Debut director Sujana Rao’s anthology of stories set against the Hyderabad deluge is not masterly, but has its moments
Remember the line ‘Water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink’ from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’? When the city gets battered during monsoon and low-lying colonies are inundated each year, the line assumes more relevance. In a passing scene in debut writer-director Sujana Rao’s Telugu film Gamanam, an elderly lady in a slum questions why water channels are encroached upon and turned into high rises, allowing no room for rainwater to drain. Neither is it one of the best scenes in the film nor does the question come across as forceful, but the relevance is hard to miss.
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Sujana Rao presents three stories that cut across age groups and social segments in Hyderabad and shows what the deluge can mean to different people. Water is the ever-present additional character. At first, we see women in a slum line up near a tanker to get their daily quota of water. Elsewhere, a young ragpicker chances upon a bottle of mineral water and treasures it. Later, the life-giving water threatens to consume a few characters, while it makes the others reassess their priorities and step out of their preconceived notions. Binding the stories deftly is Ilaiyaraaja’s background music, filling the scenes soulfully with joy, poignancy or indicating a looming threat, the way only he can. There are scenes where next to nothing is spoken; words become redundant when the music does the deed.
- Cast: Shriya Saran, Shiva Kandukuri, Priyanka Jawalkar
- Direction: Sujana Rao
- Music: Ilaiyaraaja
Kamala (Shriya Saran) is a hearing impaired mother of an infant in a slum, trying to make ends meet while waiting for her husband to return from Dubai. With an undercurrent of pathos, it is a story that can be used to emotionally manipulate viewers to pity the woman. However, the story progresses to show how Kamala draws on her innate strength to fight for survival. Shriya enacts Kamala with conviction, revelling in the opportunity to deliver a moving performance. The scene in which she reacts to the different sounds and later her child’s giggles can make your eyes well up and leave you with a smile.
Running parallel to this is the story of young love and aspirations. Ali (Shiva Kandukuri) is a cricketer who aspires to be in team India. His humble family background, contrasted with that of his lady love Zara (Priyanka Jawalkar), could have been a regular story of a poor boy and a rich girl. What makes this story interesting is the added layer of the ideals his grandparents live by and in turn, expect him to follow. Charu Hasan plays the grandfather with warmth and assertiveness. There’s a scene of him cooking for his grandson and nudging his wife to steer clear of the kitchen. The film shines in moments such as these. The scene of conflict between Zara’s father (Sanjay Swaroop) and Ali’s family could have been been handled better. Its clumsy beginning is salvaged to an extent by Charu Hasan’s performance.
The third story is of two street kids who are rag pickers; nameless people in the burgeoning metropolis. Again, this could have been a soppy, tearjerker story but is narrated with warmth. There are enough scenes to portray their innate helplessness, contrasted with children who grow up in sheltered households. The story outlines how these boys, rather than wallow in self pity, try to make things work. The casting works to the film’s advantage, with the child actors turning in effective portrayals.
Shiva Kandukuri and Priyanka Jawalkar also make their presence felt with earnestness. Nithya Menen appears in a cameo at a crucial juncture. One of the big disappointments, however, is how a terrific actor like Suhas is wasted in a friend’s role. After Colour Photo and Family Drama, it feels like a crime to waste him.
When the deluge happens, the characters are pushed to the brink and forced to punch well beyond their weight. The stories do get predictable and emotional. The cues planted well ahead are an indication of things to come. The clay Ganeshas in the case of the street kids and early on, Ali stating that he will be written about in the newspapers, for instance. Smarter writing could have sidestepped the predictability.
Gamanam does not live up to its potential of being an absorbing survival drama. But despite the rough edges and predictable pitfalls, it holds its own and narrates stories with conviction, and marks the arrival of yet another new director who is unafraid to go against mainstream Telugu film tropes.