Radha Mohan’s Gouravam is a thoughtful film. Revolving around the mysterious disappearance of the hero’s friend, it is unfortunately undermined by some clumsy plotting and suspension of logic by key characters at pivotal times. But it is visually lovely and a different kind of heroic journey than I expect from mainstream Telugu cinema so I found the time passed pleasantly enough.
Rich city boy Arjun is sent to rural SM Palli by his dad, ostensibly to inspect a factory or something. His college friend Shankar lives in that region, but Arjun finds out that Shankar eloped with the landlord’s daughter some 6 months ago and hasn’t been seen since. Arjun soon realises that the rural idyll isn’t that idyllic once you scratch the surface. He goes back to SM Palli to find Shankar. No one will tell him what happened, but with help of his friend Venky (Sricharan) and lovely young lawyer with a social conscience Yamini (Yami Gautam) Arjun keeps digging. Rather than being a conventional lone vigilante hero, Arjun draws on social media and his friendship networks by the busload as he mobilises The Youth. Prakash Raj is Pasupathy, the landlord whose daughter allegedly eloped with Shankar. His brothers (played by Harish and Brahmaji) are a looming menace, trying to send the young outsider back to Hyderabad. The Establishment vs The Youth plays out as you might expect but there are some twists. How Arjun deals with this is surprising for a Telugu film as he does not dismember anyone. He uses the courts, the media, public attention and even the usually useless police.
There are red herrings and characters who turn up to highlight significant moments. A young boy, possibly autistic, is a constant presence as he draws everything he sees. The plot is partly a mystery and unfortunately there are some miscalculations. It was blindingly obvious that there was a witness and there were other early indicators of who could shed some light. The pace was a bit slow with respect to the dramatic development, but the leisurely tempo did work well with the rural setting. I’ll skip over most of the plot to avoid spoilers but overall the incidents mostly made sense, just the way things unfurled was a bit iffy.
It is a very pretty film to look at. Arjun and The Youth stay in a very colourful and neat tent city in the beautiful countryside, the village is picturesque, houses are beautiful and seem lived in. Things are keenly observed by the camera if not the characters, so I found I was often more engaged in just looking at things.
As the latest Mega Boy to take to the screen, Sirish has chosen an unconventional story. However his hero intro is pure formula. Arjun runs, swims, prays, pouts, kicks the bejesus out of his trainer and – ladies take note – he cooks. What a paragon. The comparisons with his older brother Bunny are unavoidable but naming the character Arjun and filming in what excitable people on Twitter tell me is his brother’s weekender house probably indicates Sirish couldn’t care less. In terms of his acting, he is much more effective in the dialogue driven scenes than when he is required to emote silently. He also looks a little awkward and posed when he has to do nothing in a scene.
The story would have been more balanced if Arjun was more integrated into an ensemble. Yamini and Venky were pushed aside to accommodate the herocentric approach. It would have been nice to see more of them, even the little romantic thread with Venky trying to woo Yamini, to give them more substance. Venky dropped everything to go with Arjun, Yamini devoted time and effort to helping and not just because she fancied Arjun. I was pleased to see Yami Gautam playing a quietly assertive young woman with none of the airheaded silliness so common to the Indian filmi heroine.
The supporting cast outside of the The Youth are more successful in blending their performances and they do create some really intense scenes. Prakash Raj has little screen time but huge impact. Pavitra Lokesh who played his wife and Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli as his daughter in law were good but that household was all about the menfolk. Harish and Brahmaji were villainous and menacing, and over powered Sirish in most of their scenes together. LB Sriram was effective as Shankar’s bewildered and frail father and Nasser did his usual thing.
True to the more realistic style, there were only a couple of songs (by SS Thaman). I enjoyed the picturisation for Chetinundhi Mannu Thesi most as it used the countryside beautifully and I liked the pleasantly random looking backing dancers. Especially the three dudes who popped up out of the lake for a chorus. No one really dances much in Gouravam and Sirish looks like he is concentrating but not struggling so that might be a good sign. I hope he has the Mega Dance Gene.
I opted to see the Telugu version of Gouravam for a couple of reasons. Of all the languages I don’t speak, Telugu is a little easier for me to pick out the random words I know so an unsubtitled film is a challenge but not unappealing. Prakash Raj took the very commercial and audience friendly step of making the film available online on a pay per view basis where there was no distribution agreement in place. Hurrah! The Tamil version was on in cinemas here but the hit and miss distribution by the local Telugu film guys means I’m never really sure of seeing any new Telugu films unless they star a top hero. And frankly, since ticket prices for Telugu films are now up over $AUD23 I want to be reasonably assured of getting my money’s worth! So shelling out a fiver and watching Gouravam from the comfort of my living room was a good deal, and I think it’s a great way to expand the audience for less mass oriented films.