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maTTilOa maanikyaalu
best movies, yet box office failures
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by Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Here is the series that throws light on some of the box-office failures that deserve to be ranked as some of the best movies of Telugu industry. With it, want to highlight the efforts that went into the making of the movie, so that our current generation would never ever forget these long and forgotten gems.

Chengalva Poodanda

Simplicity is sometimes one of the main reasons why a movie is endeared. It does not aim high, it does not attempt to break new ground, it plays within the rules and it stays within its parameters - all these statements translating to the obvious - it knows its limitations. The seeds for this kind of normalcy are sown, or atleast the decision of sticking to the grassroots, happens during the scripting stages. When the writer decides to throw out all the extraneousness that usually accompanies a Telugu script, cut out all the unnecessary fat, and attempts to build a structure around a bare-bone story idea, he strongly believes in the simplicity of the structure, that if the narration progresses from A to B without any complexity and without the usual (sometimes the mandatory) twists, turns and interval bangs, it would have a greater chance of reaching the audience because of its directness. All this to appear within the commercial format, replete with the 6 songs 3 fights structure, and yet tread the path of simplcity, Janardhan Maharshi (writer/director) attempted at pulling off a miracle with "chengalva poodanDa", scripting one of the simplistic themes centering around a normal love story and almost made it to the finishing line. This was a period when commercial movies were ruling the roost, with all the top stars cavorting with the Bombay imports, dancing to the tunes of Bappi Lahiris in exotic foreign locales, playing safe with oft-repeated themes, counting their blessings at the box-office (though not much has changed since those days). "chengalva poodanDa" was certainly a whiff of fresh air during the commercially clogged 90s, similar to how Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak came out during the multi-starrer melees during the later part of the 80s. It wasn't a trend-setter, nor did become a torch-bearer to the ones that followed. It came, it played and faded away.

Ajay and Meena are classmates at a local college. Meena's brother is a well-connected ruffian and Ajay is an orphan. Stars cross, paths cross and fates collide. Ajay fights with the brother, with Meena by his side to claim her hand in the end - end of story. The script contains all of 10 characters while most of the action takes place between the lovers and the siblings. The format is very predictable and the story idea is, for a better lack of word, dull. The interesting part in Janardhan Maharshi's script lies in the way he handles the pivotal relationship between the key characters. Contrary with the usual confrontational behavior between the siblings, the relationship between Meena and her brother is calm and composed (with an element of constant tension simmering underneath). And quite opposite is the way the dynamic plays out between Meena and Ajay. Ajay is a soft, docile character while Meena plays the playful aggressor. It is quite amazing how transposing such behaviors between the key characters charges up the entire playing field. The brother operates with the sister (through his wife) in a stand-offish way, while the sister responds to her brother (through her sister-in-law again) in the same nonchalant way. The situation almost always goes to the brink, but never quite spills over. On the other hand, Meena always has an upper hand in her love relationship (which Ajay gladly gives it over), but never plays it over the top, to the point that it would seem that she is taking out her anger (towards her brother) on Ajay. This fine balance in both the relationships keeps the script interesting and characters engrossed. Equally interesting is the way that none of the characters feel sorry for themselves about their situations.

The fact that Ajay is a poor orphan is never brought up as a big positive on his side, and the fact that Meena leads a life against her will in her own house, never makes it into the dialogue with Ajay. This lack of self-importance (or self-pity) projects the characters as independent, brave and willing to take the situation head on. Add to the fact that Ajay is never characterized as one who can bash up a bunch of goons, single-handedly, challenge the brother into a duel and beat him to pulp, while at it. Maharshi's dogged dedication to the simplicity theme dictates Ajay to be only one step above Meena in the brawns front, and Meena to be couple of notches above in the brains aspect. This combination of both the traits in an earthy way, to outwit the brother and his henchmen in the end, certainly deserves a sound round of applause to Maharshi who, in a way, sets out to prove that simple stories should be told in exactly that way, without burdening them or bogging them down with the extra baggage, which would eventually prove detrimental to the tone of the movie, more times than not. In the late 80s, Shankar Nag translated R.K.Narayan's vision of an idyllic village in Tamilnadu into an excellent serial feature on Doordarshan. The title track of "Malgudi Days" composed by L.Vaidyanadhan starts off as a folksy one (with a rustic voice) before the accompaniments (the flute and morsing) join in, making the medley a deliciously enjoyable one. L.Vaidyanadhan's score for "chengalva poodanDa" sticks to the same simplicity of Malgudi days, during the times when heavy percussions and elaborate musical arrangements were ruling the roost. Aided by Tanikella Bharani's terse words, "chengalva poodanDa" remains as one that achieves exactly what it set out to do - convey a simple point in a simple manner, simply put!


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