Some Ramblings - Pelli Choopulu(2016) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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They called it the parallel cinema, the aspirational and inspirational variety, to counter the conventional and commercial kind, from the 60s through the 80s, heralding the advent of realistic themes into cinema portrayed by common folk that represented the middle India. It is a bit ironic considering that it was the golden period of Indian movies when middle and lower classes were already amply represented in the movies. Their dreams and hopes (the soaring and roaring of those, along the crashing and the dashing of the same), their wants and wishes (all rooted in ground realities), their present and future (a touch of optimism and a dash of pessimism) all found a place on the silver screen. And yet someone thought that the representation wasn't equitable enough and that more had to be done. It was good that most of those doyens of the parallel cinema didn't live through the end of the 80s to see the total decimation of their dreams and a complete takeover of the commercial movie (and this is all through the Indian cinema and not relegated to one market alone), something they couldn't had imagined when sowing their groundbreaking seeds. After cinema moved away from the houses of the middle class exclusively into the palatial buildings of the dream merchants, it steadfastly remained there for a couple of decades dealing and peddling escapism and fantasy for a living. And then came around a small movie from a local lad 'Hyderabad Blues' to jump start a new wave of middle class cinema that moved in the lanes and the bylanes of the ordinary telling the stories of the neighborhood, this time chucking away the seriousness and employing wit and humor. But this new wave that swept away Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali and other Indian industries gave a pass to the telugu industry which was at peace with itself wallowing in its mediocrity. They were a couple of false starts and near misses ('Aithe', 'Anand' to name a few) during that period, that didn't ultimately culminate into anything substantial. Here is yet another attempt, 'peLLi choopulu' of kick starting the movement, but done with a lot of panache and polish, and it appears as though this new kind is going to stick the landing this time around.

The appeal of 'peLLi choopulu' is less because of its freshness (often times confused with amateur film-making when involving newcomers) and more on account of it being really about something, a career, a topic that is usually never touched upon in telugu cinema with any degree of seriousness. It talks about what the characters want, how to get there and what stands in their way. And love and marriage, instead of being the usual be-all and end-all of telugu movie protagonists, act only as catalysts that stir up the proceedings. This is the middle class cinema of Basu Chaterji's and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, this is the parallel cinema of Balraj Sahani and Gulzar, of the 60s and the 70s, this is what has been lost all these years and what is waiting to be found, at least in telugu. Cinema cannot just be (or always be) about two people finding, meeting and being with one another. With the world around moving into a new era every few years, sticking and regurgitating the same themes with just different faces doesn't seem logical anymore. To say that 'peLLi choopulu' keeps up with the times, when females have as much aspirations about their lives and careers as much as (or even much more than) their male counterparts and that they needn't settle down for the first availale choice for wife-hood and motherhood for the eventual plateauing of their lives and careers, is what is truly realistic and relatable about it. The father of the guy looking for a daughter in law that can change his son's fortunes, the father of the girl seeking a groom to devolve his responsibilities, the slacker guy pining for a rich girl to absolve his entire existence and finally the girl, caught in the crosshairs of all these people at yet not losing sight on her ultimate goal being an enterpreneur, "peLLi choopulu" lends support to the (female) voice of the generation that is looking past the normal duties and responsibilities that have befallen their ilk for all these generations. Any movie that treats its characters with a little more dignity and respect, gives enough space for the main characters to spread out their wings and express their frustrations and resentments in as honest manner as possible, is one that has truly transcended into the realistic arena from its default fantasy operating area. And that is why "peLLi choopulu" works, and not (just) because of its laughs and the writer-director deserves all the commendation for making the movie a career oriented one than a mere romantic comedy (which it also is).

What a beautiful portrayal of the characters by the lead pair! It has been a bane for these new age telugu movies that it just couldn't find a competent pair to carry even the well written roles on their shoulders. The usual Mumbai imports with their placeholder expressions and non-existent lip sync completely ruining what little substance left in an author backed role pitted against a native hero overcompensating for the both of them, is the usual telugu lead paid configuration. And it doesn't take a great mind to figure out why those characters aren't taken seriously by the audience. What a notable exception "peLLi choopulu" is! The guy knowing EXACTLY how far he can go being the slacker without becoming a bum, the heroine knowing to T how stern she needs to be without turning into a shrew (shrill), the casting, the acting and above all the directing is just pitch perfect. It is heartening to see the actors understand not just the meaning but the intent behind the words and shaping their expressions, however subtle and understated, accordingly. This is one instance where one role (and portrayal) doesn't dominate the other, and neither has one to carry the other in any scene. The heroine (who is a spitting image on Sunitha) is a refreshing revelation as one who can speak her own words (for a change), carry an expression, and more, convey in silence. And credit goes to the hero character for finding the right balance between carefreeness and carelessness, for, a degree here and there would have marred the tone that the director was going for. It is hard to believe the quality of output in the camera department, even with a micro budget as this, with the cut aways and reaction shots tuned to perfection. That this is be a debut effort from a newcomer, where there usually is some leeway for some amateurishness or lack of polish, does not come in the way of delivering a quality product both from the content and the execution standpoints. The only department that could have been better is the music, which seems to have a lot of jazz (and blues) influence (with almost excessive instrumentation) that runs contrary to the laid back (and slow boil) nature of the script. Movies as these need softer music, more melodious than jazz harmonies (refer to how Illayaraja used to handle the 80s era low budget movies) and the songs and the background score seem to be a bit out of step with the proceedings.

"peLLi choopulu" shows stories need not be steeped in plots and twists to make them appealing. It proves that life throws up interesting stories at every bend and all that the maker has to have, to capture the essence of it, is an ear for how life talks and an eye for how it behaves. This is a throwback to the earlier times of simple minded and yet thoroughly enjoyable fares. This is not reinventing the wheel, this is rediscovering of the roots. Three cheers!

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