Varun Tej takes on the role of a soldier in the Second World War so effortlessly in Kanche that it’s hard to believe this is only his second movie. His performance is one of the highlights of a film that has at its heart a simple love story but uses a more ambitious setting to deliver a deeper social message based on the literal and psychological ‘fences’ of the title. The story starts in Thirties India and moves to the battle torn landscape of Italy during the Second World War using flashback sequences to keep the focus on Dhrupati Hari Babu (Varun Tej) and his romance with Seetha Devi (Pragya Jaiswal). It’s an unusual backdrop for an Indian film and despite a tendency towards melodrama in the second half Kanche is one of the better films I’ve seen this year and well worth catching in the cinema if you can.
The story starts when Hari meets Seetha while they are both studying in Madrasapattinam and Hari is working part-time as a waiter in a social club. Hari is outspoken but respectful with a twinkle in his eye, while Seetha is the perfect lady, always looking absolutely stunning in elegant saris, sparkling jewellery and perfect make-up. I was a little surprised at how liberal her thinking was for a wealthy and presumably somewhat sheltered girl in 1936, but Pragya has just a touch of aloofness which gives more authenticity to her role and she certainly looks the part. The couple have sparkling chemistry together and the romance moves along with a freshness that belies the familiarity of the story. Varun plays Hari with the perfect mix of serious scholar and carefree larrikin to make him an appealing character, and gives an immediate contrast with later scenes where he is more introspective and self-contained as a soldier in the Indian Army.
Although Seetha is from a royal family and Hari is the son of the local barber, their romance blossoms while they are away from home. When they return from college however their relationship seems doomed to failure since social norms decree that Seetha must marry a man from her own class. Seetha and Hari try to enlist the help of Seetha’s brother Eeshwar Prasad (Nikitin Dheer) but he is firmly on the side of tradition and opposes the match almost more vigorously than Seetha’s father. Nikitin plays Eeshwar with a permanent sneer that looks painful to maintain and becomes almost comical with each reappearance. There are whiffs of a more rational and intelligent man but they don’t seem to be able to make it past the facial grimace and Eeshwar is too one dimensional to be completely convincing here. Sowcar Janaki has more scope as Seetha’s mother, trying to get her daughter to conform while at the same time acknowledging that as a woman she has little influence and no effective assistance to offer. I love the subtle message that Krish adds here about the role of women in Indian society which is just as effective as his more obvious statements about social divides later in the film.
The class divide isn’t enough drama for Krish though, and he adds in inter-caste rivalries in the village which increase the tension and lead to literal fences being constructed alongside the invisible social barriers to keep different groups of villagers apart. The village is split by class, caste and gender which makes for a lot to expect Hari to fix in the final half of the film!
The romance is told as flashback sequences interspersed with events on the battlefields in Italy and although the love story follows a predictable path, the rest of the film is rather more unexpected. Eeshwar is now Hari’s commanding officer and still hasn’t lost the sneer or his enmity towards Hari although the two avoid each other as much as possible. Krish doesn’t fall into the trap of making Eeshwar a vindictive bully and Nikitin does a better job in these scenes, making Eeshwar an honourable and decent man behind the curled upper lip. As events unfold, Eeshwar is forced to depend on Hari when he is captured by the German army along with the other commanding officers. Hari and a few other soldiers set out to rescue them but find themselves confronted by Nazi atrocities in a small town they pass through and need to adjust their plans accordingly.
There are a number of more subtle messages that are almost lost as Krish hammers home the point that anything can be achieved through co-operation and mutual trust. The camaraderie between the soldiers – British and Indian – is unexpected and an interesting counterpoint to the more usual rivalry and prejudice seen in other films. Hari’s letters to Seetha also provide a different view of the war and her unseen presence provides support for Hari as he struggles with the realities of the conflict.
One of my pet hates in films with foreign characters is the usually poor quality of the performances, however here the actors are good and generally appropriately cast. The commanding German officer and a family of bakers in a small Italian village are particularly effective and add credibility to this part of the film, while the various British soldiers are also all good in their roles. The dubbing is however not as successful with a definite miss on some of the British army accents making the British General sounding more like an East End butcher rather than an officer of the British Army. There is also some confusion with the Italian villagers who speak variously in oddly accented Italian and German, although this is mostly drowned out by the Telugu voice-over. Still, overall the foreigners are much better than usual and are convincingly part of the film storyline rather than simply extras in the background for added flavour.
The pace in the second half is slower and the particularly in the final scenes the action becomes overly dramatic where less really would have been more compelling. The end is also heavy on the films message of peaceful co-existence through mutual respect and tolerance, even adding a baby called Hope just in case there could be anyone who missed the point. However despite the awkward melodrama and overly drawn out final fight scene, the story is still powerful and Varun is impressive right to the end. Definitely an actor to look out for.
With good performances, an interesting story and some clever dialogue, Kanche demonstrates Krish’s ability to think outside the norms of Telugu cinema and deliver another great film. Don’t miss it!
This was definitely one of the better movies in a long time. Krish is intelligent with his preachiness which always seems to work. I was not bothered by the pace at all, and I thought that in those final moments, Eeshwar redeems himself as a character when he says how he never recognized a friend in Hari Babu.
And also, how wonderful was it to have most of the foreign dialogues left intact except for that one crucial scene. Like you said, the foreign cast did a great job too adding authenticity.
A wonderful movie!
I started my blog recently, and wrote a review of the same. Do check it out at your leisure
Excellent review – thanks for the link 🙂
I agree with you to some extent as regards Srinivas Avasarala’s character, although I thought his final redemption was relevant to the story. He was able to step up and make a difference when he really had to – but I think this was too hidden under the ‘comedy’ persona to come across as well as it should have.
Sadly we only had 2 shows here in Melbourne as I would like to see it again. I’m hoping the response will mean they add on more shows next weekend 🙂
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The thing is, when I remove Avasarala’s character, the movie loses nothing. I found myself rolling my eyes at each of his jokes. IMHO, he was inserted so people will not complain that the movie has zero comedy. But if people like his presence, then all the better. He is a terrific actor nevertheless.
I’m dying to watch it again too. In fact I wanted to re-watch it the moment it got over. 😀 It seems to be doing well in India with unanimous praise almost, so hopefully they will add more shows in Melbourne too 🙂
Well, no extra shows in Melbourne so far 😦
I get your point about Avasarala. I thought there was a little more to his character than just the jokes, but maybe I was reading too much into his scene where he finally managed to do something useful! I do need to watch the film again!
I was finally able to watch Kanche and I really liked it! I do want to watch it again to get more clarity though.
And talking about Srinivas Avasarala’s character, I thought that he was also put in as a translator. Whenever Varun made a plan with an English soldier, they would speak in English. Then Srinivas Avasarala would ask Varun what the plan was and the plan would then be explained in Telugu. This was not exactly needed but I feel like this was more of the character’s purpose.
Glad to hear you liked Kanche. Good thought re Srinivas Avasarala too. I hadn’t thought about that (the benefit of having subtitles :P) but it’s a good point. I think there was more to his role that immediately seems apparent – I definitely need to see it again but will have to wait for the DVD 🙂
I did see Bruce Lee but thought it was a bit patchy, so it’s another one I want to watch again.
Did you guys have subtitles in Melbourne? That’s interesting because we didn’t have subtitles here in Dallas. I don’t think Kanche will be playing here next week since Akhil will come out this week. Bruce Lee on the other hand left after 2 weeks. I’m gonna wait until it comes on youtube or something. So are you going to check out Akhil when it comes out?
We did! Amazingly quite a few of the recent releases have had subtitles 🙂
Bruce Lee did too! Telugu films generally only release here for 3 to 4 days (usually Fri, Sat and Sun – maybe Mon) unless it’s a mega-hit like Baahubali.
I’ll try to get to Akhil as they have put on a show on Wednesday and Thursday which might be more feasible this week.
Hey – you’re in Dallas – I went though Fort Worth airport in October 🙂