Ms. Representation: Screen Presence
With Sai Pallavi’s Bhanumathi in Fidaa, Sekhar Kammula brings back to the screens, everyday divas à la the ones in his first two films – Anand and Godavari
In Sekhar Kammula’s first Telugu romance film, the caffeinated, colourful and young Anand, he gave us a ‘has-a-mind-of-her-own’ heroine, who is still rare in Telugu cinema. Think cringe-worthy songs like ‘You are my MLA’ from Sarrainodu, where Allu Arjun is stalking an actual woman MLA and singing to her, while harassing her. Kamilini Mukherjee in Anand plays Rupa, a woman who’s lost her parents to an accident very young, lives on her own, has a job, and gives up on the man she’s supposed to marry, instead of negotiating the complex world that awaits her thanks to his orthodox mother. She calls off a wedding moments before it is to happen. She then falls in love with someone else.
In his second film, Godavari, which like Anand has great music, Kamilini Mukherjee is back as Seeta. Seeta, who wants to become a successful entrepreneur, but is vexed with the ‘arranged marriage scene’ after she is rejected by a ‘candidate’ she approves of after a lot of thinking. Then Seeta does something women seldom do on screen. She packs her bags and goes off on a vacation, alone – a river cruise on the Godavari, surrounded by the beautiful Papikondalu. There she meets a tall, handsome, idealist, and then you know, it’s the usual. Except she doesn’t dissolve into nothing after meeting the man.
Mostly in our commercial cinema, romance is used as an ‘element’ that must be ticked off before moving on to things more important, like the hero saving the world or the heroine. And there’re so few romance movies out there, especially rom-coms.
Within this romance landscape, that Sekhar Kammula decides to depict women with rich inner lives, turmoil, dreams and hopes, that he captures their everyday anxieties about being reduced to things they have been warned about becoming all their lives, is what sets him apart. They have heard all their lives that they must someday go to another man’s home, incur the wrath of their future in-laws, and that these are inevitable truths, etc. He knows them. (Somehow while other filmmakers seem oblivious.)
After Godavari, Sekhar following a long detour has found his way back with Fidaa. Bhanumathi, played effortlessly by Sai Pallavi, fills up the screen and is there almost throughout. It is a film about her. Bhanu is a diva, much like the other two women, and is also very aware of her charms. In the search for her sister’s groom, she ends up falling in love. With the groom’s brother. And then has to negotiate her dreams, hopes and ideals with that of the system’s. She rides a scooter, drives a car and is a pro with tractors. She runs errands and isn’t a prude. Then she tells her father she does not want to leave him, because she’s like his ‘son’. That’s the thing about Sekhar’s women, just when you think they are reaching cinematic idealness, they say or do something utterly ordinary. Like Rupa in Anand who tells her new boyfriend that she has never kissed her ex-fiancé.
Bhanu’s sister and aunt are delightful additions to the film, who lend it as much charm as realness, an earthiness. In the ultimate act of subversion, Fidaa gives us an overload of information about the often make-up-less, natural looking Bhanumathi, while giving us as little as possible about the eye candy, Varun (Varun Tej).
While I would rate last year’s Pelli Choopulu high on the balance it strikes in portraying women’s struggle for equality in everyday love and life, Sekhar Kammula’s films, with their deliberate divas are fun to have around, every now and then.