Do you remember the line “water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink” from “the ancient mariner’s rhyme” by samuel taylor coleridge? when the city is hit by the monsoon and the low-lying neighborhoods are flooded every year, the line assumes more relevance. in a passing scene in the telugu film gamanam by debut writer/director sujana rao, an elderly woman from a slum wonders why water canals are invaded and turned into skyscrapers, leaving no room for rainwater to drain . It’s neither one of the best scenes in the movie nor does the question seem that forceful, but the relevance is hard to miss.
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sujana rao presents three stories spanning age groups and social segments in hyderabad and showing what the flood can mean to different people. water is the ever-present additional character. At first, we see women in a poor neighborhood lining up near a tanker truck to get their daily quota of water. Elsewhere, a young rag picker accidentally finds a bottle of mineral water and hoards it. then the life-giving water threatens to consume some characters, while causing the others to reassess their priorities and break out of their preconceived notions. Deftly tying the stories together is ilaiyaraaja’s background music, poignantly filling scenes with joy, shock, or indicating imminent threat, in a way only he can. there are scenes in which almost nothing is spoken; the words become redundant when the music does the action.
kamala (shriya saran) is a hearing-impaired mother of a baby in a slum, trying to make ends meet while waiting for her husband to return from dubai. set to pathos, it is a story that can be used to emotionally manipulate viewers into feeling sorry for the woman. however, the story moves forward to show how kamala draws on her innate strength to fight for survival. Shriya performs Kamala with conviction, relishing the opportunity to deliver a moving performance. the scene where she reacts to different sounds and then her son’s giggles can bring tears to your eyes and leave you with a smile.
Parallel to this is the story of love and the aspirations of young people. Ali (Shiva Kandukuri) is a cricketer who aspires to be in the Indian team. His humble family background, in contrast to that of his beloved Zara (Priyanka Jawalkar), could have been a normal story of a poor boy and a rich girl. what makes this story interesting is the added layer of ideals his grandparents live by and in turn expect him to follow. charu hasan plays the grandfather with warmth and assertiveness. there is a scene of him cooking for his grandson and pushing his wife away from the kitchen. the movie shines at times like these. The conflict scene between Zara’s father (Sanjay Swaroop) and Ali’s family could have been handled better. its clumsy start is somewhat saved by the performance of charu hasan.
The third story is about two street kids who are rag pickers; nameless people in the flourishing metropolis. again, this could have been a cloying, tear-jerking story, but it is told with warmth. there are enough scenes to portray their innate helplessness, in contrast to children growing up in sheltered homes. the story depicts how these guys, instead of wallowing in self-pity, try to make things work. the casting works to the benefit of the film, with the child actors putting on effective performances.
shiva kandukuri and priyanka jawalkar also make their presence felt seriously. nithya menen appears in a cameo at a crucial moment. one of the big disappointments, however, is how a great actor like suhas is wasted in the role of a friend. after the color photo and the family drama, he feels like a crime to waste it.
When the deluge strikes, characters are pushed over the edge and forced to hit well beyond their weight. the stories become predictable and emotional. signs planted much earlier are an indication of things to come. the clay ganeshas in the case of street children and from the beginning, all claiming that he will be written about in the newspapers, for example. smarter writing might have circumvented predictability.
gamanam doesn’t live up to its potential as an absorbing survival drama. but despite the predictable rough edges and pitfalls, it stands its ground and tells stories with conviction, and marks the arrival of yet another new director who isn’t afraid to go against the mainstream Telugu film tropes.