Palasa 1978 Movie Review: A much-needed message lost in poor execution
Debutant director Karuna Kumar does his best to narrate a story that highlights caste atrocities, family feud, and sexual depravity among the upper class, but loses the plot towards the end
Palasa 1978, directed by debutant Karuna Kumar, depicts the harsh reality of the caste system, violence and the exploitation of the marginalised and poor in a feudalistic society. Explicitly drawing inspiration from the incidents that happened in his own life, the director showcases how little things have changed in all these years.
Set in Palasa, North Andhra, the film traces the journey of two brothers — Ranga Rao (Thiruveer) and Mohan Rao (Rakshit Atluri) — who belong to a low caste family that sings and dances after dusk, and work as labourers at the cashew de-seeding unit of village head, Guru Murthy aka Pedda Shavukar, during the day.
Mohan Rao has a rebellious attitude unlike his submissive elder brother, who dutifully pays obeisance to the Shavukar, and occasionally gets beaten up by the high caste bullies. One of the interesting characters in the film is Linga Murthy aka Chinna Shavukar (Raghu Kunche), another powerful businessman in the town, who loathes his brother, Pedda Shavukar, and has an illicit relationship with a low caste woman.
Cast: Rakshit Atluri, Thiruveer, Raghu Kunche
Direction: Karuna Kumar
Palasa 1978 is a revenge drama that honestly recreates events from 1978 to 2018. As a debutant director Karuna Kumar has done well in narrating a story that highlights caste atrocities, family feud, and sexual depravity among the upper class. What's remarkable about this film is that it is made as accurately as possible. There’s no propaganda and no individual heroes. There are only circumstances that force people to take up violence to safeguard their lives and fight oppression.
Karuna Kumar manages to keep the audience hooked while dealing with socially-relevant issues such as discrimination, exploitation, poverty and slavery-like practices. The way he illustrates these points effectively in a couple of scenes — when the ostracised people are not allowed near the platform to take water from the well and the theatre fight when Pedda Shavukar's son asks Ranga Rao's wife-to-be to share the bed with him — deserve a special mention. The story also touches upon the themes of love, family bonding, and greed. The texture of the film and the language these characters speak brings adds to the realism of the proceedings.
Every single character feels real, and this could be partly because of the director's decision to not cast any established actors. The standout performance comes from Rakshit Atluri, who lends credibility, desperation, innocence, and strength to Mohan Rao. Thiruveer, who rose to fame playing the baddie, Lalan Singh, in George Reddy, shines as Ranga Rao here. Raghu Kunche as Chinna Shavukar creates a solid yet believable character. The film works well when its supporting actors — Lakshman, Madhavi, Nakshatra, and Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari — are at the forefront.
Raghu Kunche’s music and background score make the film all the more engaging. Arul Vincent’s lens brilliantly captures the rustic charm of Palasa and the forests near the Odisha border.
Violence is an integral part of the film and the director seems to portray slashing throats or killing a man with a rock as the solution to the problem. However, the ordeal of the protagonist makes the viewers believe that he has been left with no choice but to launch a counter-attack on the troublemakers to fight the oppression.
Still, while Palasa 1978 has some powerful moments, its thin plot and uneven pace make it feel a bit stretched. The film goes off the rails about ten minutes into the second half and it's hard to keep yourself invested after that. Much time is wasted on unnecessary subplots. To build up the conversation between Mohan Rao and Sebastian's characters, the director makes reference to many incidents — from Karamchedu massacre to Rohit Vemula's suicide — and this is where the narrative gets preachy. The climax disappoints, and you watch with a sense of detachment.
However, though Palasa 1978 does not live up to the promise of its early portions, it still has several moments that are thrilling. Watch it if you are a fan of realistic films.