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The Curious Case of Baanam & Prasthanam

May 19, 2010

Telugu Cinema lacks originality is the new cliché! In an age when raking in moolah is the only thing on a film maker’s mind, it’s hard to say if fresh ideas can ever be brought forth in our films. Interestingly, the parameters of a typical Telugu movie’s formula might have changed, but the fact still remains that most of them are predictable, boring and outdated. Why they continue to make money which in turn encourages more films which are clichéd to be spawned is a different debate altogether. What I shall concentrate for now is to talk about two films which released within a span of 1 year and made their mark. Baanam and Prasthanam.

Before we talk about Chaitanya Dantuluri’s ‘Baanam’ and Deva Katta’s ‘Prasthanam’, it’s important to flip through the annals of our Telugu Cinema history to get a sense of why these two films are worth talking about. Back in the 50s and 60s, there were ample number of films which can be termed as experimental which were much ahead of their times. However, with the advent of romantic and romantic comedies in mid 90s, the so called experimental films took a backseat. Although they were continued to be made, such films were hardly in the limelight to grab our eyeballs. There is no denying that some of the movies like Narasimha Naidu, Okkadu, Indra, Nuvvu Naaku Nachchav which were made in the first few years of this decade were gripping and entertaining. Yet, there was a dearth of fresh ideas which seemed unconventional considering how Telugu movies are made. It all changed, when a certain gentleman named Chandrasekhar Yeleti made a film called ‘Aithe’. The year was 2003. I was 17 years old back then and this film became a rage among thousands of people of my generation. The film introduced five new faces and along with that it had an unconventional storyline. What I love about the film is that it wasn’t labeled as an art film by majority of people who loved it. More than the heroic acts of the characters, it was the script, screenplay and the basic premise itself which was refreshing. A year after that Shekhar Kammula made his second film ‘Anand’ which was a huge hit among the young crowds. Back then, I really thought Shekar Kammula and Chandrasekhar Yeleti were the scions of new wave of cinema in Telugu. While Chandrasekhar Yeleti went on to make gem of a movie(s) like Anukokunda Oka Roju and Okkadu Unnadu, the other director Shekar Kammula invented his formula which led to Godavari, Happy Days and Leader. In the next few years, we had Neelakanta’s ‘Missamma’, Chandra Siddhartha’s ‘Aa Naluguru’ and Indraganti Mohankrishna’s ‘Ashta Chemma’ which made our heads turn. All these directors continue to make their own brand of films, some of which have worked and others didn’t. In wake of all these developments in Telugu cinema in the past ten years, both Baanam and Prasthanam stand out. Both these films scream for your attention the moment you walk into the cinema halls.

Chaitanya Dantuluri’s debut film as a director ‘Baanam’ was a story of a young man Bhagat who wants to be a police officer. His father is a naxal leader who hasn’t met his son for almost 20 years. Bhagat comes across as a silent guy who minds his own business. It’s difficult to say if Bhagat has any real feelings, he rarely smiles, has no friends yet he’s absolutely confident about his goals. On top of that, it had an unconventional hero, Nara Rohit who comes across as a harmless guy. Perhaps the only time he smiles is when he confesses his love to the girl. When I saw the film, I was intrigued by this characterization of the hero. A lot of people to whom I recommended the film came back and said they found nothing interesting in the film. I was baffled. I wondered if I had misunderstood the film or did they set their expectations wrong? I still haven’t found an answer. What I loved most about the film was the consistency and the flow in the characterization especially of Bhagat and the girl. The film doesn’t break into a song and dance just for the heck of it and the cinematography was too beautiful to go unnoticed. When was the last time that I wanted to think and understand the film as I did for Baanam? Perhaps it was in 2003 when I saw ‘Aithe’. Quite rarely do films expect you to understand the mood and environs of the whole setting apart from wanting to see what the actor/actress does. It was engaging enough for me because after a very long time I was watching a film which respected our intelligence and tried to convey a story where a so called “message” wasn’t forced upon me. I made an attempt to understand what the film was trying to say and I am content that I did a fairly good job. (You can read my full review of Baanam here). Baanam was also among my list of Top 5 films of 2009. (You can read the full list of Best and worst of 2009 here).

Although there have been quite a few money spinners like Adhurs, Namo Venkatesa, Bindaas this year, three films stood out for me. Yugaaniki Okkadu, Ye Maya Chesave and Prasthanam. While the first two films were products of some of the best directors in Tamil Film Industry, Prasthanam was directed by Deva Katta who was just one film old. After a long time, I felt Prasthanam was one film which transcended the clichés and labels like commercial film, art film. Perhaps it was because it had a gripping storyline, great performances and good screenplay. It was a great film. It was like watching Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara with a tinge of Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal. There are no similarities between Prasthanam and Omkara or Gulaal. I am referring to the mood which these films set in, the moment you get a hang of the storyline and characterization. Intensity, is thy name. Prasthanam was intense and when you have 90% of the films not even trying to scratch the surface why a character’s existence is important, Prasthanam comes as a whiff of fresh air. Sharwanand, Saikumar and Sundeep Kishan dazzled in their respective roles. I have had my share of doubts if Sharwanand could pull off such an intense drama. However, he proved me wrong. Maybe it’s because of how well Deva Katta moulded Sharwanand’s character in the film. He’s not the hero in the film; however everything he does has a direct impact on how the story progresses. He loves his step-father (Saikumar) and plays the role of big brother to Sundeep Kishnan to the T. While Deva Katta lets the other two leads unleash their emotions, be it anger, power or jealousy, Sharwanand is more or less restricted to being righteous. It’s only in the later part of the story when an incident breaks his heart does Sharwanand takes a strong stand. Saikumar has always been looked upon as a good actor with a great voice. But here, he proves yet again that he’s a brilliant actor with a great voice. Some of the best dialogues were written for Saikumar and his character goes through extreme emotions. He dazzles throughout the film. Despite the presence of two known actors, it is Sundeep Kishnan who’s the biggest surprise in Prasthanam. I have no idea if he has acted in films before, but he got into the skin of the character extremely well. To be honest, I have never raved about a debutant’s performance as much as I did for this newbie. If I could draw an analogy, I would compare him with Abhimanyu Singh’s character in Gulaal. Both the actors dazzle and take your breath away as long as they are on screen. When they exit the screen, there’s a void so big that it feels like vacuum after wandering in oxy-rich lands. (You can read my full review of Prasthanam here).

Few days ago, I spoke to Deva Katta about his film and he said, ‘I am glad that I have made an intelligent film, as some critics chose to call it. Afterall we are humans and we are supposed to be intelligent..aren’t we?”. He had a valid point. Even if you don’t choose to call it an intelligent film or give it some other label, the fact remains that Prasthanam will be counted among some of the best films of the year, if not the decade. For me, it’s right up there along with Ye Maya Chesave and I don’t see these two films being displaced from their positions for the rest of the year. Ever since Chaitanya Dantuluri made his first film, ‘Baanam’, he has been on a winning spree for ‘Best Debutant Director’ from various quarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Prasthanam’ also goes on a similar winning spree. My only request from the likes of Chaitantya Dantuluri, Deva Katta, Indraganti Mohankrishna, Chandrasekhar Yeleti is, please make films which you want to make. We, the people are subjected to market risks. If a film is exactly what we expect it to be, then it becomes predictable and boring. If a film throws in a surprise, we may not accept it as quickly as any XYZ film, but deep down in our hearts we known that we have seen a good film worth talking about, worth appreciating. The only thing which remains to be seen is how often will such promising directors, with a fresh perspective, make films? It’s like a drug, once you get used to it, you can’t wait forever for a new dose!

P.S: A lot of people would suggest that, Shekar Kammula’s ‘Leader’ was one of the good films of 2010. I beg to differ. More than the film, I liked Shekar Kammula’s thapana to narrate his story. As far as the film is concerned, I couldn’t empathize with CM Arjun Prasad. Although it’s kinda late to bring out this issue, it’s an important topic which has to be discussed and debated upon. Shall write about “Why I wouldn’t vote for CM Arjun Prasad?” sometime soon.

P.P.S: Prasthanam is also being streamed online on a pay-per-view basis @ Streaming-Prasthanam

Yours,

Hemanth

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 11:14 pm

    Great analysis bro. I have not watched ‘Baanam’ and I skipped reading that part. I completely agree with your view on ‘Prasthanam’. Great job by Deva Katta garu. After a long time, I felt I watched a well-made film in Telugu. Kudos to your writing, I enjoyed reading all your topics so far (Saleem/Haleem is the BEST.. lol)

  2. Praveen permalink
    May 20, 2010 12:02 am

    Good Blog.. I still feel, we need to get rid of the commercial trappings, like an unnecessary heroine track and inclusion of mindless songs which interrupt a very good narrative. Classic examples being Leader and Prasthanam. Its a different matter that they chopped off the songs after the release of Prasthanam, but why to include them in the screenplay in the first place. Its not that the audience will not like a movie if it has no heroines or few songs. It is very easy to blame it on the supposedly mass audience or general public but the filmmakers (directors,producers and the distributors)need to understand that it is nearly impossible to please every audience. Concentrating on the narrative and developing a tight screenplay is the need of the hour.

  3. Dhruv permalink
    May 20, 2010 1:25 am

    Baanam was a fantastic film with a not-so-fantastic climax. Bhagat, at the end, does nothing better than to raid Shakti’s place and have a one-on-one battle with him (which every other Telugu “hero” does). Other than that, it was outstanding: the crisp and incisive dialogue, the railway station fight, his interactions with the police department, every scene in the film.. About Bhagat’s characterization, Chaitanya Dantuluri, in an interview, said that he based it on Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead. That explains everything! Can’t wait for his next film.

    I hadn’t seen too many films in the recent past where every single lead/supporting actor delivers award-winning performances (barring the heroine, of course), and Prasthanam came along. Sharwanand continued his good work from Vennela (I swear by his performance in its econd-half) and Gamyam, Saikumar (finally!) got something he can dig his teeth into and Sundeep Kishan, Jeeva, JP Reddy, Prithvi (the Keka guy) were fabulous. At times, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the director manipulated Naidu’s character to his whim but in all, bravo!

    Looking forward to your article on Leader because, to me, it was a great film barring
    a. The terrible item-song
    b. Needless scenes involving the first heroine, Priya Anand (and her mother?)
    c. Needless “love track” in the second half which hogs a good half hour.
    d. Shoddily shot ending-moments of the climax
    With these scenes edited out, it would be a brilliant film with a superb climax.

  4. May 20, 2010 10:42 am

    movies are made of interest and with a commercial view but when it comes to this decade it became fully commercial and i can see movies based on a concept based are very rare and i agree with the 2 films mentioned above,people like to see a heroic type in between but now people are changing with time and they also released that only 4 dance sequences,16 fights does nt make a film and they need something that makes them to relate themselves to the story.I feel always why does not a telugu film in recent times other than some of the films like aa nalaguru,ashta chamma,anand,godavari,baanam,,grahanam,teladanam,1940 oka graham lo ,thats all

    as told by many movie people,we make films as per people taste and i would suggest nd as many small films are also being liked by people,

    i would love to quote here one name r.narayana murthy who has made a special place in people’s heart as he make films wither they are hit or flop,

  5. May 20, 2010 11:21 am

    Good article. Unfortunately I missed both these films and I am curious to watch them. I find it all the more interesting that you have drawn parallels (in the mood and sincerity of execution) to Gulaal & Omkara. I hope these DVDs get released soon. And Glad to know understand and relate to your film preferences and sensibilities. That gives me enough reason to visit this blog often, as and when it gets updated. Keep up the good work. My compliments!

  6. Varma permalink
    May 20, 2010 11:42 am

    hi bro
    good analysis. . .
    coming two these two flims. . i like prasthanam very well. .both are good but prasthanam impressed me very well.
    hav good time

  7. venkat permalink
    May 21, 2010 10:06 pm

    I couldn’t understand why u added Banam with Prasthanam. Any favoritism toward Nara Rohit here. I thought Banam would be very good before watching it…but after watching it I couldn’t understand why certain section of media like u created it as “critically acclaimed”. “Banam” is long way from the excellence of “Prasthanam”.

    I just want to ask u question, r u a trained or a degree holder in Cinema?
    Your articles just doesn’t look professional, never write these kind of articles out of your selfish motives..

    • Hemanth permalink*
      May 22, 2010 11:59 am

      Dear Venkat,
      I am not comparing Baanam and Prasthanam. If you have read my blog carefully, it was an ode to these two films which are worth pondering upon. The fact that you cannot under my perspective proves that our thought process is in opposite directions!

      AND…I have never met Nara Rohit, have no idea what kind of a guy he is in real life. The know Bhagat, the hero in Baanam…he’s the kind of guy I would have a conversation with to understand why he’s so serious all the time!

      AND..I am not trained in film criticism/film studies. I write because I have an opinion to share which may or may not go well with everyone. What I would prefer in such circumstances, considering that you think I am selfish and unprofessional…maybe you could teach me about stuff which you think is right.

      Just for the record…I am too selfish, I love movies and I will talk about them in an extremely selfish manner! 😀

      • venkat permalink
        May 22, 2010 12:54 pm

        Gr8 stuff dude….finally you gave up by saying you cannot justify you comments

        The way you have written the reply couldn’t justify why did u thot Banam is gud…
        So un professional 🙂

        This comment “I am not trained in film criticism/film studies. I write because I have an opinion to share which may or may not go well with everyone”

        just shows how poor and sloppy the media in andhra is

        It reflects Actor Siddharth tweet on telugu film critics ..

        By the way I am not here to teach u abt films…I have a comment to share that ur writings are sloppy and have some motive behind…

        Gr8 going …go ahead 🙂

        • Vinay permalink
          May 22, 2010 5:17 pm

          Venkat,

          Seems to me that you’re aching to pick an argument. You also seem to be neck-deep in conspiracy theories about reviewers and their “selfish motives”.

          Just because you didn’t like Baanam, it doesn’t make it a bad film. Each person reacts individually to films; you didn’t like the film, the reviewers did. If you want justification on why the reviewer thought Baanam was good, read his review on Baanam: https://hemanthology.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/baanam-telugu-movie-review/

          If you have such a problem with the “sloppiness” of Andhra media, you should set up a film critic school and train future critics, instead of sitting on your backside and ridiculing the few decent reviewers that we do have.

    • May 22, 2010 12:22 pm

      Do you understand what b-l-o-g is?? Read the definition and then you can unleash your comments

      • venkat permalink
        May 22, 2010 1:20 pm

        Please ..please tell me meaning sir 🙂

  8. RcMullapudi permalink
    May 22, 2010 11:54 am

    @ venkat…we Dont need any degrees r Phd’s to write a review of a film its jus da passion towards cinemas dat made us to write lyk dat,,,

  9. May 22, 2010 12:34 pm

    On a completely different note, loved the comparison of the films more than the movies itself and I can see how they have appealed to a Telugu cine goer who is generally starved of new subjects. Any movie is usually the hero hitting the century with the no. of assasins. All Telugu movies are generally Super Hero movies. Yes, directors like the aforementioned offer the whiff of much needed fresh air. However Leader and Ye Maya Chesave were very disappointing. Leader lacked the depth of a political drama and Ye Maya Chesave lacked a male protagnosit who could act.

    It is clear though that the Telugu movie industry isnt deprived of intelligent movie makers. Looking forward to more from them and more of your posts. Keep up the good work!

    • hari permalink
      May 22, 2010 1:28 pm

      “Yes, directors like the aforementioned offer the whiff of much needed fresh air. However Leader and Ye Maya Chesave were very disappointing.”
      Very funny…

      do you think Banam has delivered better than Leader & YMC?

      Thnk god

      Now I can say “Caraa Majaaka” is better than Leader & YMC

  10. May 24, 2010 9:26 pm

    One best scene for me in Baanam is the climaxx.. where in when the Hero was about to be killed by villain with the thrishool , he somehow finds out sickle and hammer from the mud… The message I interpreted from that single scene is-

    When fanaticism (depicted by the religious *weapon* here) strikes and tries to take democracy (depicted by Bhagath, the civilian) into its capture, from the soil arises the communism(in the real sense) to take down those evils..

  11. May 27, 2010 2:55 am

    Hi Hemanth, I agree with you. I immensely like both Banam and Prasthanam and could not understand the rather lukewarm response from critics (I am not sure of the exact box office response being outside India). I can understand audience reaction, but critics are supposed to be more open and objective. If you observed, most critics (including you) rated both Banam and Prasthanam between 3 and 3.5 (out of 5). I feel this is because they dont like to be seen rating movies above those normally achieved by the big hero movies, at least thats my theory. I am just assuming that they actually liked the movie but rated them slightly lower. This is by no means intended to insult their intelligence (or yours) but I feel subconsciously every reviewer has this feeling (atleast in Andhra). It could be entirely possible that they did not like the movies as much to merit it a >3.5 rating (out of 5). Anyway, thanks to you (the link for Rajshri that you posted here) I watched the film for $1.99 and I attempted my first review ever and it happened to be for Prasthanam (http://slimysatya.blogspot.com/). Three Cheers to you and Deva Katta and co. Best Regards, Satya

  12. praveen permalink
    May 27, 2010 1:28 pm

    @Hemanth-
    i by chance tumbled upon your page. i have been hearing a lot of about Prasthanam.
    with due respects to Deva Katta, here is a film maker who has a potential. period…..

    now people like you with no knowledge about cinema who become a self proclaimed critics. talk what you want.

    Don’t just praise some one who comes up with a ray of hope as the ultimate, don’t boost his ego to an extent that he does not realise the reality. dont kill him before he can bloom.

    you were talking about characters and screen play. do you even know the meaning of them.
    can you please explain the main characters of the film.

    if you can then i would like to take this discussion forward. if not
    all i can say is , all the best.

    Venkt is one guy who is saying the right thing, that telugu cinema does not have good critics, and i see he is being sunbed. because the telugu people want to live in the small well and think this is cinema.

    • Hemanth permalink*
      May 27, 2010 1:48 pm

      @Praveen @Venkat :

      Hey,
      Before I begin to put forth what credentials I have to call myself a film critic, I thought I would clarify a point or two for your larger understanding.

      “I have never been to a film school, neither have I been trained in film criticism”.

      I write because I have an opinion about something and I am not claiming that it’s the only option infront of you. I think I have mentioned quite a few things what I liked about Prasthanam. Perhaps, I think I need a lesson or two in film studies before I can make sweeping statements which would rather seem very convincing to you.

      For now, what I do know is, I loved the film and this interest alone led me to write this blog. As far as eulogizing someone is concerned, the wise shall not let it boost their egos. Moreover, I am not interested in scoring extra brownie points from anyone.

      It’s true that, I don’t have a thorough knowledge on cinema. Considering that I am a 24 year old, the whole attempt to understand cinema rather than experiencing it began not more than 3 years ago. If you find my writing too juvenile, please teach me a thing or two which you know. If you find it too unprofessional/inexperienced, please suggest what else I could to articulate in a better way. it’s a sincere request…:)

      Telugu cinema will never have good film critics unless you start writing (if you consider yourself as a good critic) or teaching curious young men and women (like me) who want to improve their understanding of cinema. On a different note, I don’t see why we should all be in the same boat when it comes to films. Cinema as an art itself opens up too many things to be debated upon…then how can you have only one opinion? 🙂

      -Hemanth

  13. bhargav permalink
    June 1, 2010 6:14 pm

    @hemanth : absolutely. the characterization of hero in Baanam and of sai kumar made the films interesting ( for me). It also set a mood which was carried out very well all along the film. Hats off to all the versatile directors mentioned. Hope more will come.

    Also nice reply for the above comment 😀

  14. September 2, 2010 4:06 pm

    Hi Hemanth, I agree with what you said, Baanam is a must watch. I don’t know how I missed it until I saw this film. Yeah.. People say things but who cares .. I overheard people saying that “Inception is a boring movie” while coming out from the theater after watching the movie. I’m not satisfied with “Baanam” ending but it is okay. After watching this movie I started searching about this fictional place “Ranasthali”..haha .. I loved the locations in this film.

    @Venkat & @ Praveen.. Chillout guys … this is a personal blog .. He can write his thoughts, his likes and dislikes.

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