A man proposes marriage to a prostitute. She rebuffs him saying: Don’t think you’re a hero for rescuing me from a life that I have chosen. He persists. She agrees with some conditions in place – until they do get married, she will continue working and he will drop her to her chosen corner every day, he will also tell his friends who sought her services that he’s in love with her and he will take her to a movie and a meal at a fancy restaurant. The man agrees, gets down on his knees, gifts her a bottle of the alcohol brand that she prefers and declares, “I love you”. The Telugu film C/o Kancharapalem is filled with miraculous scenes like this.
Kancharapalem is a locality in the city of Vizag. This is a place where everyone knows each other. People are busy not just with their own lives but also with everyone else’s. The film is about four romances – between schoolchildren Sunita and Sundaram, between Bhargavi and Joseph who are in their twenties, between Gaddam and Saleema who are thirty-somethings and between Raju, a 49-year-old bachelor and his 42-year-old boss, a government officer whom he addresses as Madam. For the good folks of Kancharapalem, Raju is a vexing problem. They even hold a meeting to discuss why he never got married and what his sexual orientation might be. Raju maintains that things just didn’t work out for him.
But writer-director Venkatesh Maha isn’t content to simply contemplate love. Within these romances, he slips in musings about gender, religion, the struggle for dignity of labor. The women in the film are astounding. Apart from Saleema, there’s Madam, the government officer who insists that Raju, a clerk, sit with the other officers for lunch. She’s a widow with a 20-year-old daughter but she takes the lead with Raju and proposes marriage. And when her brother opposes the marriage, Madam’s feisty daughter asks him – At what age can women make decisions about their own lives?
The wonderful thing is that none of the messaging is heavy-handed. Care Of Kancharapalem is quietly funny. Even heartbreak, and there is plenty of it, has a tenderness. Most of the actors were picked from Kancharapalem and have no acting experience. There is something gentle and unforced about their presence. Subba Rao Vepada as Raju holds the multiple strands of the narrative together.
As viewers, we shouldn’t care about a film’s budget but I read that Kancharapalem was made in around 50 to 70 lakh. On a big-budget Bollywood film, that wouldn’t cover the heroine’s costumes. I’m only telling you this to reaffirm that good storytelling will always be the real hero. You can watch the film on Jio Cinema and Netflix India.