Life Is Beautiful – Happy Days Redux And A Bit More

During the intermission, a young man behind me was saying, “He (Sekhar Kammula) copied his own movie, his own characters and even his own music”. At that point, it didn’t appear to be too far from the truth. After all, the director – producer himself is going around telling people that this movie “is like Happy Days set in a residential colony”. The parallels between the two movies quickly become obvious. But then, even the characters appear to be reincarnations – the responsible competent sensitive charming chocolate boy, the happy self-confident eternally optimistic geek, the uncouth young man with a short temper and a golden heart, the dashingly beautiful older woman that the boys are smitten by, …; the list could go on.

At the intermission, the questions pop up. Has Sekhar Kammula already come down to this – repeating himself; sticking with a safe formula and raking the moolah in? Is this why he came into films? What happened to the sensible cinema that he used to talk about? Is the creative spark already beginning to flicker? As the lights dim down, I settled down for more of the same.

Then, the writer Sekhar Kammula does an amazing thing. Slowly, but surely, he sets up the stage for a memorable, heart-tugging moment that climaxes in a single sentence that takes your breath away. All my doubts and questions get swept away in the tears that are struggling to get the flood gates open. I have seen him do this in Leader. And, here he goes again. Sekhar Kammula, whose signature has been sensitivity, has not lost that precious quality. And, I am so glad.

That climax scene was not an accident; neither was it a one-liner that the writer came up by chance. It appears to have been set up with care and precision. The scene itself was predictable. We know that it is going to come up. We do expect it to conclude predictably too. And, it does. However, in that process, somehow the film grabs us by the throat and we are choking with emotion and don’t really care how it ends. That, my friends, is not an easy thing to do (I am actually struggling not to analyze that scene in detail. But, I don’t want to spoil the moment for you).

Like Happy Days, Life is Beautiful does not have much of a story. It is a slice of life over a period of one year in a middle and lower class colony in Hyderabad; a series of incidents featuring three young men, their lovers and rivals with some siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and marginally interesting neighborhood characters thrown in. One needs a scorecard to keep straight all the characters that appear in the first half. Fortunately, several of them simply disappear in the second half.

The film is mostly about the relationships among people and how they enrich our lives making life beautiful. The film is mostly pleasant, passes fairly quickly despite its length and is generally enjoyable. The scenes, though mostly clichéd, do not seem forced and are well put together (except, may be, a few). The characters spoke naturally. Good script and screenplay work by Sekhar Kammula.

For the lead artists, this is apparently their debut film. Sekhar Kammula extracts good performances from all of them. I hope to see more of them in future. Abhijit and Sudhakar are handsome young men and they emote well too. Shagun and Zara were quite appealing in their youthful charm and bashfulness. The accents are much better this time around. Amala, who I assumed has retired from films, had a good presence in a brief well crafted role. Shriya was more restrained than she has been in her recent films and was quite competent. It was nice to see again the charming Anjala Javeri after a long absence. CVLN Prasad, Surekha Vani and the rest of the minor artistes did their parts well.

The best scenes in the film, however, were written for the child actress playing the role of Chinni, and she delivers them exceedingly well.

I didn’t listen to the songs before and don’t remember any of them now. I had some qualms with the editing, particularly with the intercuts between two parallel trips. That was quite amateurish.

The line for the Friday evening show in Chicago was quite long, cementing Sekhar Kammula’s reputation as the reigning box-office king among US Telugus. I am happy to see that and laugh loudly remembering my exhortations at the time of Anand and Godavari about the need to encourage those films by watching them in theaters.

It was nice to watch this film in a theater, but I don’t think I would head back to the theater for a second watch as I did with Leader. When this film begins its inevitable reruns on MAA TV, I predict that I will see it quite a few times and enjoy it every time.

Major Annoyances:

For movie buffs, Life is Beautiful is a classic film by actor-writer-director Roberto Benigni (1997). It is sacrilege for Sekhar Kammula to use the same title for his film. Kammula’s film is simply not in the same league. I am also quite disturbed at Sekhar Kammula’s penchant for giving English titles to his movies, despite his passion for Telugu. I do not buy for a minute that he couldn’t come up with an equivalent Telugu title.

The boys from the Gold Phase are indistinguishable from each other and appear to be mono-dimensional caricatures; they do not seem to have any adults in their lives at all. That part is not written well.

Minor annoyances:

There are many characters in the film that just appear and disappear (e.g., the beggar that is noisily prominent in the early scenes; Sreenu’s cousin and his bride). Abhi’s parents really do not seem to be a part of the colony life. The first half is really cluttered with too many characters flitting in and out. I have often felt that Sekhar Kammula needs somebody to doctor his scripts and edit out his indulgences so that the films can be much crisper.

In a film that is supposed to span about a year’s time (and be coterminous with the academic year), a song early in the movie shows the celebration of Deepavali and Holi. But, somehow, it takes several more scenes before Ganesh Chaturdhi comes along. I would expect filmmakers in Kammula’s league to be a bit more careful with such details.

The accents still were inconsistent at times, though much better than was the case with Happy Days.

I sincerely hope that the fallen tree was just computer graphics.

I enjoyed the movie – more than Happy Days, but less than his rest – except may be DD. It is a decent film, even if it is not a great film. I am hoping that Sekhar Kammula is done with his nostalgic catharsis and returns with better written characters and stories.