Anand (2004)

If there is such a thing as a good kind of stalking love story, Anand is probably it. Sekhar Kammula builds characters that have quirks and flaws, and his effort translates into an engaging modern romance. Although the film is called Anand, it’s actually well balanced between Anand (Raja) and Rupa (Kamalinee Mukherjee), at least in the director’s cut version.

Rupa is orphaned after a drunk driver hits her family’s car. Forward 8 years and Rupa (now played by Kamalinee) is a bit of a control freak, and preparing for her wedding to Rahul (often heard but not seen playback singer, Anuj Gurwara). His family are wealthy and traditional, and she is under pressure to modify her behaviour to suit them. She is scared of her future but trusts to god and her own spirit to help her through the challenges she expects lie ahead.

Rupa has pride and a belief that she deserves love and a good future. When Rahul reveals his weakness in the face of family disapproval, she realises she may be making a mistake. Finally, after a showdown with the domineering mother-in-law to be over wearing her mother’s heirloom saree, Rupa calls the wedding off.

I like that there are consequences, but it’s not over the top. Her life goes on, and while there is some embarrassment and explaining, her friends are all there for her, as is her old job. She supports herself financially, and seems to have a good life. It makes a refreshing change from all the filmi orphans living Cinderella type lives on charity from relatives.

The drunk driver is a presence throughout the film, although Rupa doesn’t know this. The shock of causing the accident made Gopalan (played by Gururaj – I think) revert to a childlike state. Initially I had some reservations about whether he was a necessary character, and how his condition would be portrayed. However, I enjoyed his presence and I give due credit to Gururaj for his performance.

Gopalan is loved by his family, and included in all their activities. He isn’t swept into a corner, and no one distances themselves from this damaged man. It was sweet seeing the family in conference, with Gopalan doing that Dad thing of dozing in front of the TV while Anand and his mum argued. They all know what happened, and Anand even describes it as an oddly positive change – a driven man finally happy with simplicity. It isn’t quite as syrupy as that sounds. I really liked the decision to show a content middle-class family who had achieved comfort in their lives at this point.

Anand (Raja) sees Rupa and decides he wants to get to know the real person. He knows her history (she doesn’t know he knows) and while he has sympathy for her, that isn’t his primary motivation. His mother is keen to marry him off, and Anand is tired of the marriage treadmill. He knows he is eligible and doesn’t trust first impressions, and he isn’t really keen on settling down unless he feels he has met his life partner. When he sees Rupa breaking her wedding off, he is intrigued as well as attracted to her. He concocts a story, rents a spare room at her house, and starts to work on getting to know her. He isn’t sure what he feels for Rupa, and he knows there is more to a relationship than just chemistry, so I think the decision to spend some time with her was wise but the method is questionable.

It is a kind of stalking, he does conceal his identity from her, and he manipulates circumstances where possible. It didn’t totally put me off because he is aware of his intrusion into Rupa’s life and he is open about his motives when her friends challenge him. And he can take ‘no’ for an answer. Raja is very much part of an ensemble, not a dominant hero type. He has a pleasant enough boy next door style but wasn’t outstanding.

Better known for directing than acting, Anish Kuruvilla is Anand’s cousin Raju. He is the voice of reason and logic, so of course no one ever listens to him. He supports Anand despite his misgivings, and has an excellent array of pained expressions. Raju is also a colossal snob, and this allows Kammula to introduce some points around discrimination and entitlement. It’s a funny, likeable performance despite the occasionally irritating character. Really, since he seems determined to avoid directing another film in my lifetime (hint Anish, HINT) I don’t see why he doesn’t act more.

Satya Krishnan as best friend Anita has a slightly acerbic yet affectionate nature, and her down to earth comments add a realistic level of dissent and question to the dialogues.

She and Raju have the job of watching their friends fumble with the burgeoning relationship, and their wry observations often deflate the drama or add a dash of humour. I liked the film in-joke when Anita has an Indra flashback and asks Raju if he has ever been in movies. She and Kamalinee took the acting honours in my book. And I love her husky voice – such a nice change from all the super squeaky heroines!

Rahul reappears on the scene, and Rupa and Anand are torn from their comfortable little routine. Rupa finally admits to herself that she loves Anand, but what to do? Anand leaves the next steps up to her.  I like the resolution. I felt it suited Rupa’s character completely and I appreciated that Anand hadn’t gone bitter and started hating her. He accepted that her decision and opinions were valid and essential to any possible future together.

Anand’s family acknowledge a sense of obligation to Rupa, and want to help her secure her future, but there is also trepidation at how they could live together after the truth comes out. It’s a very filmi situation but the emotions feel real – how will that sense of indebtedness balance the anger and resentment, and is forgiveness truly possible? I think Rupa blames herself so much for the accident that she had never considered blaming anyone else until confronted with the man responsible. Having to come face to face with the truth sparked another stage of grieving and she had to forgive herself as well as Gopalan. Kamalinee was convincing in her grief, and rather than loud histrionics she used her physical expression to show the transformation.

I like the realistic touches in the background detail. Rupa has a kitchen with packets of cereal and jars on the shelves, she gardens and washes her own clothes. People use public transport and their idea of a big night out is going to the movies. The house that Rupa lives in is located in an oasis like compound, but it looks a little ramshackle. There are people who fail exams and still have a happy enough life, and people with high aspirations. It’s all very easy to relate to.

I have a few dislikes. There are horrible cutesy kids and I could have done without them. Their performances were fine it’s just a directorial choice I disagree with. And the background soundtrack is a bit too whimsical for my liking. The songs by K.M. Radha Krishnan are great, and are a little classically influenced so it’s quite a contrast to the cheesy background score. I really like Shreya Ghoshal so her singing is a bonus. There is little dancing, although I see in Wiki Sekhar Kammula gets a credit for choreography.

As  modern film romances I prefer Avakai Biryani and Godavari to Anand, although that may be a bit of rural romanticism on my part as the locations were nicer. But I liked seeing a smart woman in control of her own life as a heroine,  people I could relate to, and the non-preachy social observations. 3 and 1/2 stars!

Heather says: There are a lot of things I really like about this film. Sekhar Kammula has the knack of telling a simple story in a very realistic way with genuine characters. And although the story is simple, there is enough complexity in the way it is told to keep it interesting and fresh. The characters are all down to earth and act in very believable and normal ways to the different situations throughout the film. Rupa does have a tendency towards melodrama but I think that is just part of her character and since I have quite a few friends who behave similarly (it must be all the Bollywood we watch!) I found her over-reactions to be just another facet of her personality. And I think a bride approaching her wedding day is entitled to a little drama anyway. There are a lot of little touches in the film which are very simple but help to convey an idea of the various personalities. Rupa’s regular morning coffee and Anita’s morning runs give us insights into their character and their lives seem very typical of the average person. I think Kamalinee Mukherjee is excellent at showing Rupa to be a strong minded and compassionate woman who has some issues due to her past, but is determined to make her own way in the world. I also really like Anita’s character, and think that Satya Krishnan is very good in this role. Her visualisation of a scene from Indra when Anand’s cousin is talking to her was excellent, and I can really understand exactly what she is thinking as a result.

What I don’t like as much was the character of Anand. Although Raja is perfectly fine in his portrayal of the character, I just don’t warm to Anand at all. He seems selfish and lazy and I can’t see why Rupa would want to get involved with him having just broken up with another selfish and lazy man. Anand relies too much on his cousin to help him out whenever he needs something done, and although his interaction with Samatha and Anita is good, it’s just not enough to make me like his character. I do like Anand’s speech to his Raju though, where he seems to realise that he hasn’t actually ‘fallen in love at first sight’ but that it’s more of an attraction. So it seems much more realistic when he says that first of all he has to get to know Rupa and she has to get to know him, and then they will see where it leads. This is a more reasonable approach than many other films where the boy declares his love and then stalks and harasses the girl until she agrees to marry him. And although I didn’t particularly like Anand his character was well developed and his relationship with Rupa was well portrayed.

The other support characters are all good and Rahul’s mother in particular seems to relish her role as the evil mother in law to be. Rahul’s character is well developed and the portrayal by Anuj Guwara was spot on. I agree withTemplethat it was lovely to see AnishKuruvilla on the other side of the camera and he was excellent as Raju. He really did have some of the best expressions.

The film has a great soundtrack and I do really like all of the female characters. It’s an enjoyable story with some lovely performances, but I just would have liked Anand’s character to be a nicer person.  3 ½ stars from me.

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Godavari

Sekhar Kammula has become one of my favourite directors, always entertaining me with interesting observations and a satisfying story. In Godavari he deposits his characters and their relationship issues on a boat, adding a philosophical dog, a sideplot or two and some beautiful scenery to leaven the mix. I’m not totally convinced by all of the elements but I do really like this film.

This song sets up the main characters, and acts as the now familiar promotion clip for Andhra Pradesh.

Kamalinee Mukherjee is Seetha, a would-be fashion designer. She has nightmares about losing her independence and her close relationship with her parents after she marries. I liked Seetha’s spirit, and I really felt for her coming off a rejection from a groom her parents pressured her into accepting. That had to sting. Seetha is vain and bratty at times but she is funny, insecure and compassionate as well, and admits fault when she is wrong.

Sumanth is Sriram, an unassuming guy who wants to get into politics and make the world better. He reveals a manipulative side as he cons his way into appointments with party officials. Perhaps he is a precursor to Arjun Prasad from Leader? He isn’t as effective in his personal life however. Ram is inarticulate when he should speak up, and doesn’t really see things for how they are – he is lost in a vision of how it should be.

Raji (Neetu Chandra) is spoilt, silly, self centred and yet not totally unlikeable. Raji judges a relationship by the trappings of Valentines’ cards, fancy coffee shops and all the showy things, things that just never occur to Ram, and she uses this as an excuse to push him away. Her parents know Ram wants to marry her but refuse as his simply isn’t the best offer and they are quite honest with him about this. Perhaps they know their daughter better.

Ravi (Kamal Kamaraju) is a cashed up bully, making the most of his status in the IPS. He seems to have some notions of manners and decency underneath all the arrogance, but has done a marvellous job of burying his better side. I can’t say I liked him at all, but I did end up thinking he could be a good match for Raji if he got over himself a little.

All the characters are flawed, but not in a dramatically damaged way. They’re just a bunch of people who have good and bad points, and for the most part are quite unremarkable. I found them easy to relate to, even the unpleasant ones, as they were well rounded and I could imagine them having lives outside of the film setting.

The boat setting appealed to me for a number of reasons. Not only did it provide a great device for containing the characters and their interactions, it looked great. It had all sorts of strange little additions,extensions and even a tower of sorts. I thought it looked delightfully like something out of a Miyazaki film. Whoever did the set dressing did a fantastic job too. All the powers were invoked to keep the boat safe and sound.

The boat trip also allowed the supporting characters to have things to do other than hang around Ram and Seetha.There was a nice sense of energy as the ever reliable Tanikella Bharani (the captain) and others bustled around. I enjoyed their presence all the more as they contributed to the background life and colour of the film. Seetha’s parents and sister had their own stuff going on at home, and there was a real lived-in feel to their domestic scenes as well. The nominal villains Raji and Ravi had their own issues to deal with, and even in their smaller roles showed some growth.

It wouldn’t be a boat story without stowaways. Chinna is a poor kid who pursues a mystery man (OK, it was Ravi) who does him out of the balloons he sells.  Koti, a dog, decides for his own reasons to get out of town. When Koti sees Chinna pay his bribe, he has a flashback to Daana Veera Suura Karna and swears fealty to his new master. They team up and give us their points of view but also provide the catalyst for people to reveal their own character – are they charitable, curious, mean or oblivious to the boy and dog?

While I liked the idea of Koti and the voiceover (by Sekhar Kammula, and what a world weary creature with a 3am whiskey voice he sounded), I did not like the CGI dog. The real dog had ample charm and verve and I don’t see the animation was necessary. I kept hoping it wasn’t because the real dog became, er, unavailable after a boating mishap. For those of you who demand pirates, there was a fairly silly episode involving a fugitive and a night ambush but it only served to show that Ram is reliable and Ravi isn’t so I will move on.

There is no surprise in the romantic pairing of our waterborne humans as their journey to Bhadrachalam follows that of Ram and Sita. Our Ram and Seetha are attracted to each other but there are obstacles, both real and imagined. I really enjoyed their conversations and the way both Sumanth and Kamalini showed the growing intimacy and comfort they felt in each other’s company as well as the pressure of the potential relationship.

They did daft things, sure, but there was no sense of them being stupid or unpleasant people. Kammula uses a lot of voiceover monologues, and both actors did a good job of mirroring the inner voice with their expressions, ranging from funny to heartfelt. Sometimes I find a voiceover can leave me at a distance, but in this case it worked well enough and suited the introspective nature of the characters.

I don’t like the background score at all. It is too cheesy, and seemed to try too hard to be whimsical. But the actual songs are more attuned to the mood of the scenes, and subtitled, so I could at least appreciate a fraction of Veturi’s lyrics as well as K.M Radha Krishnan’s melodies and the beautiful scenery. There is little dancing in the film, and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to much of the story; but if I have a criticism of Sekhar Kammula it is his over use of the montage. Then I saw Sumanth dance and I thought well, yeah, montages have their place— but there has to be a limit.

The lyrics draw attention to the beauty of the river and the power of unseen forces in our lives. The river is a metaphor for the forces in life that nudge us hither and thither, and the power of chance meeting and parting. But this Ram and Seetha also show that you can fight the current when you want to and make your own way.

Finally, I give Godavari 3 and ½ stars. For those who think 3 and ½ is just plucked from the air , it goes like this – Points on for the convincing performances, points off for the animated animals, points back on for the real dog, more points on for a parrot asserting her independence, some points off for too many montages, and finally points on for the film being so pretty. Watch it for the beautiful balance of observational style with a fresh twist on the filmi clichés.

Heather says: I really like the way that instead of road movies, the Telugu film industry has river films which surely do a great job for the tourist industry. The river looks beautiful here and the Godavari boat is fantastic. I love the way it’s at least 3 boats joined together, one of which has fantastic wooden panels and just to add a little more space it’s also towing a raft behind. It looks like a great way to travel from Rajamunday to Bhadrachalam, although I suspect in reality it would be rather wet and cold. I do appreciate the way that in time-honoured fashion everyone jumped underneath big blue plastic tarpaulins when the rain started. I remember those well from travelling on the top of buses in India and Nepal!

The story of the romance between Ram and Seetha, both rejected by their prospective partners, is different enough from the usual to be interesting and I like the way that Ram had to deal with being in such close proximity to Raji and her fiancé Ravi for the duration of the boat trip. Kamalinee Mukherjee’s Seetha is beautiful and chirpy and I really liked her character from the beginning. Even her obsession with her beauty is funny rather than irritating and I feel that she stayed true to her independent nature throughout the story. Although Ram is initially a very pedestrian character with his idealistic ways and mooning over Raji, he becomes more likeable in his interactions with Seetha and the young balloon seller Chinna. Ram and Seetha’s gradual attraction as they argue is realistically handled and I think both Sumanth and Kamalinee Mukherjee are well cast in their roles here. The cook Pullamma is a great character and her indignation when she thinks Ram has given her brother money because he feels sorry for him is one of my favourite scenes. I like the way Sekhar Kammula’s points out that poor people have pride and dignity very well, particularly since there is so much emphasis in the story about altruistic behaviour being the ideal to aim for.

As well as another reason to dislike Ravi (and I’m not sure we needed quite so many), Chinna’s character adds some funny comedy. The CGI talking dog is strange and I agree with Temple that it wasn’t necessary. The talking dog idea was fine and the voice-overs were quite funny and used well but I think this could all have been done with the real dog,  rather than introducing the CGI. But it wasn’t too much of a distraction and the story of Chinna and Koti is well written into the main story.  The characters of Raji and Ravi are also more than just part of the backstory and I appreciate the way that all of the supporting cast are used to further develop the romance between Seetha and Ram, either by helping them or by adding more obstacles to their path.

There are a few things that confuse me. I’m not sure why the fortune-teller decides to jump into the river. I can’t work out if he’s just chasing his parrot or if his declaration to Rama is more significant. The fight scene also seems totally unnecessary and the whole storyline of Veeraiah didn’t add anything other than a chance for Ram to be a hero.

There is so much to enjoy in this film. the boat setting, the lead actors, the story and the support characters are all excellent. I love the songs as well, especially Tippalu Tappalu in the rain, and the shots of the river are beautiful. Godavari is a really entertaining film and I give it 4 stars.