Monday, February 28, 2011
Indian Film Classics: Godavari (2006) Telugu
"Godavari" is one of the best romantic comedies made in the last decade or so. It is joyous, it is entertaining, it is enduring and it is that kind of movie which lends itself to repeat watching. It has a very idealistic hero, Sriram (played by Sumanth), who having recently returned from the US after finishing his higher studies, tries to pursue things close to his heart. He likes serving people, so he approaches two leading political parties in his hometown and asks them to hire him for serving the people - the party guys struggle to comprehend his straight arrow idealism, and gently inform him about the ways of the world, and try to nudge him away. Sriram keeps at them.
Sriram has a soft corner for his cousin and wants to marry her, while her father (his uncle) arranges for her to marry a very socially/status-wise eligible guy (who is an IPS officer). When Sriram confronts his Uncle, his Uncle retorts saying: "What do you have? Do you even have the basic minimum stuff to get married, do you have a bank balance, if someone gives you some money, the first thing you will do is to run around to find a person to give it away - I cannot marry off my girl to a guy like you". For this, Sriram replies that he can earn money whenever needed. His cousin doesn't really reciprocate his feelings either. She is the kind of girl who likes guys to open doors for her, offer to help her with her bags when she shops, and take her to high-end restaurants to have tea.
And there is our heroine, Seeta (played by Kamalinee Mukerjee), who struggles to keep her boutique alive and runs around showing her samples to potential customers. She (along with millions of other Indian girls) is pestered by her parents to get married, as she is in her mid twenties, and there is nothing better to do in your mid-twenties than to get married. Seeta doesn't like guys who do a 9-5 job, think only about a retirement plan, fantasize about buying a plot of land in the suburbs and start procreating immediately. Against her protests, her parents convince her to meet a guy - who she ends up thinking as not so bad.
Then comes the river Godavari. Sriram and Seeta end up meeting each other on a boat trip on Godavari (the boat is an improvised contraption, which is sort of a Indian cruise ship, with many small boats tied together). Sriram is traveling to attend his cousin's wedding to the IPS guy and Seeta on a personal journey, traveling alone, to think and reflect, after the guy whom she okays to marry rejects her, opining that she is a bit "too fast" for him.
Of course, they meet, they fight, they reconcile, they get closer to each other, and the cousin character intervenes. The cousin dilly-dallies about her decision to marry the IPS guy and ruminates on marrying Sriram. This complicates things and leads to misunderstandings. And of course, Sriram and Seeta finally reunite. This story arc has been followed in a thousand movies. But not many of them work the way "Godavari" does.
More than 3/4ths of the movie takes place on the boat on Godavari. There is an assortment of characters on the boat - the feisty dosa-lady, the trip manager, a balloon-seller-kid who has his own problems, and a talking dog. Yes, a talking dog (actually several talking dogs and a talking parrot as well), which provides an additional comedy track by giving a commentary on the proceedings from its perspective. Some might say putting a talking dog in a modern movie is going over the top - but, hey, it works and the dog is funny, and that's what matters.
The characters of the hero, heroine, the cousin, the uncle, the IPS guy are all so well etched out, they almost risk becoming caricatures. It is a good-hearted movie, and has its priorities in the right place. The hero and the heroine have a mind of their own and are progressive. Even when the system pulls them this side and that, they are determined to stay the way they are. They are not gods. They are just decent people who believe that the world could be a better place and work towards it. These characters are reinforcements of goodness in a world where the majority of the people are either lost, corrupt, have given up or just plain don't give a damn.
The movie was directed by Shekar Kamulla (whose "Anand" is another little gem). He thinks and works and directs like he is channeling the great American idealist/director Frank Capra (whose movies are a must watch for people interested in movies, entertainment or idealism). Shekar deals with idealism, but his movies are not drab. They are funny. The dialogues sparkle with humor and intelligence, and the humor is observed and well earned. The music is another major strength of the movie - all the songs have a classical strain to them and along with the background score provide a warm and soothing blanket to the movie.
I had a roommate in grad school, who used to watch this film all the time. When I'd come back for lunch - he'd be holding his plate and eating in a trance, watching this film. When I'd come back in the evening, he'd have started watching the film (from where he left off in the afternoon). And I remember at least a 3-4 month stretch in which this would be a daily occurrence in our apartment. The sun rose and set, the cats mewed and fell quiet and he watched Godavari. In parts, as a whole, day in and day out.
I have a VCD of the film (which I obtained after much searching through Landmark, Hyderabad) - which I watch every 2 months. I would watch it more often, but it takes about that time for my memory to fade and for me to forget the details and revisit the film. There are some occasions when you wish your memory is poorer and you forget things sooner.