Director: Ravi Kiran Kola
Cast: Kiran Abbavaram, Rahasya Gorak, Rajkumar Kasireddy, Yazurved Gurram
When I watched the trailer, I thought the film is a rehash of Premam in some form or way. I was wrong, they both are two very different films. I am only realising now that when I thought, 'It looks like Premam', what I really meant is, 'It looks just as beautiful.' And it does. The two Godavaris are rarely unpleasant to look at, but their beauty in the middle of the rainy season is something else altogether.
At the very beginning, the film, among many others, thanks Nature—in capital letters. An interesting choice, is it not? To thank something that is always there, something that does not care. But soon enough you realise why Ravi Kiran, the writer-director, does this. Raja Vaaru Rani Gaaru is not a film that can afford to gloss over the place it is set in. In fact, it gets most of its strength from the place and people populating it. Shot exclusively in a village (Mandapeta or Kapileswarapuram, I am not sure) belonging to the East Godavari district, the sprawling coconut trees and the generous Godavari splitting herself into small streams of lively energy are the things that keep the audience engaged when the film hits an occasional lull.
The film has a paper-thin premise, some might even call it silly. Raja (Kiran Abbavarm) knows that he loves Rani (Rahasya Gorak) even before he knew what love is, but finds it painfully impossible to express it to her. That is all there is to it and if it is set in any place other than a seemingly wide yet unyielding village, it would be impossible to buy into it. Then again you wouldn't expect a film like this to discuss, even in passing, the genetic issues that may arise if you marry your first cousin, but it does.
A great way to understand a director's aptitude is to watch a film of his that has no story to speak of. By seeing how, then, he/she chooses to fill two long hours without a conflict in sight tells you all there is to know about their talent for storytelling. For a debutant, Ravi Kiran does this effortlessly. He employees a screenplay that is not always linear, what more, we don't even realise its twisted nature until we are done with the flashback—one such great choices is the song that comes immediately after the title. Viplav Nyshadam's editing is brilliant. There is really no need to move between timelines, but the kinetic nature of such a screenplay can, and does, fool you into thinking that there is more to a story than there is. Not just that, he employees small devices that make great impact. We have heard voice-overs that convey a scene's motive, but here a contextualised pravachanam from a temple's loudspeaker does that for you.
The filmmaker is aware that he has a stiff story and a stiffer hero, so he chooses to focus elsewhere. This is where the two friends come into play. We aren't even told their names—one is called Chaudhari (Rajkumar Kasireddy) and the other Naidu (Yazurved Gurram), but they are the ones that we connect with most. They are not any different from the village-friend template—bad at studies, rich, and jobless—but everything they do and say, inexplicably, feels unique and leaves you grinning. There is a similar 'vithanam' gaff that goes the same way Sharukh's Zero does—'Sperm chote padgaye'—but it is so well-delivered by Rajkumar that I had to laugh. The supporting cast is the film's lifeblood. Raja is not uninteresting, he is just frustratingly inflexible. We slowly understand him and his fear, but until we do Kiran Abbavaram's anxious , earnest, and helpless looks keep us invested. Rahasya's Rani, even though a vital character, is, understandably, not given as much screen-time but she is perfect as this woman we are supposed to look at through Raja's eyes.
When someone says village, a stereotypical image comes to mind, one that is filled with lush greens and fertile browns. These do exist in the film, but Vidyasagar Chinta and Amardeep Guttula go beyond what 'Nature' provides to imbibe colour into their beautiful frames. A pink plastic cover, a freshly washed buffalo—no other black can ever be so vivid, a mustardy-yellow shirt on the hero standing in front of a dark wall, nothing is spared or discarded. When a phone that is not supposed to break, expectedly breaks, so does the screen. It's interactive enough without having to be flashy or distracting. Music by Jay Krish is another aspect of the film that is worth noting. There are more than four songs in the films—and even though they feel like they are dragging the story, they are highly enjoyable and experimental. But I was more impressed by the BGM and its sly manipulations. An ordinary scene becomes anything but in its presence.
Raja is a rigid human being—'You only speak with your eyes', Rani even complains without complaining. So much so that he won't even write his own love letter, his friends do—they do everything, for him and for the film. The film does test your patience after a point, and the fact that it doesn't happen sooner is a compliment to the filmmaking. After all, you have been asked to spend more than two hours with, not the man, but his seemingly dispensable agony. But when THE moment finally arrives, it feels that much more personal. It is raining and you feel like the downpour is lifting a weight off your shoulder. Chaudhary says and I am paraphrasing, a love that stops short of expression is love too. And a story that deals with it deserves to be told, even if an average viewer is not used to, or appreciative of, the dawdling pace and pregnant pauses that accompany it.