Aadikeshava Movie Review : A scantly entertaining remix of regressive tropes
Aadikeshava is generic, convoluted and frustrating
Every mainstream film worth its salt seeks to retell the good vs evil tale, with an inevitable win of the former in the end. But never has that tussle between the right and wrong been as unsubtle as it was with Aadikeshava. Children appear often here, as the most direct targets of all the world’s wrongs. Kids appear in the starting of the film, as labourers of a mine run by Chenga Reddy (a wasted Joju George). Kids appear in the middle of the film, being denied education. There is an abused child. A hungry child. A child, sorry an infant, waiting to be named by the protagonist. Balu (Vaisshnav Tej) and Chitra (Sreeleela) even get introduction scenes with children. One is beating up goons who have stopped an ambulance carrying an injured child. The other is cheering up children in a hospice by dancing to a selection of songs Sithara Entertainments’ owns a copyright of. It almost feels as if Srikanth Reddy and his writers are building a scientific thesis, with the children acting as lab rats to test iterations of cruelty on. While using women as targets of violence and the recipients of saviourship is the modus operandi of your average joe films, Aadikeshava takes it a step further by also adding children — lots of children — to the mix. Despite this being about as annoying as one can imagine, it is still better than what the rest of the film has to offer.
Cast - Vaisshnav Tej, Sreeleela, Joju George, Aparna Das, Suman, Tanikella Bharani, Raadhika Sarathkumar
Director - Srikanth N Reddy
The reason why the film is titled Aadikeshava, much like the recently released Kushi, comes towards the end. As we tumble our way through figuring out the title’s meaning, we see Vaisshnav in two avatars — smart aleck Balakotaiah and prodigal son Rudrakaleeswara Reddy. The chain of events connecting Balu, Chitra, Vajra Kaleeshwari (Aparna Das) and Chenga Reddy are overly convenient and hasty, to say the least. A group of fishes are called a school. A group of buses are called a fleet. What are a group of coincidences called? A terribly written film. If a film does not give you a world worthy of suspending your disbelief, one will be compelled to apply basic logic and question the same. Maybe we describe good mainstream films as ‘larger than life’ or ‘out of the world’ because when they aren't good, they will simply be downsized to the conventions of our world, our life and our logic. There are other kinds of downsizing as well in Aadikeshava, right down to its unmemorable production values, where Brahmasamudram (the village where the film's second half takes place in) is a shrunken, one-dimensional reminder of the Rayalaseema films of yore.
If you picked any ‘faction’ cinema from the early 00s, they had scale. The houses were huge, the cars trailing the roads were many and scenes were populated with hordes of extras. Aadikeshava belongs to that world in theory. In reality, one cannot shake off how artificial and cheap it looks. It makes the world about as real and believable as plastic flower decorations. It would be nice if producers, who are confused between taking their crew to Europe to shoot two songs or taking their crew to another state in India to shoot half their film, pick the latter. Always pick the latter. I sincerely believe this is not as expendable as the filmmakers think it is.
Back to the story, if the children were a recurring leitmotif to describe the good, the bad is consistently characterised by depictions of graphic violence. In a rather telling scene, a mother is seen shutting off her child (oh yes, another child)’s eyes anticipating the arrival of a gory dead body. A flaming corpse arrives and the mother now takes off her hand so that the child can take in the sights. Is it still gory? Yes. Should a child be watching it? Absolutely not, the rules of the real world don't permit it. What gives, then? Turns out, the mother expected the hero’s corpse to emerge, scathed. The opposite obviously happens, and there is no ethical dilemma whatsoever involved in a child watching a bad guy burning alive. I am not an enemy of violence. It is the absence of drama and aesthetization though, that is worth mentioning, for it is the enemy of the film itself.
Another regressive detail, which did not even make sense for the rest of the film, involved attempts of a temple being destroyed, by a man named Mansoor. The temple here is not only a shining example of good in the film but also a silent spectator to its wrongs. In one of Aadikeshava’s tragicomic moments, we see the feet of men in a temple blurred by the censors because they had shoes on. If the film makes the audience aware of its existence, we call it the breaking of the fourth wall. What do we say when we become aware of the censor board’s attempts to mutilate a film? Breaking the fifth wall? For all its shortcomings, Aadikeshava still manages to remind one of how comforting tropes can be. It is only when the tropes are not spun well enough, the illusion of entertainment falls apart, only to find reality break and enter.