Golconda High School

golconda high school poster

Golconda High School is a family friendly youth and sport oriented film that borrows heavily from others in the genre like The Mighty Ducks and Chak de India. A ragtag team is brought together by their misfit coach to win back an inter-school trophy and protect their school sports oval. It doesn’t sound like much, and it is quite a slight story, but I quite enjoy the way the characters develop and the good lead performances.

A quick aside – My DVD subtitles refused to cooperate so I downloaded some subs. Whoever did them was undaunted by their caps lock being stuck on some letters and a mysterious appearance of the number 3 whenever apostrophes were required. But thank you, whoever you are.

Golconda High School_Tanikella BharaniGolconda High School_problem

Sampath (Sumanth) is called back to his old school by headmaster Viswanath (Tanikella Bharani) to coach the cricket team. He had been cricket captain back in the day, but left the game under a cloud. Initially reluctant to commit, he is irritated into accepting the job by Kireet (Subbaraju), a board member with a keen interest in real estate, especially that large patch of land occupied by the sports ground. Kireet has an ally in Madhu (Shafi), the maths teacher and deputy principal. The boys are demotivated and unused to being pushed to excel so they provide a challenge and a reward for Sampath. Romance is supplied by English teacher Anjali played by Swathi. The story is predictable but the characters were not always exactly what I expected.

Golconda High School_Sumanth

Sumanth is likeable and blokey as Sampath. Sampath has Telugu Hero Syndrome and is never wrong about anything and is therefore not required to change his opinions or adapt in any way. But that characteristic is common to many successful sportspeople so it didn’t seem out of place. Sampath has a troubled history and he is a stickler for principles so he has a little bit of internal conflict but really, he is there to inspire the boys and to see them achieve his/their dream. Sumanth has an easy quality to his dialogue delivery, seeming conversational most of the time. He does amp up the jaw clenching and drama when it is needed, but he is not a superhero – just a focussed and determined man (once he has to be). He and teacher Anjali (Swathi) have an understated flirtation. They’re both single and attractive and they don’t play too many games, admitting they like each other quite easily.

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Swathi’s role is small but has a bit of substance. Anjali is a modern young woman with a natural and outgoing personality. Anjali is popular with the staff and students and she sometimes cajoles people into patching up their differences or cheers them on. She befriends Sampath and commends his efforts to support and develop the team. She calls him over for dinner and they share a romantic ‘what if?’ duet. Their relationship a little awkward as they both feel uncertain at times, and they seem to genuinely like each other. Again, nothing fake or flashy about it, just nice and relatable.

I like the way they phase in and out of reality, and the internal conversations they are practicing. No dancing and a bit cheesy, but you can’t have everything and this does suit their characters very well.

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The staff take on the boys in a friendly match and they all looked like they were having lots of fun. The interactions between the supporting teachers were funny in an everyday way, nothing overtly comedic but the humour of people who regularly wind each other up. There are lots of small interactions and dialogue exchanges that flesh out this school environment. When the final match is on, the parents and teachers have some good lines and little cutaway shots for reactions.

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The boys are a mixed bag, some more competent actors than others, but they make up a realistically varied team. I liked their intro sketches. But despite introducing them as simply the good kid, the fat kid, the scared kid, the angry one, the film does allow them to be a little more than just a stock type. Most of the boys face pressure from their family to excel in studies, and some are not supposed to waste valuable study time on anything else. With the exception of Siddhanth (Srinivas Sai) who is a hero-in-waiting, the boys grow up a little and assert their identities a bit more as they develop confidence. Initially resentful of their hard headed coach, they come to understand he is a decent bloke. Goutham (Santosh Sobhan) is the natural leader, the guy who gets in there and motivates his team mates when things get tough, a boy who will stand up for a friend and take responsibility for himself. Siddhanth gets all the glory for playing with an injury, but he only put himself out when it suited him. I was a little disappointed to see him given so much credit but not surprised. He and Sampath were very similar.

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Ramesh’s (Vasudev Sastry) attempt at making a film was just one of the glimpses of the boys home lives.

 

 

Varun (Sangeet Sobhan) is the fat kid but he also has a supportive family who are proud of him eventually for doing well in the game and getting a bit fitter. Ashish (Sai Kiran) has a demanding mother but she sees that the discipline of the game is good for her son and helps him focus so she drops her objections. It’s simplistic yet realistic as the parents start to see differences when their kids are happy and productive if not all budding rocket scientists. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Santosh Sobhan and Farookh (who plays Mikey) as younger versions of heroes in other films.

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I like Subbaraju in character roles and he is well suited to playing the slightly intimidating Kireet. Well, except in a few scenes with Sumanth where he looks like he is about to crack up laughing.

Given Subbaraju’s track record of being able to go from zero to full blown fury in a nanosecond, I kept wondering if Sumanth was pulling faces out of shot. Kireet represents the short term hunger for profit over long term society gains. He and Madhu dismiss anything other than getting students to rank as a waste of time and potential earnings.

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Watching them as they watched the pivotal match was highly entertaining. You could see Kireet’s motivation for Golconda high school to lose warring with his appreciation of the game.

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He and Madhu seem to be caught  in the filmi bad guy equivalent of an unhappy marriage, stuck with each other until the bitter end.

Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s films have been a bit hit and miss for me. I found Grahanam interesting if depressing, Ashta Chamma was successful in parts but I found a couple of the performances weak and annoying. I haven’t seen Mayabazar as I am allergic to Bhumika Chawla. Golconda High School is a film I didn’t expect to like anywhere near as much as I did. Nobody dances, nobody dies. But the characters are relatable, the performances are pretty well balanced and the messages strewn throughout are mostly ones I agree with. I also liked the photo montages over the opening and end credits that stayed true to the ideals of sportsmanship, team work and friendship. 3 stars!

Golconda High School_supporters

Grahanam

Grahanam is about superstition, mistrust and sex. The story is based on a novel by Telugu writer Gudipati Venkatachalam, also known as Chalam, adapted and directed by Mohan Krishna Indraganti. The story follows the aftermath of superstition made fact by belief.

Set in a village in the recent past, the story has a timeless feel. Saradamba (Jayalalitha) is the wife of Swamy (Tanikella Bharani). They are the premier family in the village, and she is renowned for her charity and community support. Kanakayya (Monish Thallavajhula) is a poor boy with academic promise. Saradamba provides a meal for him each day, and is clearly fond of him. She is a strong advocate for education, and encourages the villagers to send all their children to school.

Swamy lets his wife deal with the daily routine, trusting her to do the right thing for the family prestrige.  Sarada is adept at biting her tongue when her mother-in-law is demanding, and has a strong sense of duty. Their relationship seems happy enough, and there is certainly a strong physical chemistry. They joke about his tyrant of a mother, tease each other about their marriage and seem to be compatible. Sarada is not above flirting to get her own way, but Swamy doesn’t appear to mind one bit.

All seems tranquil. But Kanakayya falls ill with a fever and conventional medicine doesn’t seem to be helping. His uncle suggests consulting Gopayya (Sundaram Thallavajhula), a Kali devotee from the next village, who is purported to be able to cure mystery illnesses. Gopayya’s diagnosis is the catalyst for major drama. He says Kanakayya is sick with ‘doshagunam’, explained as an illness caused by having sex with an older woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No one seemed to have heard the word before, but before long it is bandied about as though it is an established fact. Kanakayya’s parents reject the idea that their son would have done anything immoral, but he continues to sicken. In desperation, they seize on the cure Gopayya prescribes – a cure that requires blood from the thigh of the woman who ‘infected’ him.

Suspicion falls on Saradamba and all the small kindnesses that used to be evidence of her charity and good nature are now seen as proof she seduced the boy. Lapses in protocol are twisted to show she was betraying her husband. Swamy is plagued by doubts. He accuses her of lying, of whoring behind his back and ruining his prestige. Sarada denies the accusations, but is she really as innocent as she claims?

The crux of the story is that a rumour, a suspicion, a superstition can take on a life of its own. Women are spoken of as impure, carriers of sin and ruin. Their sexuality is toxic and men cannot save themselves from a predatory woman. People are all too ready to believe the worst and seemingly only because she is female. Once Saradamba is accused, she is attacked verbally and physically. The damage done is real, regardless of the reason. But why are people so ready to believe in ‘doshagunam’ and to accuse a previously blameless woman?

The story develops through a flashback structure, narrated by Surya as Doctor Raghu. This allowed me to work out the internal chronology of the story. The black and white film does give a sense of things happening a long time ago, but the events are quite recent. I thought this device worked well as it made the point that while Saradamba and Kanakayya’s story may be set twenty or thirty years ago, it’s not that remote from the present day.  A short segment in colour adds a dreamlike note and made me question my assumptions about some relationships.

Tanikella Bharani is excellent as Swamy. He shows the doubts and frustration gnawing away and the bitterness that creeps into his marriage. His confrontations with Sarada are threatening and venomous. Even though I thought Swamy was a fool at times, I could see the way the rumours poisoned his mind, and his resistance disappeared. It’s an unsympathetic role in many respects but he gives Swamy a dimension of sweetness that made me see what Saradamba saw in her husband, and made their estrangement even more painful. And after seeing him play uncle, sidekick or victim in so many films I really liked seeing him in a leading role for a change.

Jayalalitha is well cast as Saradamba. She has an earthy sensuality and a physical confidence that suits her character, and she dominates the film. When she is on the verge of losing her home and family she seems almost feral – all teeth and claws.  The confusion and indignation are evident but Jayalalitha also creates some ambiguity with her reactions and expressions. Those slight hesitations and the glimpses of behaviours that could be open to different interpretations or doubt were really well done. It meant that the story was a bit more complex than a ‘pure woman is besmirched by rumour’, even though my sympathies lay with Saradamba. I questioned whether I completely believed her, if she had done anything ‘wrong’, and if she had seduced the boy did that warrant what was happening.

The black and white film is very atmospheric but the garish yellow subtitles on my DVD were a bit distracting. The interiors and doorways provide a frame or concealment, alluding to the secret lives of characters. Even the ornately carved bed changes from bed to barrier over time. The physical environment is used to illustrate the mood and emotion of the inhabitants. The camera sometimes sneaks up behind characters, sometimes settles in amongst a group of people talking or takes on the role of an observer judging what it spies. It adds a dynamic note to what is a very dialogue based movie.

I can’t opine as to whether it is a good adaptation of the original story, but there is a literary flavour to the dialogue and the concepts are clearly articulated. The dialogues are strong and meaningful, and reveal a lot about the people speaking. Mohan Krishna Indraganti seems to have an interest in what makes people tick and there are also scenes with no dialogue where small interactions, or reactions, speak volumes. I have seen Ashta Chamma and Golconda High School and I think his translation of story to screen is becoming more assured. I like his interest in everyday type people, and seeing what they do when confronted with a challenge or problem. The supporting cast are all very good but the focus is on Jayalalitha and Tanikella Bharani.

This isn’t the kind of film I want to watch every day as it is a bit self-consciously artsy and I alternated between being depressed and angry as I watched it. But I was interested to see a non-commercial Telugu film, and to see character actors take on leading roles. The story kept my attention, and made me think as well as made me want to throw things at the screen. It won a swag of awards and I can see why so many people have recommended it to me. 3 1/2 stars.

Katherine at Totally Filmi is coordinating a month long celebration of women in Indian cinema. Links will be collated at Delicious so keep an eye on that page for lots of other articles and blog posts to be added throughout March.