What is the story about?
An auto driver with modest ambitions, Veera Babu, residing in a non-descript village around the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border, accidentally chances upon a bag with a high-end camera. Along with his wedding photographer friend Ganapathi, he decides to make a feature film using the camera, with a faint hope that it would alleviate him from all his financial worries. He finds a writer in the form of an elderly man who’d contributed to vernacular magazines many years ago. Veera, with great difficulty, puts together a cast and crew for the film and the entire village gradually lends him a helping hand to make it. Their world comes crashing down when a city-bred woman returns to the village in search of her lost camera. What would this mean to Veera’s filmmaking dream?
As strange as it sounds, despite the eight-decade existence of Telugu cinema, there aren’t many films that have made a genuine attempt to portray the aam-aadmi’s madness and passion for cinema in this land. The latest Telugu release on Netflix, Cinema Bandi, not only fills this void but also takes the idea forward to suggest that ‘everyone is a filmmaker, at heart’. Cinema Bandi shows how films and even filmmaking are a leveller of sorts, going beyond barriers of location, gender and ethnicity. The beautiful indie-spirited film captures a sleepy village’s love for cinema through the mundaneness of its setting and brims with innocence and a rare old-world charm.
Cinema Bandi is a comical journey of a film-crazy bunch and their wholehearted attempt to make a movie within their limited resources. Yet, the filmmaker Praveen Kandregula is sensitive enough to never play down their ambitions. The film literalises the words that everyone has a right to dream and translate it into reality regardless of who they're and where they belong. There are colourful characters all along from many walks of life – the director in the film is an auto-driver, the hero’s a barber, the leading lady is a vegetable seller, the cinematographer a wedding photographer and the assistant director, barely a 10-year-old.
There’s confusion, chaos, madness, and jugaad; yet nothing comes between them and their zeal to make a film. A bullock cart is used for a crane shot, while the cinematographer climbs a coconut tree to capture a panoramic view of the village. The director goes to a school, a poultry farm to charge his camera and the director’s wife lends her clothes for the heroine’s character in the film. Too much jargon about cinema may alienate a viewer although Cinema Bandi humanises the story quite well. The Rayalaseema slang has never sounded more beautiful than this for a long time in Telugu cinema.
A film of this nature comes with a risk of being oversweet and lacking in strong conflict. This is where Cinema Bandi remains extra cautious with the grounded treatment. The narrative goes much beyond cinema. Time and again, the protagonist reminds the village that it takes a collective effort to solve problems – be it their everyday issues of bumpy roads, continuous electricity or even water shortage. The message may sound heavy on paper though the execution balances the lightness in the narrative with a pinch of reality.
It’s heartening to notice that Telugu producers are developing a taste for realistic films that are strongly rooted in the small-town setting – that films like C/O Kancharapalem, Mail (Kambalapally Kathalu) and Cinema Bandi are even being written, made and finding their audience on streaming platforms is indeed a welcoming sign for an otherwise star-struck industry. Beyond the fact that Cinema Bandi is produced by names like Raj and DK, it’s important to note that it is a winner because of the storytelling.
A bulk of the performers in this film come with an extensive background in theatre and their efforts to become one with the backdrop is astounding, to say the least. It’s a relief that the film goes beyond the notions of hero, heroine and supporting characters and prefers to stick to the story. Vikas Vasistha is terrific as the rugged auto driver spearheading the film unit in the village – beyond his rough exterior, the characterisation captures his softer side to perfection as well.
Sandeep Varanasi is aptly cast in the role of a wedding photographer and comes with an immensely lifelike performance, blurring the lines between the reel and the real. Rag Mayur is yet another promising find in the film, portraying the hilariously wacky barber Maridesh Babu to perfection. His comic timing is excellent and he does a fine job in tickling our funny bones with all his eccentricities. Uma YG as the vegetable seller Manga is another colourful character and a major highlight of the film. The likes of Trishara, child artist Pujari Ram Charan, the elderly man Muni Venkatappa and Sindhu contribute to the richness of the setting.
Music & Other Departments
Composer Sirish Satyavolu and sound designer Akshay Patil make for a terrific duo in mirroring the spirit of the rustic ambience. The music of the film flows quite organically with the story sans any exaggeration. Cinematographers Apoorva Shaligram Dewalkar and Sagar YVV showcase the beauty in the ordinariness of everyday life – they keep it simple and stick to basics without overt visual gimmicks which work well with the story.
Vasanth Mariganti, the writer, has extremely original ideas and tells an important story using a bunch of intriguing yet rooted characters who come with various quirks. Praveen Kandregula, the director, couldn’t have chosen a better film for a debut. It’s just 100 minutes long but it leaves you craving for more.
- Wonderful performances
- Terrific writing, execution
- The rural backdrop, the tribute to cinema in all its authenticity
- Too simplistic, predictable at times
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?