Cineflections-17

Grahanam (The Eclipse) – 2004, Telugu

-Manjula Jonnalagadda

Unless you believe in some principles to be true, there can be no peace. The intellect of all those who say “this is all we know, this is what there is” is weak and fatigued. Perhaps there is another explanation, another truth, perhaps we don’t know it yet!- Chalam in Doshagunam.

ఏవో కొన్ని సూత్రాలని నిజమని నమ్మి ఆగకపోతే శాంతి లేదు. కానీ వాటి మీద ఇంకా సందేహాలు. మాకు తెలిసి ఇంతే సంగతి అన్న వాళ్ళ తెలివంతా ఉత్త ఆలు.. బలహీనం. ఎదో సత్యం ఉందేమో? ఇంకా మనకు తెలియదేమో! – చలం దోషగుణం లో 

Grahanam is a film made by Mohana Krishna Indraganti based on a short story by Chalam. It played at the Seattle Independent South Asian film festival, the Mumbai Asian Film Festival and Indian International Film Festival. Mohana Krishna Indraganti won the National Award for the best debutant director for this film.

Mohana Krishna graduated in film studies at York University. Grahanam is his first film. This is the only arthouse film he made. He made quite a few films in various genres including an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Importance of being Ernest, which is a riot.

Chalam is one of the most controversial and influential writers of Telugu literature. A rebel, he wrote about women’s sexual freedom in 1920s and 30s. He wrote several novels and short stories in long literary career. He also worked as a writer for some Telugu films.

Mohana Krishna Indraganti comes from a family of well known literary figures. His grandfather  Hanumacchastri was a well known writer, his father Indraganti Srikantha Sarma was a well known poet and his mother Janakibala is a well known feminist writer. When he had to make his first film, work of Chalam was a natural choice. 

According to an interview, the director didn’t have much of a budget to make this film. When he approached actors to act the film, they agreed to do it free of cost. Most actors who acted in this film are from a theater background.

The film opens with Raghuram putting a bandaid on his finger. He is a doctor, lives by himself , and presumably is close to the hospital he works at. A patient in his hospital is upset and yelling at  a woman. That woman is the patient’s mother. Raghuram tries to console the woman and he realizes that she is somebody he knew. 

Raghuram narrates her story to his friend Srini. The woman’s name is Saradamba. She is wife of a wealthy man called Narayanaswamy. Saradamba is progressive minded and very generous. A poor teenager called Kanakayya gets financial help from  the couple. He also eats meals in Saradamba’s house a thrice a week. Kanakayya and Saradamba are quite close. One day Kanakayya comes down with high fever and goes into delirium. Kanakayya’s family doesn’t trust the village doctor, so they call another doctor called Gopayya who practices alternate medicine. Gopayya tells them he has doshagunam an ailment one gets when they have sex with an older woman. The medicine is an ointment made from blood from that woman’s thigh.

Kanakayya keeps uttering Saradamba’s name in delirium. Kanakayya’s family suspects that Saradamba is the one having an affair with Kanakayya. They approach Narayaswamy and convince him to get Saradamba’s blood. Narayanaswamy takes her blood by force. Kanakayya recovers wreaking havoc on everybody’s life.

The film plot stays true to the story written except for  some minor changes. The film dialogue  however is different from the story. Saradamba’s character is more etched out in the film than in the story. She is very strong and proud. She doesn’t put up with nonsense in general. She is affectionate to Kanakayya, but ready to cut him off when she is accused of having an affair with him. She resists her husband’s accusations and fights back.

Narayanaswamy loves his wife, but gives into suspicion when his friend suggests. He wants her to give blood to clarify his own doubts about his wife. He is a character conflicted between love for his wife and his distrust.

Kanakayya admires Saradamba. He is in delirium for most part. He doesn’t know what is going on almost till the end.

This is the best film made on Brahmin culture. It is neither a celebration nor a critique. It is just an unflinching look. The atmosphere of the film is very authentic, so is the dialogue. This is how people act, talk and react to the situations they face. The writing of the film is fantastic! 

Direction is very good. Some scenes of the films stay with you for a while. Narayanaswamy comes back after giving his wife’s blood to Kanakayya’s family. He straightens Saradamba,  sits at her feet and touches them. That scene is very powerful! So is the scene where Narayanaswamy shuts the door while his wife looks on. This may be tribute to Godfather in a very different film, but it works.

Acting is fabulous in this film. Tanikella Bharani became Narayanaswamy. He conveys jealousy, suspicion, and heartbreak without uttering a word. Goparaju Ramana as Kanakayya’s father is extraordinary. So is Mohinish who played Kanakayya. Jayalalita who played Saradamba didn’t get many roles to show her talent. She was excellent, it is a shame that she didn’t get more roles like this.

The background score by K. Vijay is great! It adds to the mood without being intrusive. Camera work by P.G. Vinda is  great as well.

Watch this film a tribute to a great writer, excellent debut film by a very talented director. I hope he makes more films like this.

*****

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