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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.


The robbers' den is usually filled with useless material - drums, ropes, bottles and gasoline, which serve little purpose but act as explosive props in the climax action sequences. The cops, just-in-time arrivals during the climax, usually serving the same purpose as those drums and ropes, are cut out of the same one dimensional material as the heroine's costume. Cops and robbers themes, in telugu movies, are usually as black and white as black and white. Hero is a robber, the backstory becomes utterly predictable (lampooned to great affect in Kshana Kshanam) - falling to the ailing mother-failing father syndrome. Hero becomes a cop, it does not even merit a mention - hero's family wronged by villain in his childhood, visibly odd marks that distinguish the villain, the common family theme song (cheerful and sad version), the avenge-revenge theme. Come to think of it, it is quite difficult to frame a convincing story around this structure, without these exploitative (and clichéd) back story themes, for the simple reason that the motivation (of either the cop or the robber) has to rely on his behavior (and thus a convincing reason) than fall back upon his back story. Consider Govind Nihalani's "Ardh Satya" - Anant Velankar (Om Puri) did not have a troubled childhood, he did not come from a broken home, his social life is otherwise pretty normal, and yet, when he goes after the goon Rama Shetty (Sadashiv Amrapurkar), the audience exactly knows where the motivation of that comes from - his convictions, his beliefs and his value system, rather than a tired, old, oft-repeated "main tumhaare khoon pee jaaoonga kutthe" backstory.

Uppalapati Narayana Rao's "Jaitra yatra" is one of those rarities in telugu cinema that dealt the cops and robbers's theme with almost the same sincerity as "Ardh Satya", focusing more on the humanity of the characters than on the humdrum or the glamour that usually surrounds them. Though the movie does not quite insinuate its roots to reality, the fact that it is based on the notorious "Stuvartupuram settlement gang" goes without saying. Interestingly, two other movies made around the same time against the same backdrop - Yandamoori Veerendranath's "Stuvartpuram Police Station" and Sagar's "Stuvartpuram dongalu" - failed miserably at focusing on the seemingly troubling lives of the gang, engaging instead on the peripheral items. The history of settlement gang - that the once notorious robbers' group during the British era was rehabilitated in post-independence India and given an opportunity to reform - lends to the three interesting threads of "Jaitra Yatra" - Rehabilitation of the erst-while unruly elements, fathers' sins visiting upon their children, the current politician-police nexus exploiting the seedy past of the gang. Narayana Rao ably balances these three threads, weaving an utterly convincing story line, around it and supporting with an equally good screenplay, that does not on hammer on the obvious, while pointing towards the glaringly visible elements of the story. He instead concentrates on the humanity, or lackthereof, of the characters, in a subtle understated way, thus creating an impact much more powerful than all the "powerful" scenes and "powerful" dialogues put together.

The movie, with all its underpinnings, poses a very interesting question - what is the statute of limitations on any crime? When a crime is perpetrated, the society mandates a sentence to the criminal, a restitution is provided to the society for the crime in the form of rehabilitating the criminal, and when the criminal is finally released Into the civilized society, he has paid for his crime and all equations Become balanced once again. This is where the theory in the penal code ends. The element of suspicion that is branded by the society on these "career" criminals, preventing them from joining the rest (jana jeevana sravanti) and banishing, in fact quarantining, them as unwanted children, that the society has wished it aborted, casts a long shadow, not just on the criminals themselves, but on their future progeny. With no place to go and no opportunity to boot, the progeny becomes an unwitting recipient of this unwanted legacy, and this generational affair of career crime progresses in a path parallel to the rest of the society. Add to this sad state of affairs, the opportunistism the police and the politicians, the gang is doomed and continues to remain so, with no light at the end of an unending tunnel. Narayana Rao builds up this undercurrent in the hapless life of a father (portrayed excellently by Delhi Ganesh), who wishes to see his son brought up in a society that is devoid of doubt and sans suspicion, far removed from his day to day life. That the irony of his wish, visiting him in the form of the son returning to the same roots to unclench the clutches of the opportunistic society surrounding the society, reversing on the father, is as expected as it is brilliant.

Redemption, which HAS to be the natural theme in cops and robbers stories, is handled in a unique way in "Jaitra Yatra" in that, it is the system that is redeemed of its undoings - the administrative machinery (adhikaara yantraangam) that is brought to its feet in the light of justice (not the law, but justice), the police system that is exposed in the blinding light of explosive evidence. The interesting aspect about the execution of the movie is its deliberate pacing. Things are slowed down and events unfold in their time space, rather than being dictated by movie standards of how long a confrontation scene has to last, how long a romantic scene has to linger and the like. Hari Anumolu, handling the lens, and Anil Malnad, minding the scissors, hang on to the scenes till just the right time at which point it beautifully dissolves into the next. Tanikella Bharani, another regular of Sravanti team (prod. Ravi Kishore) takes care of the dialogue department ("nee baabuni taluchukuni oka donga pOsu peTTaraa" - when the hero is brought to the police station for mugshots, wrongly implicated), with his usual biting sarcasm and unrelenting satire ("kshmanchanDi ayya! Amma gaaraa? paarTee kaaryakarta anukunna" - when the cronie mistakes the politician's wife to "parTee kaaryakarta").

It is quite unfortunate that we equate entertainment to mindless fare. A movie, when it makes us think, reflect and ponder, offers the same amount of exhilaration and entertainment as when the hero beats up a thousand goons and dances to mind numbing tunes. Covered up under the dust of drab ventures, here is a path breaking (in its own way) venture about an age old theme, dealt with intelligence, sensibility and more importantly, responsibility.


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