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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.

Little Soldiers

Nasir Hussain got the process down to a science. When he started off during the late sixties and continued to dominate the commercial Hindi film scene during much of the seventies, his formula was quite simple. He knew the parameters, rather limitations, of commercial cinema and he played within those boundaries churning one success after another in Jab Pyaar Kisee Se Hota Hai, Dil Deke Dekho, Caravan, Teesri Manzil, Hum Kisee Se Kum Naheen and the like, never attempting to look beyond realm of the make-believe world that his characters moved in, never trying to achieve beyond the means of entertainment cinema. His formula was quite simple - trust the crime angle to deliver the payoff. Building up a regular emotional drama, setting up conflict points, resolutions and endings, which was, and still is, the prototype for a majority of the movies run the inherent risk of wrong emphases, side-stepping over key issues, and unsatisfactory endings. On the other hand, relying on a crime element has the already built-in advantage that the setup directly dictates the resolution, meaning, a good setup leads to a better resolution, without having to look elsewhere to deliver the final emotional payoff. A funny setup, like 2 desperate guys kidnapping a rich lady expecting a huge ransom have their tables turned on them, when the husband wants her wife to be killed to inherit her riches, naturally flows into a even funnier resolution, when the wife teams up with the kidnappers and teaches her husband a lesson. Introduce the crime element right at the beginning, surround with foot-tapping music, make the characters as dynamic and as vibrant as possible, one almost can formulize this Nasir Hussain genre.

Gunnam Gangaraju, the writer-director of the movie, seems to follow similar footsteps. Get the core point of the movie dripping in crime, weave the plot around the element, and show a logical resolution to the setup. Gangaraju raises the ante in "Little Soldiers" by mixing the thriller genre with kiddie picture. Another potential landmine, the kiddie picture. Make the kid characters mature enough and make them sound adult, the charm and innocence that is usually associated with the kid's picture is lost (Most of the AVM's movies that were released around the early 80s involving a variety of animals and obnoxious kid characters would vouch for this). Make the kid characters really innocent and make them sound too much childish, the charm factor would lose its effect in a matter of minutes and the script is left with the unwanted burden of immature characters. It is precisely for this reason that most of the makers stay away from children's movies, since the line is too fine and the path is too treacherous. Bapu's "baalaraju kadha", Gulzar's "kitaab", Satosh Sivan's "abhayam" and to a certain extent Shekar Kapur's "Masoom" serve as the prime examples for kid pictures. Even among them, the sometimes sentimental and sometimes philosophical "baalaraju kadha" and overtly sentimental "Masoom" pale in comparision to Gulzar's "kitaab", where the script is seen through the eyes of the 8 year old kid, who runs away from his home unable to handle the pressures of coping up with studies at school and the over-bearing of his concerned guardians at home (this plot is interestingly similar to Sivan's "abhayam", made much later, with a young Tarun portraying a role reminiscent of Master Raju's "kitaab")

The trick lies in deciding the right language for the kids. How well a kid's character comes across the screen is decided by how well the kid's speak is written in the script, reflecting and duly respecting the age of the kid and his maturity level at that age. "ammaa naaga daevataa, maa ammaa naanna lani kalipi maa jeevitam ellappuDoo sukha SaantulatO vardhillaeTaTTu varameeyi" - now this dialogue coming out of a 5 year old kid sounds jarring, distracting, and more over, very irritating. The serious disconnect between the age of the character and the type of speak certainly derails the emotional attachment the audience has with the character, whereby any subsequent dialogue spoken by that character is handled with oodles of salt. "ammaa, naenu first vocchaa" rushes the kid into the arms of the waiting mother, "aem subject lOnae" asks the mother suprisingly/disbelivingly, "class lOnchi bayaTiki first vocchaa" proudly proclaims the 3 year old kid. The 3 year old kid walks into a store, looks around and grabs a toy plane. She walks to the counter pulls out her baby purse and gives the store keeper a fake 50 rupee bill. He looks at the kid, at the fake bill and in a condescending tone says "ivi nijam Dabbulu kaavammaa". Spat comes the reply "idi nijam plane kaadu kadaa?". Situations as these illustrate the understanding of the writer the kid's age and their mental makeup. What would become quite obvious at a later age, starts off being curious at a young age. What turns into a complex situation at a later age, seems so simplistic at a young age. The mettle of the writer lies in looking at the complex scenarios of later day age through the simplistic lens of a young age, offering amusing, and sometimes practical and realistic solutions.

Carrying the plot of the movie on their shoulders, the lyrics moves the story along, letting the audience glimpse at the unseen facets of a character or a situation that does no normally come across or which could not normally be put forth in the spoken word. Sirivennela thrives in such situations. "gooTi biLLa aaDadaam, sixeru koDadaamu", "correct game kaadu ayinaa baane undi", "cheruvu lOna dookudaam eetalu koDadaam", "buffaloes kadi bathroom kaadaa mari?" thus goes the poetic conversation between a servant and the kid. Again with the emphasis on the mental make-up of the kid. Sirivennela comes down to the level of a 3 year old and poetically puts across a casual conversation. Also interesting is the prosaic style that he adopts for such conversational type lyrical word. Take the tune out of the words, the lyrics sound like a normal conversation. "tannula koddee pencil lannee swaaha chaestaavae, tinavae tallee anToo unna annam tinavaemae, bunny paeru chepitae oorilO andaroo baabOy anTunnarae, daani brother anTae nannae mundugaa antaa tantunnaarae". The words never leave the ground, the thought never grows beyond the age, and yet the simple observations sound funny and witty.

H.M.nae naenu aitae!
vaammO enta danger!!
nakkooDaa meesamunTae!
aem chaestaavu major??
comics class books chaesi chadivistaa
all days holidays aaDukOnDi anTaa
exams vastae appuDu elaa mari?
maarkulu kooDaa manamae vaestae sari

Credit needs to be given as much to the much under-rated music director, Sri, for coming up with tune after tune that would accommodate these excellent prosaic lyrics.

It is indeed a brave venture to debut moviemaking with the potentially explosive combination of crime thrillers and kids pictures. It is indeed a miracle to pull of a near-perfect kids picture where kids act their age, speak their language, do things that suit their level and still end up interesting. For all the risks, for all the potential landmines, for all the twists and turns, Little Soldiers ranks as one of the best kids movie made by adults for adults.


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