Director: Praveen Kandregula
Writers: Praveen Kandregula, Krishna Prathyusha and Vasanth Maringanti
Cinematography: Apoorva Shaligram and Sagar Yvv
Edited by: Ravi Teja Girijala and Dharmendra Kakarala
Starring: Vikas Vasistha, Sandeep Varanasi, Rag Mayur, Trishara, Uma Yaluvalli Gopalappa
Streaming on: Netflix
What happens when an expensive Sony camera is left by mistake on the backseat of an autorickshaw? Lives change. Because the camera enables people to become storytellers. It renews hope and ambition. It allows them to dream. That is the power of cinema and the story of Cinema Bandi, the delightful new Telugu film directed by Praveen Kandregula, and produced by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, under their new initiative D2R Indie.
Can I pause here to praise these filmmakers? In the last decade, the erstwhile software engineers have forged their own distinctive path with films like Shor in the City, Go Goa Gone, Stree and the blockbuster series The Family Man. Raj and DK multitask as writers-directors-producers. Their ability to successfully find the sweet spot between edgy and mainstream has enabled them to function as independent entities within the Hindi film industry. And with D2R Indie, they are paying it forward by enabling new directors and small-budget films that otherwise might not see the light of day.
Cinema Bandi is set in Gollapalli, a tiny village on the Andhra-Karnataka border. It hasn't rained in years. The electricity comes and goes. The roof of the school is falling. Young men, despairing of their limited prospects, are migrating to the big city. And then one day, Veera, an auto driver, finds a camera in his vehicle. He enlists the help of Gana, a wedding photographer, and embarks on the difficult mission of making a film. Veera is convinced that cinema will be the way out of the morass.
Of course Veera doesn't anticipate how hard making movies is – to begin with, the hero is the local hairdresser and the heroine, a schoolgirl who is a terrible actor. She is also participating without the permission of her stern father. So she shows up for the shoot in her uniform because she is lying about where she's going. There's also the occasional problem of having villagers unintentionally pop up in the frame – one is taking a dump right behind the hero and heroine as they shoot their first meeting. And Veera and Gana have little idea of what they are doing – a little boy who follows them around teaches them about continuity.
Praveen and his co-writers Vasanth Maringanti and Krishna Prathyusha, tell the story with wit and affection. The innovation and enthusiasm of the amateur filmmakers in Cinema Bandi might remind you of Superman of Malegaon, Faiza Ahmad Khan's charming documentary about amateur filmmakers in Malegaon who make low-budget spoofs of Bollywood. But because Cinema Bandi is fiction, Praveen is able to remove some of the sting in the story.
Nothing truly terrible befalls Veera and Gana. People are inherently decent and ultimately, goodness and unity prevail. But this doesn't play out as some airbrushed Bollywood fantasy. The difficulty of these lives is consistently in the frame. The camera contains footage shot by the owner, who is also an aspiring filmmaker, in which she is dancing in the rain. Veera and Gana marvel at the water that city dwellers have to play with. At one point, Veera and Gana are attempting to charge the camera battery in a hatchery and Veera remarks that even the chickens have a better life because they have electricity round the clock.
Veera is played by Vikas Vasistha, who has three acting credits before this film on IMDb. I don't know his earlier work but he has a lovely, empathetic presence. Sandeep Varanasi as Gana is equally good – I loved that Gana's signature pose for newly wedded couples is Jack and Rose's outstretched arms from Titanic. Just another sign of how far cinema travels.
The humour in Cinema Bandi is gentle and good-natured. It is the comedy of making movies and of being alive – keep an eye out for Uma Yaluvalli Gopalappa as Manga, the no-nonsense vegetable seller who eventually gets swayed by the power of cinema.
Movies aren't ever just entertainment. They change the people who watch them and the people who make them. Cinema Bandi reaffirms this basic truth.
You can watch the film on Netflix India.