Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Golconda High School - My View

So the movie is finally out and I got to see it. My first reaction when I saw the movie at the Vizag premiere was similar to what I experienced when I saw 'Ashta Chamma' - I was lost for words. The movie kept playing in my head, bothering me, asking questions of me. The next morning was when I think it actually settled down into me and I got comfortable with it. It was also then that I realised that Mohana Krishna Indraganti makes movies that do not really fit into the pattern of movies  that you are used to. His movies are different, his presentation is different. He believes in making meaningful cinema that entertains - a difficult responsibility to take in a world that is used to shortcuts. In an industry that is too scared to take the slightest risk (despite the BO record that shows that it is risky to continue in their formulaic path), in a creative space that is too lazy to think of something intelligent, original and meaningful. Now the industry is again used to use existing formulas, sequences, ideas without any remorse or responsibility under the guise of commercialism. Naturally a Mohana Krishna movie will disturb, will leave you with little to hold on to just as Govind Nihalani did, a Raykesh Mehra did, a Christopher Nolan did. They get into your mind in some way and stay there, disturb existing patterns, open up new thoughts, new vistas.

This is a film with balls. It is about never giving up. The aggression in the film is evident in the performers eyes, the music, the story. An aggression that says whatever happens 'Get Up' again. So Mikey gets up for his team and his school, Sid comes out to bat with a damaged hand for his team and  his school, Gautam holds all his nerve together for the same cause, Sampath, Vishwanath Sharma, Anjali, Jani Miya and everyone in the team does the same - get together to fight something bigger, something that will consume a philosophy if they did not stand up then. This is what aggression is to me and the speech that Sampath gives in the dressing room, one of the finest I have heard in a sports drama, really epitomises what aggression is. I am reminded of Javagal Srinath, India's bowling spearhead for many years, who said something to this effect - "To me aggression is not running up to the batsman and glaring at him or swearing at him. Aggression to me is winning the battle." And Srinath always had the best batsmen hopping in the crease even though he never looked them in the eye. The great West Indian quartet never sledged either - but they did bowl at speeds that made Rodney Marsh, the Aussie wicket keeper, wake up at night in fear.

GHS to me is a movie that drips with such stuff, all of which destroy your conventional idea of movies where aggression, romance, titillation are presented differently. It would be a classical mistake to try and fit it into a pattern you know, because it does not. To jump up and say hey this is Chak De or Lagaan would be really lazy writing or reviewing because all that is similar between this movie and them and any other sports drama films is the structure. An underdog team, a coach who has a past, a comeback against odds and a final heave to either victory or a loss, but one with redemption and growth and the display of character (which is why well made sports drama beats everything else). This structure is as common as having two people falling in love in a love story. What is important is what the director does with the two people is important in a love story, just as how the coach makes the boys win is important and that is where this movie is different from any other sports movie I have seen.

How does one make anyone believe in a cause? By making it their own. So the first thing that is different about the process of winning is that Sampath, against all logic, delivers the dream to the boys and says - this is your dream. (Which means no credit for me.) And once it is yours, be it a book, a house, a school, a nation, you will fight tooth and nail for it. Now most sports drama focuses on hard work, discipline, team work, leadership etc which is an essential part of winning but to me what again makes the GHS campaign different from normal adrenalin driven sports is that it is a cold blooded, planned campaign. 'You must practice with a view to improve, not just practice mindlessly' says Sampath - what one can do with anything in life to get results. 'You must work hard, not merely pray. You must go beyond other people's expectations and mostly you must believe in yourself,' is something that anyone can use in their life, be it a project or a match. 'What happens in a team stays in a team,' is another wonderful line that epitomises the spirit of team spirit, of sticking together. So Sampath steps back, urges the boys to dream, hands them the dream and merely guides them as they touch a higher frequency in their quest to better themselves. And that is what gives them the depth of character, to always get up, to become men in the face of the biggest adversities. 'No one can beat them,' says Sampath at the end of the movie. 'Never.' And that I think is what education should be about - the building of character. The process of the boys owning their dream, the transfer of the dream, the space given to the boys to grow are all important and delicate parts in the movie that are extremely well handled.

Any coach or teacher has this challenge. Of how much to let go and when. It is easy to say that the student is not ready and keep on controlling them which is what many ordinary teachers do. But the true and secure teacher who is interested in the growth and welfare of the student, knows that the student is capable of much more if they are trusted and believed in, if they are nurtured.  To believe in them when it is easy to hold on to control is a sign of a man who is immensely secure, who is more interested in the students, who can achieve miracles with his team. And by letting go of control, Sampath holds everything together. The paradox of life - just as one cannot clutch at water to hold it, let it lie in your palm and it stays there. Mohan brought this out extremely well, Sumanth to me epitomised the coach who has only his students best interests in mind, the kids showed that they believed in all they did, Swati played the ideal support to Sumanth which is important in this context because a man who has taken such a big gamble needs a sounding board surely.

But before that what are good movies about? Movies are about entertainment. That is number one criteria for a good movie. Now within this context you can make entertaining movies that are either meaningful or not meaningful. In the above two categories, making entertaining and meaningful cinema to me scores much higher than the other simple because it needs a lot more intelligence and a sense of responsibility to society that are tied along with the 'commercial aspects' of entertainment. Now to me 'commercial aspects' mean engrossing entertainment for the movie length - not merely fights, blood, gore, sex, item songs etc. You can entertain the audience at the level or you could choose to address the audience's intelligence instead of all that is below the waist.

Now, the verdict. Has Mohana Krishna made an entertaining film. Yes, undoubtedly. Has he made a meaningful cinema? Yes. Has he shown the development of character well? Yes. Has he shown cricket well, the toughest game to pass muster in our country, convincingly and credibly? Yes. Has he highlighted an important issue and the development of character? Yes. Has he brought out performances in all? Yes. Does the screenplay bore you anytime? No. Has he brought out the best in his technicians? Yes. Is this a movie that movie goers would like their families and their children to see to learn hat character building is about? Yes. Has he taken on many daunting firsts for the Telugu audience -a full fledged cricket drama, an full fledged adaptation of a English novel? Yes. What else? Good enough for me. How many movies can lay claim to this? Not many. So take a bow Mohan along with your entire team. It's been as rediff says, a brilliant job. A 4.25/5 from me. And 0.25 for the sheer effort of handling the subject well, the boys and the entire plot.

For all those who are obsessed with comparisons with Chak De and Lagaan and other sports films, I would urge them to view this movie with a different lens. Now don't worry about the structure, about the clothes, about similarities because they are inherent to this genre. Now look for what is deeper, what is not similar. This genre itself. Look for what he has made for Telugu cinema. You will enjoy the movie ten times more.

Will only commercial cinema make money? Of course, this is a commercial venture and it will make money. And it will make far more money than some that pass of as 'commercial cinema' by degrading humans, women, values in the name of fun, romance, comedy. Because deep down I believe, audiences are far more intelligent than they are given credit for. Like they say, they know what they want.

Sometimes I wonder what a movie like this would have done to me when I was a youngster. We grew up starved of inspirational movies. So the western movies, be it war movies or Bruce Lee or the Rocky series, gave us a glimpse into what it is about pursuing your passions, your dreams. I can only think of the kid in the theatre who watches the movie and says - hey, if they can dream, maybe I can. If they can plan, maybe I can. If they never give up and cross the line, maybe I can too. That, I am sure, is what many viewers will say they experienced. And Mohana Krishna Indraganti and your team, that, is a huge achievement!

In my opinion, no one has made a film like Golconda High School in Telugu cinema yet.

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