Depending on one's sensibility, young love can fall on two sides of a coin - on one side is the notion that young love and its depiction is usually an extra saccharine dose of cheesy and manufactured artifice - the land of hallmark gift cards. On the other side is the depiction that is based on staunch belief in unadulterated emotions and the transformative powers that love brings forth. With its premise and storyline, " '96 " could have easily fallen prey to the former but it vehemently endeavors to be an exercise in the latter.
Childhood friends Ram and Jaanu go to the same high school. Over time, Ram realizes he has fallen for Jaanu, she has an inkling of this, and reciprocates the feeling in silence. But Jaanu is not one for sitting in anticipation, so she confronts Ram about his awkwardness around her. As she lays her hand on his chest amidst this conversation, Ram diligently faints away. '96 is the kind of film that believes that, had Ram met Jaanu 20 years later, he would still have the same reaction when she touches him. And he does. But the beauty of the film is in how it convinces us to chuckle heartily at this later reaction, not cringe at it.
Much of Telugu Cinema usually has a dearth of stories to tell. When it does find new stories to tell, it often lacks ingenuity in the narrative. This is a paradox, because the Telugu speaking regions aren't exactly short of stories to tell, proven by how illustrious our newspapers tend to get. Of course, a lot of films have their basis on the hinterlands of these regions. They derive their characters from there, their conflicts, resolutions, and emotions are inspired by them; yet the narrative is usually lost while being translated to formulaic tedium.
Hence, I was naturally elated that, with "Rangasthalam", even commercial Telugu Cinema had found a new language. A much needed, fresher one. Yet, one cannot neglect the feeling that the film, its language, characters, and background still feel like a staging, and not a setting. A well thought out, well executed one, but a staging nonetheless. That is not the case with "C/O Kancharapalem". It is one of those films that feels like the end product of a lifetime spent documenting a region, with a keen eye for events, details, and emotions.
I read somewhere that Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" ends with a freeze frame and that this ending is entirely well deserved, compared to films that exploit that effect as a shortcut to an effective climax. I think it's safe to say that "Aruvi" lies in the same fold as Truffaut's venerable classic - it ends with a freeze frame that is both entirely well deserved and the only way this narrative could have effectively ended without ruining its carefully constructed emotional balance. Let's talk about the narrative first, for which we will have to talk about the film's premise. The film is about small town livelihood disrupted before one's aspirations ever had the chance to achieve clarity, let alone take flight. Aruvi experiences this, and then goes through varied forms of oppression and harassment that society usually offers girls. But then, in a quirky take on karma, she decides to revolt, takes matters into her hands, and churns things up not only for herself but for the folks responsible for her predicament.
Atlantic City says so much about two people in a relationship, without saying too much.
A comedy that is fun, while being just good cinema in the first place.