Nagara Haavu (1972)

Nagarahaavu

Nagara Haavu is a classic film from Kannada cinema featuring Vishnuvardhan in his first lead role. Director Puttanna Kanagal based his 1972 screenplay on three novels by T.R. Subba Rao, telling the story of an angry young man, his love affairs and his relationship with his old primary school teacher, who seems to be the only one who has any patience with his outbursts. The film is set in the 1950’s and although many of the social conventions are now outdated, there are some that still apply to-day; while Ramachari’s struggle against conformity continues to be a popular theme in modern cinema. At almost 3 hours Nagara Haavu is a bit of an epic, but it’s an interesting film to watch and essential viewing to anyone interested in the evolution of cinema in Bangalore.

The film begins and ends with the same images of rocks and the sun viewed through a red filter, presumably an indication that despite the tumultuous events portrayed, by the end nothing has actually changed. The young Ramachari of the opening scene is a rude and angry child with terrible hair, who grows into a rude and angry young man, still with a terrible haircut. This time perhaps he has reason for his anger since his teacher instructs him to remove his trousers when he is caught cheating at college. It seems rather extreme, but Ramachari (Vishnuvardhan) has a reputation as being a bad student and his reaction is even more over the top. He decides that if he is considered to be villainous, then he will become villainous, going to his professor’s house and smashing the windows. Not content with this wilful destruction of property, Ramachari then ties Shyamrao (Lokanath) to a lamppost and leaves him there overnight to the horror of Tungamma (Leelavathi), Ramachari’s old schoolteacher’s wife. And me! How he avoids being arrested is baffling!

Ramachari seems to be angry with everyone and everything, but the reason for his apparently all-consuming rage is never fully explained. It may be partly due to frustration with his religious parents who revere God above all else, and seem to have little time for their son. Possibly his anger is a reaction to being forced to study when he clearly has no interest or aptitude, but whatever the reason, Ramachari has a well-deserved reputation for belligerence in his home town.

The only person who seems to have any time for Ramachari is his old schoolteacher Chamiah (K.S. Ashwath) who has practically adopted Ramachari and considers him to be his son. His wife Tungamma also has a soft spot for the troubled youth and between them they act as mentors and advisors whenever Ramachari finds himself (yet again) in trouble. The relationship between Ramachari and Chamiah is well written and excellently portrayed by Vishnuvardhan and K.S. Ashwath through both the good and the bad times. There is real warmth between them, and Vishnuvardhan does an excellent job of capturing the respect and love that Ramachari feels for his mentor. For his part, K.S. Ashwath is compassionate and stern as required while making it clear that he can see beneath the surface anger to the possibility that Ramachari represents. The dialogues between the two are the best parts of the film, as Chamiah tries to instruct Ramachari how he should behave in society, while Ramachari does his best to point out the double standards and hypocrisy that make him rebel against convention.

Ramachari’s best mate is Varadha (Shivaram), a man who knows the value of product, and who happens to have a beautiful sister Alamelu (Aarathi). When Alamelu is harassed by local sleaze Jaleel (Ambareesh) her brother is too much of a wimp to do anything, so he recruits Ramachari to deal with the problem. Ramachari has seen Alamelu, so his price for helping her dissuade her unwelcome suitor is to marry her himself. Neither Varadha nor Alamelu have any problem with this plan but it’s a different story for Alamelu’s parents who have no desire to marry their daughter to the local rowdy.

There is much drama when Alamelu steals away to tell Ramachari of her impending marriage to someone else and it’s up to Chamaiah to persuade Ramachari that Alamelu’s parents should decide her fate. After much emoting, Ramachari is eventually persuaded that sacrificing his love is the noble thing to do although it’s clear that Chamaiah doesn’t believe this at all and is simply bowing to conventional wisdom and the presumed dictates of society.

This has serious consequences for Ramachari’s relationship with Chamaiah when he later discovers that instead of living in luxury, Alamelu has been forced into a life of prostitution. This could have been one of those terribly over-dramatic scenes so common in seventies Bollywood, with Alamelu dying rather than continue to live in shame, but instead Puttanna Kanagal gives her a beautiful song and impassioned speech where she says that she wants to live! OK, she’s not happy, but it’s better than the usual attempt at suicide at least. There is also a lovely moment of symmetry too when this time it’s Alamelu who walks away from Ramachari and sacrifices her love for his sake. It’s all wonderfully melodramatic as Alamelu recites her story to Ramachari beside a red-lit fountain.

After Alamelu is married, Ramachari is pursued by Margaret (Shubha), a girl from his class in college who is determined that he should fall in love with her. She is portrayed as being more modern, chasing after Ramachari shamelessly, wearing Western clothes and declaring her love quite openly. Margaret seems to get away with all this because she is Christian and the daughter of a single mother – which is apparently all we need to know to realise that she is no better than she should be. Once again Chamaiah is recruited to break up the relationship as Margaret’s mother Mary (M.N. Lakshmi Devi) has much bigger plans for her daughter while Ramachari’s parents are mortally offended at the idea that their son would marry a Christian. The question is, will Ramachari listen to his long-time mentor or has he lost faith after what happened to Alamelu?

There is plenty of over-the-top drama in Nagara Haavu and some of the best ‘death stares’ I’ve seen for a long time. Everyone overacts like crazy, Ramachari throws chickens at Margaret after she teases him in class, her mother accuses him of rape, while Chamaiah clambers over rocks trying to find Ramachari to drag him off to apologise to the latest person he has offended. All apparently part of a normal day in downtown Chitradurga!

As well as showing the relationship between a troubled youth and his kindly teacher, the film paints a picture of a dysfunctional society where appearances and prestige matter more than love and happiness. Chamaiah believes that Ramachari just needs time to mature and indeed he becomes a more responsible person when he is allowed to leave college and work for a wage. The rest of the town however brand him a troublemaker and don’t allow him the opportunity to ever become anything else. No matter how much Chamaiah tries to fit Ramachari into the role that society demands, he is never going to conform, particularly when Chamaiah realises just how shallow and self-centred society has become.

Nagara Haavu is deservedly classed as a classic film with good performances, a well-written story and engaging music from Vijaya Bhaskar. Despite the length, the film doesn’t drag and is a fascinating look at times past, society attitudes (and fashions!) and family dynamics of the time. Some thing have changed, but many of these issues are still a concern even now, making the film relevant and not as outdated as it first appears. The dialogues might seem stilted, but the ideas behind them are valid and used to good effect. I enjoyed Nagara Haavu and recommended watching it for Visnuvardhan, Aarathi and K.S. Ashwath, the excellent screenplay plus beautiful shots of Chitradurga and countryside. 4 stars.

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Gharana Mogudu (1992)

Gharana Mogudu

Gharana Mogudu is a step back in time to the Nineties, although it seems more like the Eighties considering the costumes and general shenanigans. The songs deliver the costumes and as for general shenanigans, there is Uma Devi (Nagma) – a boss from hell who plots a marriage with her factory’s union leader to get her revenge for his popularity and force him to fall into line.  Naturally since the union leader is Chiranjeevi, Uma Devi’s plans are never going to work out the way she wants, but there is a lot of entertainment in watching her attempts.  Nagma is wonderfully arrogant and egotistic in a role that lets her be as nasty as possible, but still look stunning as she efficiently crushes anyone who dares to oppose her management style.  Chiranjeevi’s Raju is naturally the complete opposite, kind-hearted and generous, but just as stubborn and quite determined to stand up for his rights and those of his fellow workers.  Of course he also dances up a storm and dishooms when and where required making Gharana Mogudu an excellent celebration of all things Megastar and perfect for this year’s Megabirthday celebrations.

Gharana MoguduGharana Mogudu

Before we can get to Uma Devi and her hazardous factory in Hyderabad, Raju is introduced as the dock worker to turn to in a crisis – even if that crisis is getting beaten up at an illegal fight betting ring.  Naturally Raju wins the subsequent show-down but finds that the money he won has vanished – cue the excellent Bangaru Kodi Petta (which was remixed and re-imagined for Rajamouli’s awesome Magadheera ) with Disco Shanti running off with the betting money.

When his mother (Shubha) has a stroke, Raju leaves Vizag and the joys of waterfront employment and heads home to Hyderabad.  After arriving in the city, Raju fortuitously saves local businessman Bapineedu (Raogopal Rao), from a gang of thugs and as a reward is given the opportunity to work in his family factory. This sounds too good to be true, and of course it is, since Bapineedu and the family business are both actually run by his daughter – the boss from hell. Uma Devi has no interest in her workers except as a means to increase profit and make her the top tax payer in India (her ultimate ambition apparently).  She has the union rep firmly under her thumb to ensure that there are no strikes despite her heavy handed treatment and is prone to petulant displays of temper if her will is crossed.  I’m not sure if it’s one of her petty cruelties to make her secretary Bhavani (Vani Viswanath) wear such odd outfits to work but in her own time Bhavani looks much more appropriately dressed, so I have my suspicions, particularly when Uma Devi appears so co-ordinated.

 

Uma Devi is just as bad at dealing with people on a personal level and the thugs who attacked her father were actually sent by Ranganayakulu (Kaikala Satyanarayana) after Uma Devi turned down a marriage proposal from his son (Sharat Saxena).  Ranganayakulu and his son are the main villains of the piece and while their response to a marriage refusal may seem a little over the top, to be fair Uma Devi is annoying enough that wiping her from the face of the planet doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

Gharana MoguduGharana MoguduGharana MoguduGharana Mogudu

Uma Devi’s plan to marry Raju also disrupts the course of true love as Raju and Bhavani embark on an office romance after they meet each other on the way to work. A bicycle ride in the rain leads to this excellent song, with Vani Viswanath keeping up with Chiranjeevi in the dance stakes despite his tendency to attack her with a bicycle – I really did want Bhavanai to dispose of Uma Devi and run away with Raju after this song!

Sadly Bhavani is much too sweet to be a murderer, so Uma Devi goes ahead with her plan and Raju ends up moving into Bapineedu’s massive mansion with his new bride.  The house is incredible, with statuary everywhere and a huge central imposing staircase, but none of that fazes Raju who continues to work on the shop floor and fight for workers’ rights.

Gharana MoguduGharana Mogudu

Now at this point you might think that Raju’s morals and basic decency might start to have an effect on Uma Devi and make her realise the error of her ways, but she’s still just as unpleasant as ever and it takes a drunken night and a lungi dance before she even begins to appear remotely bearable.  Before then there are plenty of great confrontations between Uma Devi and Raju, shifty scheming from Ranganayakulu and Uma Devi’s manager Sarangapani (Ahuti Prasad) and plenty of those fantastic costumes to enjoy.

Chiru is dashing and very much the mega star as he mixes romance, compassion, ethical principles and his stance on workers’ rights with great dancing and action sequences.  Pretty much everything gets mixed into the film and Chiranjeevi really is awesome no matter what he is doing! Nagma is delightfully vile and holds her own against Chiru keeping the focus of the film on Uma Devi and her machinations, while the plots of Ranganayakulu etc are totally overshadowed by her stormy relationship with Raju. She’s almost the classic Disney villainess and it seems obligatory to boo and hiss whenever she appears and naturally cheer for Chiranjeevi and Bhavani. Yes, even when watching on DVD in the comfort of your own living room.

Along with all the drama there is room for some comedy too – Brahmi pops up but unfortunately makes little impression without the benefit of subtitles.  However the rest of the humour is based on interactions between Raju and the other characters, and being more situational comes across better. It’s a true masala film and although the plot is ridiculous and the characterisations over the top, Gharana Mogudu is still completely entertaining.  Excellent performances, great songs and plenty of Megastar style make this definitely one to watch. 4 stars.

Chiranjeevi