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కంచె – Movie recommendation

Kanche is a rare Telugu film. Not simply because of its very unusual setting of a World War II battlefield in Italy with a battalion of Telugu soldiers in the Royal Indian Army. But, because of its audacity: a Telugu film made both for the mind as well as the heart, without compromising on the quality. Because, it shows a healthy respect for the intelligence of the Telugu filmgoer.

Krish, who already has three very unusual and very interesting Telugu films to his credit, does it again. He takes an oft-repeated love story (a young man of low status in love with the ‘princess’) and gives it an absolutely novel twist by placing the hero again in a lower status to the antagonist in that most rigidly hierarchical institution – the army, and plunges them both in the middle of a chaotic war. As the narration shifts back and forth between love and war, the film keeps raising questions about a whole lot of issues – particularly about the fences we erect in various ways.

The film’s strength, like that of all good films, is its writing: the story and screenplay by Krish, dialogues by Saimadhav Burra and lyrics of Sirivennela Seetaramasastri.The film has many moments that stick with you long after walking out of the theater.  The writing is aided by the director’s attention to detail, Chirantan Bhatt’s music and Gnanasekhar’s Photography and Sahi Suresh’s Art Direction. The action scenes are quite authentic.

At many points, there are allusions to the theme of the film – how the artificial fences between people (caste, class, religion and nationality) get erected and the hate that such separations create and the destruction they cause. Both the songs and the dialogue are explicit in talking about this theme, without getting preachy.

I was surprised a few times by the unexpected turns in the story, some of the surprises, however, were due to the sleight of hand by the writer. Despite the spaced flashbacks style, the film keeps a good pace, except for the placement of the song, nijamEnani which suddenly slows down the film and could have been avoided. That it is a well written, composed and shot song is a different matter.

The lead pair are a treat to watch.The ’40s look’ suits them well giving them a unique mystique (their names, dhoopaaTi haribaabu and seetaadEvi, were interesting too). The very handsome hero Varun Tej, only in his second outing, is quite confident and acquits himself very well. Definitely a star in the making (he needs to improve his diction though). Debutante Pragya Jaiswal as the princess Seetaadevi looks the part; she got the bemused look down pat. The relationship between the hero and the heroine is handled very nicely. As always, Krish’s heroine is well etched, strong, and with a good core. Some good writing went into her scenes.

Niketan Dheer as the antagonist was quite impressive, though I would have liked his character to have a different name :). Sri Avasarala gets all the laughs as the reluctant sepoy and acquits himself well. Many familiar actors – like Gollapudi, Janaki – impress in small, but important roles.

The war and the firefight sequences were realistic and impressive and it is clear that expenses weren’t spared in trying to get them right. I might not be too far off in saying that this is the first Telugu film to have the modern war depicted right. However, I must say, that there was quite a bit of fog of war in a couple of the firefights. The village carnage scenes are done well.

It was a nice touch when the Sri Avasarala character refers to Srisri as Sreenivasa Rao; However, I thought there was some inconsistency in somebody who could quote Srisri and chalam in such familiar fashion be so lacking in general knowledge and be that superficial.

One of the things that perplexed me is that many scenes were in English without being translated into Telugu. While it kept the film authentic, it worried me that it could keep the scenes away from a good chunk of the audience and hurt their appreciation of the film.

The film reminded me of several things, perhaps quite unintentionally, among them the movie Great Escape (the massacre of the POWs, and the film’s tagline, ‘they escaped from a barbed wire camp into a barbed wire country’); the movie 1942, a love story; a short story by sirivennela about a village devastated by a faction war;  the classic movie peLLi cEsi chooDu in which the SVR character is named dhoopaaTi viyyanna paMtulu;  the barber grandfather in khadeer baabu’s story, krimda nEla vuMdi;  and the short story golla raamavva by PV Narasimha Rao;

I thank Krish for making a film for an audiences that includes me and fervently hope that the film succeeds commercially so that there are more films for such audience.