Bathukamma – Telangana film జూన్ 24, 2008Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Art, Bathukamma, Culture, Identity, Telangana.
Bathukamma: Will we see more of Telangana cinema?
-K Naresh Kumar
Bathukamma – the film created on the platform of a popular ladies’ festival in Telangana is actually a red herring. Using the popular religious sentiment and generously soaking up the songs and customs associated with the event, Bathukamma actually talks about the burning issue of statehood, quest for its independence and its hoary past of victimization. This 15-reeler is a lone arrow that has been shot into the dark jungle infested with a set of its formidable foes united in their purpose to thwart any threat to their hegemony.
Unless the arrow is shot from an archer of Arjuna’s versatility, it is bound to be countered easily by the rival groups. Nevertheless, it is a sensational beginning where a Telugu film speaks a different dialect. Not surprising, it appeals to a region comprising over three- crore population. If one may say so, this effort is like a Bhojpuri film launched along its better-known, lavishly mounted big brother variety – the Hindi films- and giving a tough fight at the box-office. Are we seeing a new beginning?
It is indeed surprising how this single act, laden with a focus and purpose of achieving one’s objective can transmit an eye-catching, soul capturing appeal. This small film Bathukamma (small only with reference to its budget and star cast) was released in a single screen in one of the oldest surviving single-screen theatres – Venkatesa. It has kept on going, capitalizing on its superb timing of release on May 1 (nearly a month before the by elections) and as I write this, is well on to its ninth week charging up a modest audience watching it.
What is its appeal?
Before one comes to this, a little bit of history would help. South India has seen actors turning politicians and vice-versa. The bahurupi culture has been seen in Tamil and Telugu films for a long time now. Quite unsurprisingly, the masks keep changing of these actor-turned-politician types even in political fields too. So films with a blatant political message or spouting/supporting a particular political ideology have been releasing regularly in cinema theatres for over five decades. Some have made it, while many sank because of their sheer tedium and single-track monotony of political propagandizing.
Bathukamma too starts jerkily and the characters, drawn from real life, are terribly camera-conscious and makes one feel that the film may end up being hopelessly amateurish. Slowly, the effect works on the viewer. Characters speak the Telangana dialect and unlike the normal Telugu films where such speakers are either villains or comedians, here the atmosphere is serious. No known faces, except the protagonist – Bathukamma – played well by Sindhu Tolani, a Sindhi actress indigenised for the cause. To its credit, the film sticks to the dialect (quite correctly referred to by the heroine as their language and the need to protect it from outside domination and decimation during the film climax) and it jells.
The film’s format is comforting for a normal commercial film patron. There is a scenario, which cries for change, there are the good people, the innocent people who clamour and endeavour to get it done, there are the villains and double-crossing types who almost succeed in preventing it from happening. Alongside this is the inter-woven real life scenario of Maoist incursions, encounters, belt shop atrocities and a cautious debate on how the ‘outsiders’ have worked to develop Telangana for exploiting it further and ignoring the claims of the locals. In short, a heroine, a villain and after a long –drawn battle, a happy ending with the villain repenting and the heroine smiling into the camera. One wonders why this cautious approach was adopted. Was it because the film producer is an ex-MLA?
More can be done if popular cinema should be used by the votaries of Telangana separatism to advocate their cause. Already, there have been sporadic attacks over this very medium by the other side. In films like Operation Duryodhana and Dhee, two popular films of 2007 the alleged derogatory references to Telangana were vociferously protested. In one more film, the issue of whether Telangana as a state will ever emerge was considered one of the biggest jokes by the onscreen characters, who were incidentally popular comedians.
Hero Junior NTR, who is now back in active circulation after a hibernating phase, in his recent film Kantri spouts loaded dialogues during his swashbuckling entry on the screen for the first time in the film. NTR, who is now contracted by the Nandamuri family to work for the Telugu Desam party, talks about his invincibility in bashing up villains even as he pedals a cycle – all because the humble cycle has brought about path-breaking changes in Andhra Pradesh (Thatha, bagunnaava?).
Something like this and a concerted attempt like the neighbouring state Dravidian parties using their ideology as a bedrock of their films can work well. The Telangana film viewer is evolved and is a great lover of popular cinema. Till date, the power of the visual medium is very strong. What prevents the Telangana supporters from creating and releasing films, which sponsor their cause of a separate state?
Bathukamma may have made the first ripple. The conditions are favourable for films with a typically local flair, a sort of niche market, if one may add. The city of Hyderabad was awash with Dakhani Hindi films not too long ago and too much of it killed the curiosity of the Hyderabadi. But what got established was that such films had their own draw at the cash counters.
As evinced earlier, Bhojpuri films have become a rage and this genre has taken on the might of Hindi films across a large section of UP, Bihar and Nepal. So much so, popular actors hailing from this region – Amitabh Bachchan for one – takes time off to speak the local dialect much to the delight of his Bhaiyya fans.
Will Telangana films co-exist with the Telugu films?