Prasthanam - Movie Review

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie Name: Prasthanam
Language: Telugu
Director: Deva Katta
Starring: Sai Kumar, Sharwanand, Sandeep Kishan, Jeeva, Jai Prakash Reddy, Ruby Parihar, Surekha Vani etc
Cinematography: Shyam Dutt
Music: Mahesh Shankar

Spolier Alert: Some spoilers ahead, suspense and climax are not revealed but may spoil some fun while watching.

In our life we face moral dilemmas, we are constantly forced to pick sides or make choices. Love, Emotions and Duty conflict and make us oscillate between choices. Life also provides us rare opportunities, tantalizing prospects, which are just one immoral choice away. Men are defined by the decisions they take during such times, which alter the very course of their lives and of those intertwined with them. And when confronted with the truth, despite all our excuses and reasons, our conscience knows the true nature of us. Deva Katta's Prasthanam is about all of the above, it is an engrossing family drama, with a dose of political machinations and questions on life thrown in.

The Story: A family patriarch and a much loved local leader who was elected unopposed for many years suddenly faces competition from an upstart, who is a local liquor contractor and a goon. When the patriarch choses to retire from public life than face a potentially ugly electoral battle, his son steps up to take his place and fight the election, despite his father's advice to the contrary who feels his son with a young family is better off not getting into the murky world of politics. The son is supported in this endeavour by his loyal friend Lokanatham/Loki (Sai Kumar). During the campaign, the son of attacked by the contractor and his goons and he dies enroute to being taken home. An enraged Loki and his close friend, Basha extract revenge and kill the contractor. The patriarch is devastated by the loss of his only son and seeing the prospects of an insecure life for his young daughter in law and little grand children, extracts promise from Loki to become his son and marry his widowed daughter in law. Loki reluctantly agrees and inherits a son, Mitra and a daughter. Mitra, seeing Loki avenge his father's death devotes himself to Loki and adores him while the daughter, being more elder and perhaps not coming to terms with her own father's death and an outsider beside her mother, starts hating him. Loki and family leave, along with his own friends to make a better life in Vijayawada.

The story now shifts to Vijayawada. Loki is shown to now have a blood son through his wife, in addition to Mitra and the daughter. Loki quickly rises to become the MLA and is shown to be fighting for the cause of justice and the poor people earning him the MLA seat repeatedly. His sudden rise, him being an outsider and his rubbing some big people the wrong way earn him enemies who plot his downfall. Chief among those are BasiReddy (Jeeva) and Bangaru Naidu (Jaiprakash Reddy). On the family front, Mitra (Sharwanand) grows up to become a trusted confidante of his father, alongside his father's friend Basha and others. He also enjoys a great following among his father's friends who clearly see him as their beloved leader's heir and as their next leader, especially seeing that Loki is planning his succession and grooming Mitra to take over after him. Loki's own son Chinna (Sandeep Kishan) is now grown up and in college. The daughter hates Loki even now, she hates her mother even more for bearing a child for Loki. She is estranged and lives with her husband, kid and husband's sister. The only link between the two families is Mitra.

Deva Katta sets up the movie brilliantly now. Chinna becomes an angry young man, who sees himself as a rightful heir to his father. He also despises Mitra for his closeness to his father and his father's succession plans and advice to Chinna to go into business and leave politics to Mitra. Chinna feels he should become the next leader, while Loki tells him leadership is to be earned and not given as a gift or a legacy. He also hates Mitra for trying to correct him and mend his ways, seeing these as attempts to discourage him and undermine him. One day he accidentally kills his girl friend and seeks help from his father and his sister (who is the doctor who does the post mortem on his girlfriend) to bail him out. Loki's rivals who see an opportunity to get even with Loki begin their machinations.

What follows is a brilliantly written and wonderfully acted family drama where the strength of each character and his own ideals is tested. Loki, who is shown to be absolutely sure of himself, his own ideals and beliefs, now starts wavering. Mitra, who shares the same ideals and beliefs of his father is now forced to confront a new reality. Chinna, burning with jealously, anger and hatred threatens to bring down everything Loki has created and nurtured. As the movie hurtles towards a brilliant climax, Deva Katta choses to reveal more truths which changes the entire basis of the movie.

SaiKumar as Loki
Sai Kumar is brilliant as Loki and his character perhaps has the most scope out of all characters in the movie. He goes through the entire range of emotions in the movie and nails each one. He also gets the best dialogues in the film and who better than the master of dialogue delivery to belt those out. Seeing him in this role, one cant escape the feeling that Sai Kumar should have chosen to do more such roles instead of Hero roles. But this is a brilliant turn for him, and hopefully he gets more such chances.
Sharwanand as Mitra
Sharwanand has this terrific ability of picking wonderful movies and roles to star in (after Vennela, Gamyam, Amma Cheppindi). More than the ability, one needs to appreciate his conviction to do the kind of roles that complete him as an actor instead of joining the rat race for super stardom like the star sons. His character does not have the same breadth as that of Sai Kumar, but is still a powerful role, that of an idealistic young man who has absolute conviction in his own beliefs but which are tested by the very same people he has learnt them from. He carries off the role effortlessly, underplaying crucial scenes, which in my opinion show the anguish and trauma he is going through.
Sandeep Kishan as Chinna
All those wannabe young actors out there be very jealous of this kid. He gets a cracker of a role in his first movie (or one of his first, I am not sure) and he lives the dream in this one. His character is one-dimensional, his emotions are jealousy, anger and hatred. But that doesn't mean its easy. Its sometimes more difficult to play a character which has more depth than breadth. He nails it to perfection as a burning young man consumed by his his own fears and insecurities.
The rest
This is one movie which gives ample scope for each character. Except the heroine and Mitra's side kick, everyone else including the mother, the daughter, Loki's confidantes, the rivals including Jeeva get meaty roles which run the length of the film and are all well acted. It is to Deva Katta's credit that he manages to make the story engrossing by involving everyone in the plot.

Technical Aspects:
The heart of the movie is the story, its body is a brilliant premise and a cracker of a climax, while the actors are the blood. The dialogues are terrific at places, especially those between the 3 main characters. By terrific I do not mean, the roaring punch dialogues of Paruchuri brothers. They are more like the thoughtful, philosophical dialogues of Trivikram Srinivas. For example, Mitra is beaten up in front of Loki, who talks of Dharma and says his Dharma is to protect his son, Mitra touches his feet and says that as far as he is concerned Loki is his father. I will be doing an injustice if I try to translate them from the original Telugu. The background score by Mahesh Shankar and the cinematography by Shyam Dutt are excellent and complement the story well. The background score especially maintains the intensity of the movie.

Having said all that, there are a few things that Deva Katta should have taken care of. The first glaring issue is the comedy track (with Vennela Kishore), which should have been removed totally. The comedy track with Jaya Prakash Reddy at least fits in a bit with the main story but Vennela Kishore's track is not needed, especially because it reduces the intensity at crucial moments and increases the length. The same can be said about the romantic thread and the heroine. I have heard that a couple of songs were cut after release which is a good decision given the length of the movie. But in the end I am only nit picking, and I understand that directors have to live with the pressures to make their films commercially viable. Despite this, Prasthanam is an immensely watchable movie.

Bottom Line:
Deva Katta should be applauded for taking his time after Vennela and chosing a nice story. He could have chosen to make a Hero centric story and commercialize it as there is scope for it, but he instead chose to make it more realistic and focus on the emotions of the characters. A pat on the backs of the producers who believed in the director and gave him the freedom to make it on his own terms. Directors like Deva Katta, Chaitana Dantuluri (of Banam fame), Sai Kiran Adivi (of Vinayakudu fame), Krish Jagarlamudi (of Gamyam fame) etc should be encouraged to come up with movies like these. We need them as much as we need star directors like Puri Jagannath, SS Rajamouli and co.

I don't believe in rating movies using stars as it takes away the enjoyment of the film and passes judgement about films and makes comparisons over a quarter or half point. You can also take the easy route and just rate the film between 3-3.5 out of 5 and don't expose yourself to criticism. Ratings are a bad way to assess a movie, yes they are objective but they don't tell the full story. I will only say that I strongly recommend the movie for the brilliant story, wonderful acting, philosophical and deep dialogues and an ingenious climax.

Much has been said and written about the Telugu audiences and how they do not appreciate good stories and only care for the bigger stars and their mass masala movies. In my opinion, that is not a correct assessment. Most of the non - mass masala hit movies are rejected by the audiences because they are poorly written and are formulaic. If directors and script writers can come up with good stories, ingenious plot lines, taut screen plays and if producers have the guts to back them and market the movies well, there is no reason why Telugu audiences wont appreciate and accept such movies. If you deliver mediocrity, after a while the acceptance standards fall. But if you provide choice and make intelligent movies, with in a good budget and market them well then such movies will also be commercially viable and critical successes as well.

Tail Piece:
If you are in India watch it on the big screen, but like me if you are at a place where the only access to Telugu movies is through high speed Internet access, I urge you to watch the official online version of the movie available here:
You can watch if for just $ 1.99, which is a pittance and in fact less than what you would pay for a multiplex ticket in India. There are obviously choices to watch it free, but if we encourage film makers to make available their movies in this way, we can get to watch official, high quality versions and reduce piracy. Who knows, a day might not be far away when a Mahesh Babu or Ram Charan Teja or a Jr NTR movie (or another Prasthanam or another Banam or another Gamyam) will be available in this fashion, first day first show. Why watch shoddy/unclear pirated versions for free when the alternative is to watch official versions for less than a ticket price in India? I take this opportunity to thank Deva Katta, the producers and Rajshri who had the foresight to make this medium of distributing films available to us 'telugu cinema pichollu'.