Director: Praveen Kandregula
Cast: Vikas Vasistha, Sandeep Varanasi, Rag Mayur, Trishara
When Veerababu (Vikas Vasistha) finds a high-end camera mistakenly left behind in his auto, he knows that it's too expensive to belong to anyone in Gollapalli, a nondescript village along the Andhra Pradesh–Karnataka border. With money problems like everyone else, his first instinct is to sell it or rent it out. It's not until Ganapathi (Sandeep Varanasi) tells him that films with Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan are made using such cameras that Veerababu realises he could be making such films too. If this sounds farcical on paper, that's how it looks on screen at first. But Cinema Bandi is rooted and their desperation to make a film is real, however comical it might appear to us. Filmmaking is not just an escape for Veerababu; it's also the only escape from his circumstances.
Now a debut producer assisted by his director and cinematographer Ganapathi, Veerababu begins to scout for talent and locations in his auto (which also doubles up as a caravan). In everything they do, their strategy is a mix of serious planning and plain wrong-headedness. For instance, Ganapathi stops a running auto, gets down, points to a young man and asks: do you want to be in films? That's him probably recreating what read in a film magazine about legendary directors picking actors out of random places. In reality, Ganapathi is the kind of photographer who forgets to include the subject's head in the frame if he's busy with a phone call.
Veerababu and Ganapathi work harder on behaving like expert filmmakers than making a film. They look endearing like a couple of kids who find a few stumps with a barely serviceable bat and try to improvise a limited overs cricket match. All that changes when they find a lead pair: Maridesh Babu (obsessed with being the next Mahesh Babu) and Divya (Trishara).
Our five-member film crew visits what looks like the exact same location each day to shoot various kinds of scenes: romantic, action, sentiment — they all come out wonky. What keeps these sequences watchable without feeling repetitive is the detailing. For instance, there's Maridesh Babu's friend Suri (Anji BK) who appears at intervals, taking his micro arc of the story forward, one amusing line at a time. There's also a kid with a clearer notion of filmmaking than Veerababu and Ganapathi, maybe because he's used to living in a world of make-believe; he's employed as a consultant.
What makes Cinema Bandi a film with an especially large heart, rather than just a commentary on filmmaking is how it gradually brings Gollapalli's existential crisis to the foreground. Veerababu starts off with big goals, but a lot of his stumbling blocks are due to Gollapalli: electricity problems, difficulty casting female roles, opposition from the community. It's in this stretch that the film seamlessly transcends the personal goals of the protagonists and fuses them with those of the community.
Even though we know that cinema might not really be a powerful medium for social change, we still buy into it when Veerababu says that he wants to make films so that Gollapalli can have good roads, schools, and electricity. In his mind, both filmmaking and a better standard of living are dreams; he's just trying the impossible by using one as a means to the other.
Cinema Bandi was never just about the movie that Veerababu was making, Ganapathi was shooting or Maridesh Babu was starring in. The film that Veerababu ends up making is very different from the one he sets out to make: artless, unpolished and unfinished. But the community in Gollapudi watches it and enjoys it — as if it were a Mahesh Babu or Pawan Kalyan film. In that sense, Veerababu did end up making the film he wanted. A Maridesh Babu film with a heart can feel like a Mahesh Babu film.