Have you ever thought about what it must be like to be an ant? The way they're so tiny and so very, very fast? The way they have to go around things that we probably cannot even see?
Now, think about how humans would appear to an ant that can make sense out of us. Slow, exaggerated and loud, right?
So welcome to Chandamama Kathalu, a film that attempts to drag out the whole "slice of life" thing so much that we can only assume the whole thing was visualized by an ant.
Before we get any further with our analogy, let us tell you about the 8 (eight) plotlines that make up this anthology.
Venkateswara Rao (Krishnudu) has a good bank balance, a cushy job, an apartment in Jubilee Hills and tons of cards. All he needs is a wife to take care of him, and he wants her before he turns 30.
Saradhi (Kishore) is a writer who spins the web on which all other tales hang. His sense of reality takes a tumble when he finds out that his daughter has an early stage of leukemia, the same disease that took the life of his wife. He needs Rs. 5 lakhs for the treatment, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
Lisa Smith (Lakshmi Manchu) is an aging model. Yes, the one who is being expelled from all walks of respectable life because of a few non-existent wrinkles. We're supposed to sympathise with her for some reason that isn't explained in the film, as are a lot of other things.
Saritha (Aamani) is very recently widowed when an old flame, Mohan (Naresh), turns up from the US, and turns her tiresomely mediocre middle class Telugu existence upside down. The choice is upto her. She can either go back to babysitting her grandchildren for all of eternity, or she can go off with Mohan for one last round of untold adventures.
Raghu (Chaitanya Krishna) likes co-student and political heiress Renu (Shamili) enough to disregard the powerful father and continue with the dalliance to its logical conclusion. It is only when he whips out a camera that we know that it is not the innocent puppy love it seems like.
Ashraf (Abhijeet) uses up all his meager savings to make his sweetheart Haseena (Richa Panai) happy. However, when a "better match" shines down upon Haseena all the way from Dubai, she starts thinking twice about just how much love it would take to live on.
Krishneswara Rao plays an anonymous beggar who piles up Rs. 10 lakhs through the power of sheer tenacity, and a dream of owning a house that costs two measly lakhs more. Will sheer bloody-mindedness be more effective at dream-catching than tricks up Fate's sleeve?
Raghu (Naga Shourya) gets forced into a marriage with Gowri (Amitha Rao) for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with the girl, but try telling that to absolutely anybody in the film.
What do any of this have to do with ants that get people? Well, for one thing, the director was so focused on slowing things down that he wasn't left with much time to give us details that could help us sympathise with any of the characters. We spend so much time going through slo-mo montages of all these lives, that we don't really get to stop at one point and explore beyond what the director tells us must be happening.
For instance, we know Venkateswara Rao is a nice guy because a sexpot at his workplace tells him that he is. Any and all of his actions seem to point to otherwise. He is contemptuous of the plump women his marriage broker asks him to consider despite the fact that his character is being played by Krishnudu. He pities women who have been putting matrimonial ads as long as he has been, but is surprised when others feel the same way about him. And, most importantly, he harangues bar tenders with his boring life story.
Then, there is Lisa Smith, whose story from start to end is one large caricature. She is a pissed-off supermodel who is super no more. For the rest of the film, she is generally seen wallowing with a bottle, whether it is at a lounge or at her new run-down apartment. There is nothing she does to make-do. When she finally does get a project, we are told that some young and buff dude started a new company, created a new campaign, and bought a new apartment just so he could set her up as his mistress. She rightly throws grape juice in his face, but there is nothing that you see happening in her life that makes her journey from point A to point B in the least bit believable.
This is pretty much how all that stories go, with little rhyme or reason. As far as the endings are concerned, the lesser said the better, and not just because we don't want to spoil it for you. There are three "happy" endings, of which only one is truly optimistic. And all of them seem hell-bent on showing you that all the remarkable lives that dot the tapestry of human evolution can only end in the most mediocre of ways.
While the stories themselves are not very eloquent, the visuals and the music speak well enough, working one story into another with a seamlessness that the screenplay couldn't achieve. While not his best work in any outré way, Mickey J Meyer's background score is clearly one of the key threads to holding this tapestry together. The camera's lens fall lovingly upon all they behold, making you sigh at the beauty of even the most redundant of scenes.
A plethora of wonderful performances dot the film, with Kishore, Aamani and Krishneswara Rao taking the cake. As a matter of fact, Rao's is the only role that is justified in all ways, right up until the utterly meaningless ending. The rest of the cast range from "just okay" to "just there", mostly owing to their being shamefully underutilized by the film.
While Chandamama Kathalu is, quite rightfully, a herald for better things to come in our film industry, it still has a long way to go from being just an emissary.