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Velugu Needalu
K Balachandar

Here is the the series that focuses on the many greats who lurk in the shadows behind the silver screen bringing out the best in them, to radiate and redirect their brilliance onto the silver medium. We hope that these articles would focus our attention and applause to these true "stars" to whom limelight and spot lights do not usually beckon upon.
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Part 1

It is a very convenient argument that movies are meant for entertainment purposes alone. Mindless plot, visually appealing, but totally unnecessary, songs, mandatory fights, powerful dialogues, passing all in the name of entertainment, while in the blame game the buck is volleyed back and forth between the audience and the makers, it begs to be asked, if entertainment alone is the sole purpose of the movie medium. The maker's argument that the never-ending problems, that harangue the every day life of the common man, need not be reminded while reflecting the images on the screen, is one form of an escapist argument while defending the escapist cinema. The audience's justification that for the time, money and energy that it is investing in the cinema, it is not justified that the makers request emotion and intelligence along with above, completes the other side of the escapist argument. Truth be told, the maker is wary and the audience is lazy. The maker, in a bid to save his investment, tries to err on the safe side, by offering a product that is devoid of a valid content, spinning it as something that is easy on the audience's mind. On the other hand, it is nothing but pure unadulterated laziness on the part of the audience. Wrongly blaming the unwillingness to engage the movie on an emotional and an intelligent level, on every day problems, the audience becomes more responsible and more answerable than the makers to the current state of the cinema. It becomes even more ridiculous when the makers try to exploit the evils of the society, like violence, rape and murder, glorifying them in every possible manner, under the mask of realism, but do not try to delve into the other evils of the society, in the same realistic manner. The question is as old as the chicken and the egg, and is equally as mystifying too.

The above rant is definitely needed when talking about the person in question. He always sided with intelligence and emotions and the results never disappointed him. Commerciality to him was never too far removed from realism. If films were a fantasy to start with, his idea of fantasy was restricted to characters singing songs, and nothing more. If depiction of problems and glorifying the every day life of the common man is dreaded as plague now a days, his scripts were rooted in nothing else but the above. His heroes were never larger than life and his heroines were never mere dancing dolls. Unusual themes were his forte for which bitter endings were only natural. Consider this - In the Vikramarka/Betala folk-lore, there is a very unusual story, with the inevitable twist in the end that is common with the "betala kadhalu", for which no answer seems a valid one. A father and son were walking on the beach along a sea shore, when they come across two sets of foot prints. One smaller and one slightly bigger. The father suggests to the son that they marry the ladies according the sizes of the foot prints. The father gets the larger foot print and the son, the shorter one. It turns out that the larger one belong to the daughter and the shorter to the mother. Betala leaves the story at that point and asks Vikramarka what could be the right solution or a valid ending to the story. Vikarmarka remains silent for a long time, for which Betala reponds by returning to the tree, indicating that no answer is the right answer for such a situation. It takes a man of complete confidence to turn this little, twisted, unusual story, with no valid ending, and turn it into one of most interesting movies that was produced in the 70s. "Apoorva Ragangal" (later remade into telugu, into an equally engaging movie, "toorpu paDamara" by Dasari Narayana Rao) stands a testament to his intelligence, confidence and his skill.

Darkness in movies is often characterised as one that taps the discomforting side of any theme. Take the love genre for example. Boy and girl meet, fall in love, overcome all the hurdles and finally end up together. This is generally the most satisfying route that agrees with the makers and the audience. Instead of tackling the usual hurdles, like economic disparities, warring parents, social boundaries and such, for which the payoffs are definitely gratifying, how about setting up the biggest unglamorous hurdle before which most fail - time. Does time weigh in more on the relationship than the clichéd restrictions above? Would setting apart a couple in serious love cause cracks in the relationship to head it towards doom? He starts with this idea and tests the couple of the fragility and the frailty of relationship. As though this already does not put a strain, he piles on it with the ultimate test for the relationship - chastity - whether the couple in question would still remain in the relationship, if the boy knows that the girl has been violated, and the girl knows that the boy wanted to end the relationship. "marO charitra", as the name suggests, is just that. If history proves that love prospers inspite of MOST of the odds, he questions whether it would survive in spite of ALL odds. This zone is generally not a comfortable area for commercial movies to move around. There are no big payoffs here. The hero does not bash up a bunch of villains in the climax and walk along with the heroine into the sunset. There are more questions here than there are answers. The themes unsettle the audience more than it entertains them. Probably no other film maker explored the dark facets of the relationship, more than him. He is more than a fitting reply to Hollywood's Stanley Kubrick, when handling dark themes in his movies. Sadness is his first name and melancholy, middle. Officially he goes by, K.Balachander.

In the mid fifties, a novel by a Russian author, Vladimir Nabakov, "Lolita", set waves in the literary circles, which was subsequently adapted to the screen by Kubrick, under the same name, and greeted with pretty much the same result. It deals with a middle aged person infatuated in an immoral way, with a pre-teen girl, Lolita, living across his house. The inherent risk involved in entering into such a relationship, the tantalizing danger that dangles right in front of his eyes, the ramifications, from the society and from his family, all weighing against his uncontrollable urge, Lolita, for all intents and purposes, taps one of the darkest corners in the mid-life crises of every day man. In "guppeDu manasu", Balachander deals with the mid-life crisis of a virile person by setting him right in front of a young innocent teen, whom he treats as his daughter, till not so long ago. In a moment of weakness, he succumbs to his temptations impregnating her in the process. What, in such a tumultuous set of events, is one to do? Does the man accept the responsibility, marry the teen, and father their child, like a normal relationship? Does his relationship with his wife, which had been pretty steady till then, take a second priority, while this takes the top slot? How should his wife deal with it? Above all, what would be the condition of the girl taken advantage of physically and mentally, at such a tender impressionable age? How would her relationship with his wife change in such scenario? Incest, which is a box-office curse, as far as commercial themes are concerned, is never dealt with in a more matured, emotional and an intelligent way than "guppeDu manasu". Inspite of all the advancements and the evolution that man has supposed to have gone through, when it comes to the basest of the senses, his animal instincts get the better of him, regardless of his stature, position and condition, professes Balachander, exposing an unexplored facet and throwing light on yet one more dark corner of the human mind.

(Cont'd in part 2)

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More series of articles by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Some Ramblings on recently released films
Aani Muthyalu - Good films, but box office failures

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