There's a mighty good sub-plot in Stephen King's post-apocalyptic novel 'The Stand' where a dog helps a human when the latter gets hurt. The dog brings him food and other necessary things to make his life a little easier. The injured man cannot depend on anybody else since he's alone – he has sent his friends away to reach a goal that he deems bigger than saving his life. And the dog, for its part, goes above and beyond to take care of its favorite human.
In director Krish Jagarlamudi's latest drama, Konda Polam, a dog comes to a man's rescue out of nowhere. Moments such as these make your heart leap out of your chest. In both these works, the dogs are merely supporting characters, but they turn the plots on their heads with their sheer magnanimity.
Konda Polam begins rather tepidly. Ravi (Panja Vaisshnav Tej), an unemployed graduate, goes to his village to live with his folks for a couple of days. He doesn't make the best use of employment opportunities as he's afraid of expressing his ideas in front of others. He's not too sure about himself, or the world around him. And he doesn't have an aim, so to speak. If you watch the film through his eyes, it's a coming-of-age story. But Krish is also interested in making noise about climate change and sandalwood smugglers.
When circumstances push Ravi into the forest along with a bunch of people and several goats, however, he learns the art of living. Although he has lived with goats throughout his life, he doesn't know how to communicate with them. This doesn't come from arrogance – under the hands of another filmmaker, he might have displayed some reluctance to be in the company of animals day and night. Here, though, there's a genuine gap between what he knows and what he does.
In the opening scenes, Ravi comes across as a person who's emotionally empty. His face shows no signs of restlessness, but later you begin to understand that it's the actor's lack – and not the character's. Tej gets some really chunky lines every so often, but he doesn't spout them with the ferocity of a hungry actor. He seems bored in many places. Did he not want to star in this film for some reason?
The one major attraction of Konda Polam is M. M. Keeravani's fantastic score. If you have the power to consume the movie through your ears, do it. Don't hold yourself back. In fact, Keeravani also worked on Ram Gopal Varma's Kshana Kshanam (1991), which is again set in a forest. But these two dramas cannot be compared on a logical scale. Varma doesn't give two hoots about giving a message, whereas Krish is very much inclined to do so. But I digress.
For a large part of Konda Polam, nothing much happens. The conflict that usually drives the narrative forward is split in two – a tiger and bandits. But they don't alter the landscape of the movie. Even so, Ravi keeps learning in his own way. He starts to appreciate nature and its unpredictability. And this is where the topic of climate change subtly makes an entry. Where will we and our animals go if there are droughts? How can we survive without water?
Krish doesn't answer these questions; he leaves them hanging. Ah, and then there's the romantic track featuring Ravi and Obulamma (Rakul Preet Singh) that refuses to fit in. You don't feel for these two characters, or their closeness, in any manner. Obulamma is yet another Hasini from Bhaskar's Bommarillu (2006). She's always happy and smiling. To be honest, those are really nice qualities, but her personality doesn't rise above them. When a woman is just chirpy in an Indian film, it's safe to say that she's the romantic interest.
Obulamma and Ravi have several conversations throughout Konda Polam, but you won't be able to remember any of them after you walk out of the theatre. On the other hand, you'll reminisce about the characters portrayed by actors, such as Sai Chand, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Mahesh Vitta, etc. The people who take up space in the supporting category do a great job here. They move you in all the ways they can.
Krish's greatest strength since his directorial debut, Gamyam (2008), has been extracting amazing performances. The leads usually shine in his movies, as he makes them swim against the current. I wish he had done that again – he could have pushed his protagonists further into the forest, into the depths of acting, into the soul of what it means to save forests so that the future generations can also benefit from the wonder that is Earth.
Alas, he doesn't. And that's this film's biggest failing.