a winning proposition to both their creative urges and audience's clamor for heartfelt content. Some filmmakers are visionaries, they seek out new worlds, and if haven't found one, they set upon creating those. In the recent generation, a few like James Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro qualify for that tag. Some filmmakers (more writer-directors) are born wordsmiths. Words are their lifelines, words are their currency, words are what they breathe in and out. Give them any situation and their words make sense out of it. Kevin Smith, Aaron Sorkin and (luckily for telugu) Trivikram are such. They rely more on the word than on in the image. These are a very rare breed of writers (directors) whose words precede (and make) their reputation, whose words are instantly recognizable, whose words defy the saying 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. No, in their cases, a picture is definitely not worth a thousand words, in fact, it is the other way around. As a writer with such amazing ability, it behooves upon him to take up projects where his words can infuse life into the characters and enliven the situations, it behooves upon him to trade his wares where his words are more than just perfunctory and plot pushing, it behooves upon him to remember that stars are in fact blackholes sucking up everything around them and that the only way forward is to steer clear of them. And 'a aa' is not even a classic, by any stretch. It is a well-made good movie. And it is that prospect that is very salivating. If this is what Trivikram could do with a middling 'a aa', imagine what he could do with a really heartfelt classic!

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