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maTTilOa maanikyaalu
best movies, yet box office failures

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by Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Here is the start of a 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.

Rajadhi Raju

Devotional movies usually have a familiar setup. Atheist becomes an agnostic, agnostic turns suspicious, the suspicious turns a believer and a true believer becomes a staunch devout. From Satyanaarayana Swami to Shirdi Sai Baba, from Vasavi Kanyaka Parameswari to Sammakka Saarakka, the story takes a predictable route of glorifying the God at hand, sets up the necessary good versus evil battles, the innumerable advantages of having God on your side and other accompanying perks and benefits. Within these devotional ones, Christian movies generally stand apart. Christianity, being a foreign religion, the nativity factor is usually forced into the names, places and characters, some times to good effect. After Karunaamayudu, gospel movies moved in and around the same territory without trying too much to break new ground or tread new waters.

Enter Bapu, Ramana and Rama Chitra's Rajadhi Raju. What Sri. Mullapoodi Venkata Ramana did with the Christian character in Telugu movie is quite interesting in it, he applied the theory of negation to the concept of religion than going down the well trodden path of induction. Christian characters usually are burdened with the rite of passage (signifying Jesus Christ's ascension to heaven) and redemption. These characters are more inward than their Hindu counterparts, keeping in line with their respective scriptures. On a macro level, while Hinduism talks about salvation on a spiritual level, Christianity preaches about redemption on a personal level. Ramana takes this concept of personal redemption to the fullest, and tests the limits of atheism and agnosticism of the lead character, while making some serious points about human nature and humanity.

"meedi parama kaltee jaati.
mee nijam lO abaddam kaltee.
mee navvulO aeDupu kaltee.
daemuDukiccae dakshiNa lO lancam kaltee.
daanaallO dagaa kaltee.
Thank you lO you kaltee.
mee manasulO maaTa Thank Me yae"

Never before in Telugu movies was the Devil made the protagonist of the movie. Ramana creates a character abstracting the deep-seated wants, greed and avarice of the human nature and gives it a seriously satirical and utterly comical voice, welling up the darkest emotions of the soul and hidden aspects of its nature. Ramana then goes on to feed every base instinct of human nature to the devil, propping it ably to take on God in the third act. The many contradictions of the human nature, the organized chaos that pervades him around, in the form of struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, and his very mortal existentialism, which usually are attributed to the miracles of the God, become the mouthpieces of Devil.

"Daegaa Daegaa paamu lagaaO.
kappanu paamu khaaO khaaO.
purugu kappaa saapaD saapaD.
yaemi, yaemi sisuvaa ee fitting lu."

To say that Ramana has a zany sense of humor is quite an understatement. Who, but Mullapoodi, could come up with a "naitaasu (to saitaan), nuvvu daevuDuvayya!" as a compliment to the Devil! The language that was used for the lead character and the devil, also talks something about broadening the geographical boundaries of the Telugu movie Christian character, thus making the concepts the struggle between good and evil and more universal, global and an eternal one. Though the setting of the movie is folk-lorish in period, the dialogue seamlessly flows from one language to another - literary English, conversational Hindi, colloquial Telugu. None of the characters talk in the typical forced Telugu translations - parisuddha aatma - paapa aatma, prabhuvu biDDa and the like. Nutan Prasad, who breathed life into the character of Naitaasu, carefully modulates his voice to bring out quite effectively the lure of devil, the disdain for good, and the loathe for God fearing mankind. It is sad to note, that Nutan Prasad, who started off his career at Bapu baDi, could not achieve the kind of success with this character that Rao Gopala Rao got with his contractor's character in mutyaala muggu.

Ravikanth Nagaiah, who assisted Bapu's vision earlier for Sita Kalyaanam, lent his imaginative lens for Rajadhi Raju for amazing results. Of all the special effects, the entrance of the devil stands out for the color combination and the inventive trick photography. Bapu, who regularly storyboards his movies, makes Rajadhi Raju a true visual movie that would stand tall, next to Sita Kalyanam. All of Bapu's movies lend to an inherent confusion, in that the viewer would not be able to make out where Ramana ends and Bapu begins. The dialogue compliments the visual, the visual completes the dialogue. From the creative brains of Bapu-Ramana, here is one that does not answer that question but further adds to that mystery!

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