Monday, January 29, 2007

16.Radha Gopalam

While writing the foreword for SriSri's landmark publication "mahaa prasthaanam" in 1946, chalam wrote "kavitwaanni kOlichae raaLLu tana daggara laevannaDu chalam." (He does neither have the yardsticks nor the benchmarks to measure poetry) when SriSri asked him to pen the foreword, to which chalam wrote SriSri replied "parvaalaedu, anubhavinchi, palavarinchamannaaDu" (That's ok, feel it first and then verbalize your feeling (translated loosely)). The scale to size up and measure up a piece of art is most often a non-deterministic entity. When the same single thought is attempted through a variety of expressions (of art, in this case, like a variation of movement of an instrument in music, like an extra stroke of the brush in painting, like an underplay or overplay of emotion in theater), the same yardstick does not hold good to each of those expressions, whereby, what is excessive for music in bringing out that emotion might be an underplay in the theater, what is underplay in the theater might be too loud in painting. And this is, looking at art as a whole. The same principle applies to the movies too, with all its different genres, all its theatricality and dramatics, along with all its subtleties and variations. As an example, take 2 comedy movies - one which plays extremely straight, relying on the situations to prop up the humor and the other relying on over-dramatics to convey the expression. The audience might respond to both the movies quite favorably, inspite of the loud dramatics in the latter and the subdued nature of the humor in the former, only because, the yardsticks that it uses to evaluate both the forms (loud and subtle) within the same genre (comedy) are as different as night and day.

First things first, "raadhaa gOpaaLam" is a ballet played in an operatic style. It is a strict 2 person piece played over a typical 3 act (setup, rift and resolution) routine. But the usual Bapu's trademarks, which are subdued in most of his previous ventures, are pronounced, dramatic and very elaborate here. It shows the confidence of the maker when he takes the 3 act form and tinkers with the length of each act so that the setup seamlessly flows into the rift and the resolution arrives right on the heels on second act. During the setting up of each of the act, rules and guidelines (of the conventional telugu movie format) dictate a maximum of half an hour's time be allocated to each of the above, so that each segment would get its due time to cover all the items on the agenda and hand over the baton to the next segment in a nice and a timely fashion. Bapu treads the dangerous ground by throwing these protocols to the wind, spending more time in the setup before the second act gets underway, spends even more time in the second act before confidently declaring that the conclusion is way too obvious and hence there is need not for further elaboration and exposition. "Deus ex machina", as defined by Websters, is when in a Greek and Roman drama, a God lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or relieve the protagonist from a difficult situation. Bapu adapts the concept beautifully to the conclusion and lays to rest all the doubts and fears in both the lead characters mind and calls it "krishNa maaya". In all its different styles, "raadhaa gOpaalam" is probably the most difficult and ambitious of all Bapu's works, closely following his other operatic venture "sitaa kaLyaaNam"

Equally challenging was Ramana's task to script such an experimental theme. In order to set a proper tone for the script, he chose to fall back upon his long-and-oft-forgotten forte, his short stories. Borrowing just the title from his short story series "raadhaa gOpaaLam", which dealt with the days before, during and after the marriage of the couple in question, their travails adjusting to the early days of marriage and their tribulations with the society around, Ramana extends the series with the script, giving the same episodic feel of the short story to each scene (which explains the length of the most of the scenes running to well over 10 mins, in some cases), a short conclusion at the end of each scene and then a fresh start, a fresh problem, and a new conclusion in the following one. The plot device of using a mythological character (used in his previous ventures like buddhimantuDu, muthyaala muggu, peLLeeDu pillalu etc), Lord Krishna in this case, as a voice of reason and an act of conscience helps in neatly explaining the seemingly sudden and abrupt solutions to the wild ego and mood swings of the lead character. Case in point, Lord Krishna warns gopaaLam that he would take away radha immediately on a contract breach involving showcasing his male ego and flaunting his chauvinistic instincts. When gopaaLam prides himself and condescendingly explains "aedO nee moguDi pedda manasutO ilaa lawyer avagaligaavu kaani", Lord Krishna immediately makes raadha disappear, which makes gOpaalam tearfully change his stance and statement to "aedO nee moguDi prOdbalam tO ilaa pedda lawyer vi ayi". Instant problem, instant resolution. Brevity is certainly the soul of his wit.
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Now comes the even tougher part of enacting the over the top dramatics and nailing on the head the mood of the dramatics. That is the fundamental difference between a still picture and a motion picture. Take any Bapu cartoon (or for that matter, any cartoon strip) exaggeration (atisayOkti) plays a key role in enhancing the imagery in question. An overplay is an exaggerated overplay, an underplay is an understated underplay. The moods usually restrict themselves to the extremes and seldom move towards the center. Srikanth, more than Sneha, understands the exact requirements of this character, that it is more a caricature, an extension to the cartoon, an improvement of a short story protagonist (which in Ramana's usual tone is often caricatured), that he has to work with than a real life character. Consequently, the loud guffaws, the amazing excitements, the wild ego trips and all such basic emotions get greatly magnified in the portrayal. As a balancing act, Sneha remains the demure raadha completely contrasting gOpaaLam's wild histrionics, and both the actors come out successfully walking on this thin rope. Mani Sarma's poetic music enhances Veturi's and Jonnavitthula's words. Way back in the days, Ramana penned a rare song "maeDa meeda maeDa kaTTi kOTlu kooDa beTTina kaamandu" for "praeminchu chooDu". He picks up the poetic pen all over again and comes with an even more funny "toli kODi koosenu telavaara vachchaenu marukaeLI chaalinchi nidurapO" to lyricize the left over verbalizations between a just married couple who could not keep their hands off each other. In all, "raadha gOpaaLam" is a bravura exercise in style and presentation, adding new definitions to the movie art form that is more picture book than it is motion picture.

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