Director: Hemambar Jasti
Cast: Vetri, Mumtaz Sorcar, Ayra, Deepann, Sonia Giri
The most important scene in Venkatesh Maha's directorial debut, C/o Kancharapalem (2018), arrives somewhere in the middle of the film. There's a nice build-up to it – a middle-aged woman (played by Radha Bessy) asks a middle-aged man (played by Subba Rao) if he can accompany her to a temple.
They both work at the same office and that's how they are acquainted. She's new to the town and, moreover, she doesn't speak the local language of that state (Telugu) well. She knows that she can rely upon this uncomplicated man, however. He readily agrees, and, the next day, he chaperones her. When they climb the unruly stairs to the temple, which is atop a hill, he lends her his shoulder for her to lean on. She's tired, but he's raring to go. You have to remember that it was originally her idea to pay a visit to the temple. The scene then cuts to show the woman and the man seated across from each other. They are going to have a conversation.
There, she asks him about his refusal to enter the shrine. After all, he was excited to lead the way! Why didn't he go in?
He tells her sardonically that he doesn't believe in God. It's a revelation, for we haven't seen this side of his personality yet. She doesn't understand how people can live without believing in the concept of God for a second, so she continues to drill him about his belief system. He laughs, like a saint, and says he believes in people instead; he's a rationalist. He goes on to drop some truth-bombs regarding the community of people – and humanity – that has helped him during tough times.
You'll only be able to grasp the significance of this superbly written scene in the climax because that's when the movie falls into place. It's not a thriller as such, but it's surely a jigsaw puzzle and the final piece makes a grand entry only in the final scene.
The rationality versus faith debate in the Tamil remake C/O Kaadhal, which is streaming on Netflix now, quickly passes by and the characters do not get any time to taste their words. This is, in no way, a purposeless remake. Some of the actors from the original have been roped in to reprise their roles and they bring the same amount of magic to the screen. There are many broad strokes that have been lifted from the Telugu film to paint the different threads of love here. But there's still a gnawing vacuity at the heart of it all.
This is the sort of film for which quotes like "Love rules the world" are made. The tagline also says, "Love has no age." Indeed, indeed. The story follows four boys who belong to different age groups. Their experiences range from falling truly and madly in love with girls, who belong to different age groups (even different castes and religions), and learning to nurse their wounds when they don't get the opportunity to savor the fruits of companionship.
The pick of the cast is Vetri who stars as a thirty-something fellow, named Thaadi. Thaadi works at a liquor store and his job is really simple. He has to serve liquor to the people who throng the shop. And that's where he meets the apple of his eye, Salima (Mumtaz Sorcar). With all the courage he gathers from gulping down a few glasses of an alcoholic beverage, he tells Salima that he loves her. He hasn't seen her face so far. He has just seen the parting between her forehead and her nose. She wears a hijab that covers the bottom half of her face.
He soldiers on despite discovering her line of work. There are many signs to show that he's a school dropout. Why else would he be working at a liquor store? But he's a liberal who theoretically places his faith in dignity and equality. He may not have studied those subjects in school. He may not have heard of the term "feminism" either, but he's always ready to absorb the complexities of life.
In The Good Place (also streaming on Netflix), created by Michael Schur, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a woman who was raised in a middle-class family, argues that she could master the art of thinking on her feet because of the struggles she had had to overcome in her childhood. Maybe, Thaadi, too, had his share of problems while growing up.
Indian cinema shies away from focusing on middle-aged love stories even though most of its male stars are in their middle-age. Some of them are senior citizens, as well. But writers and directors do not take us into their world. What can we do when actors who are sixty and above also play thirty-year-olds? Well, that's why we need to embrace films like C/o Kancharapalem – and C/O Kaadhal.