Winning the National award for best debutant director, and being selected for screenings in film festivals in India - the Mumbai Asian Film Festival (2004) - and abroad - in Seattle, for the South Asian Film Festival (2004) - are just a couple of the 'official' reasons that Grahanam is a must-watch for Telugu film buffs, be it the artistic type or the entertaining type.
The film is based on social critic and writer G V Chalam's story 'Doshagunam'. The opening, which is one of the most intriguing points of the film (as is revealed towards the end), features Raghu (Surya), an accomplished doctor in a village, treating a young boy suffering from an incomprehensible ailment. Raghu announces that the boy is suffering from 'Doshagunam' - a disease caused by having a sexual affair with a middle-aged woman. And the only cure to this 'anti-social' disease is the blood from the thigh of the woman the boy has indulged with.
Cut to Raghu, in a restive discussion with one of friends, narrating a similar incident that happened a few years ago. Narayan Swami (Thanikella Bharani), a respected landlord in a small hamlet somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, and his gorgeous wife Saradamba (Jayalalithaa), are highly revered by the village folk for their pious deportment and charitable work. Young Kanakayya (Mehaneesh), the son of a farmer couple, and a brilliant student, visits Swami's residence occasionally for free meals. Saradamba grows fond of this lad, and as time rolls by, both of them gel effortlessly like the peas in a pod.
Suddenly Kanakayya falls very ill, and his deteriorating condition forces his parents to summon the local vaid. This is where things go awry, as is reflected by the background score - correlative and apt. The vaid declares that Kanakayya has been affected by Doshagunam, and the cure for this, as Raghu and his friend already know, is the blood from the thigh of the woman. If you've guessed Saradamba to be the woman in liaison with Kanakkayya, you're right. So is Raghu's friend, who pins the blame on the supposedly daintly woman.
What fills up the chunk of this 90-minute narrative is the treatment - atrocious interrogation, a few slaps, etc. - meted out to Saradamba by her husband and the village folk, the same people who looked up to her before this 'ghastly' incident. The boy Kanakkayya is eventually treated with the blood from Saradamba's thigh, and like with any divine intervention, he springs back to normalcy.
Raghu's friend, unmoved, says the woman was the culprit anyway. Raghu smirks - the young lad, Kanakkayya, was none other than Raghu himself, and he outrightly denies any liaison between the landlady and himself. The ailment Kanakkayya suffered from was just an orthodox viral fever, and his body had just taken time to heal. The friend is speechless at Raghu's confession, and so is the audience that's watching and digesting every frame of the movie.
The direction of Grahanam, by Mohan Krishna Indraganti, is immaculate. Not because the entire movie is shown in black and white (except for a couple of fond memories that wear a colorful semblance), but since every element of the film - the frames, the actors (even the supporting cast), the background score, the settings etc. are all perfect (for the lack of a better word).
The multi-faceted Tanikella Bharani, as Narayan Swami, does a commendable job. So does Jayalalithaa - the popular vamp in scores of Tollywood flicks - as Saradamba, Swami's wife. Surya, as Dr. Raghu, seems to have been custom-made for this role, and Mehaneesh, as the young boy Kanakayya, is competent.
Technically too, the film captivates audiences with sound screenplay and editing. The background score by newcomer K Vijay complements the mood of the film impressively.
Watch the film for its refreshing conceptual foray, unlike the recurrent saga of Telugu flicks featuring indomitable heroes and love-struck, stingily-clad heroines.