Bhamakalaapam, On Aha, Is A Philosophical Thriller Where The Philosophy Work More Than Thrills, Film Companion

Cast: Priyamani, John Vijay

Director: Abhimanyu Tadimeti

Which came first? The lost lamb or the egg? Hold this thought we’ll get back to it later. 

Bhamakalaapam is directed by debutante Abhimanyu and presented by Bharat Kamma who previously directed Dear Comrade a film that seemed passionate but dull, made by an eager filmmaker aching to make a relevant movie during the peak of the MeToo movement. I was interested in seeing this fresh directorial voice, and a presenter with a strong progressive voice combine forces with Priyamani who seems to have found fine form with Naarappa and Family Man. The three of them seemed like one of those exciting gambles possible only in an OTT world. 

Bhamakalaapam tells the story of a semi-successful YouTube celebrity chef Anupama (Priyamani) who has an uncontrollable urge to peek into other people’s lives and meddle either through gossip or by directly getting involved. During one such stunt she gets caught up in a murder and the theft of a precious Faberge egg that has the same effect on its bearer as the ring in The Lord of the Rings, in that it heightens their evil side. Does Anupama manage to escape using her wits or like a lamb lost in darkness does she require the lord to save her? How innocent are the residents of Gulmohar Apartments where the film’s plot unfolds?

Like the film’s presenter did in Dear Comrade, Abhimanyu is interested in exploring philosophical quandaries but he shows surprising command over craft despite being a debutante. 

Through Bhamakalaapam, it is evident that he is capable of constructing plot and maintaining interest of the audience while retaining the philosophical questions he wants to ask. He hasn’t passed with flying colors and struggles for balance between philosophy and plot but there is enough to celebrate and be excited to see what he can dish out in the future.

Before I delve into the philosophical explorations of Bhamakalaapam it’s imperative that I point out that Abhimanyu seems to have borrowed heavily from the Nelson Dilipkumar (Kolamaavu Kokila, Doctor) and Sriram Raghvan (Andhadhun, Johnny Gaddaar) school of dark comedy and I mean this as a sincere compliment. Telugu films rarely explore dark comedy and barring Sudheer Varma in Swami Ra Ra and Dochey very few story tellers have ventured into that space successfully. Bhamakalaapam takes brave strides in that direction. Watch the casual way in which a character has a ‘second’ death and the ‘murderer’ seems to have just done a regular domestic chore and goes about their day as the witnesses must now process how much murkier their world has become. Similarly, watch a character maintain a conversation about losing weight while trying to be casual and not flinching at the fact that a dead body is out of its ‘resting place’. That the director seems to be prepared to conjure interesting images and situations for his characters is a welcome sign. 

The director seems to be also prepared to let the camera be fluid and there is flourish in the way he and DoP Deepak Yeragera let the camera pan while also flexing some camera muscles with the dolly zooms, extreme close ups, etc. It’s indulgent at times but that it feels ‘only at times’ is testament to the confidence the director feels for his director of photography. 

But it’s when the film gets into the philosophizing zone that its indulgence gets apparent and jarring. The film wants to ask what is the purpose of religion and God when humans continue to be inherently evil. Evil is not punished and good is not rewarded so isn’t that proof that God is just a bunch of… (forgive me for my sin) bullshit? The film is angry about this. Because it spares nobody. Not Jesus. Not Allah. And neither the pantheon of Hindu Gods, although this film relies more on using Biblical references and a pastor (Kancharapalem Kishore doing his best imitation of Anthony Hopkins’ non-blinking Hannibal Lecter). And the film uses Biblical references of a God and Jesus more directly while the shots at the other religions are a little more subtle, reduced to a Muslim couple in a deranged and abusive relationship or a few Swastika symbols here and there.

Maybe the idea that all of the universe exists within you is a nod to Krishna. Maybe all the countless flawed families of Gulmohar Apartments are stand ins for the crores of Hindu gods living along with one family representing Islam and the pastor representing Christianity. Maybe the world is one big Gulmohar Apartments. But these metaphors and this angst come at the expense of a few characters’ natural progression and reflect some questionable choices made by the director. 

The sequence that leads to the eventual fate of Nayar (John Vijay struggling to find the right tone between slapstick and menacing) works more as a metaphor for ‘hey look what greed does’. Similarly the eventual fate of the pregnant Pallavi (a severely likeable Shanti Rao) works more as a ‘look what religion really does’ and the pregnancy exists somewhere between a gimmick to extract sympathy and as a metaphor to Mary. If you think I’m reading too much into this, Pallavi’s assistant is called Joseph. And when Pallavi confronts the final villain there are pictures of Mary everywhere. Even the non-religious metaphors such as the ease with which the domestic help (Saranya Pradeep) and Anupama’s assistant agree to help her despite the intensity of crime that is asked of them, seem more as a way to say “Look how easily we are attracted to sin” rather than as convincing choices those characters make.

The reason I’m spending so much time critiquing the indulgence in metaphors is because a film like C/O Kancharapalem which took on the might of Hindusim, Islam, and Christianity to make its point about a godless humanity,  managed to perfectly weave plot and character and humour without seeming indulgent. It stayed light and true to its universe rather than its metaphors. Similarly, even Dear Comrade, despite its dullness posed interesting questions about bubbling male rage, social justice and loss of innocence without using its central characters Bobby and Lilly as stand-ins for the director’s opinions or questions. 

But that this is his first film and that Abhimanyu has pieced together a well-crafted film that is worthy of such intense discussion and analysis says there must be a potent filmmaker in him. Like a person opening up for the first time in therapy, he really seems to have let go and one can hope that from his next venture he will be more in control of plot and story. I have hope.

And this notion of hope brings me back to the question that I asked in the beginning. Which came first? The lost lamb or the egg? To answer through the vocabulary of the film’s universe “the lost lamb is god, and it doesn’t exist whereas the egg is humanity which contains the life and meaning of God”. 

If that feels a bit heavy, watch the film as it spends some time explaining that concept. 

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