Well, at least they've aspired for classy. Which is about it. Nara Rohit's no-frills launch attempts a full-frontal cerebral assault, but it uses a boat that's travelling with stowaway holes on its deck. The end result, then, is a leaky group discussion on Naxalism, the police force and goondaism.
The story revolves around Bhagat (Rohit), who's in his prime of youth, all set to take the civil service exams and become a sturdy-chested policeman. He's just reunited with his ex-Naxalite father Panigrahi (Sayaji Shinde), away from whom he has grown up all these years. Panigrahi is a combat veteran who's just surrendered to the police - all by himself, mind you, and not because of the bribe the government was offering him. Panigrahi, it is stressed, is a nice, loving, respected guy who was in the revolution for the good of society.
Going by the photos of Bhagat Singh and Che Guevara on the walls, Bhagat has ideals, too - only, he wants to implement them all in uniform. This apparently creates some discomfort in papa, but he grudgingly accepts the fact.
Bhagat runs into a helpless young bride Lakshmi (Vedika) who's in such a royal mess over her dowry, the sudden death of her father, and her in-laws' stunning cruelty, that he takes her home. The romance builds slowly, but surely.
The innocent white-washed damsel spells nothing but trouble for our man, who is now in conflict with a semi-menacing, J D Chakravarthy-esque, Trishul-worshipping villain Shakti (Randhir). Shakti's geographical associations are not to be missed - he's Shakti Patnaik, and his oily assistant is Sahu. The rest of the story is about how Bhagat's struggle goes on relentless of how many kicks he has to deliver.
Banam is a subtle flick with a visible youngish hand behind the scenes. There are smart pithy lines here and there, and some impressive directorial details at places, too. The problem is that the movie is quite vague in its issues, and chooses just to label them with sub-headings, instead of ever bothering to detail the solution, or even the problem.
Panigrahi's conflict with Bhagat's convictions, and vice versa, are bafflingly left unexplored. And lofty ideals of cleaning up the system are executed merely by bashing up a few goondas.
What's refreshing is that this is a bare-bones display of Nara Rohit the hero - not Nara Rohit the dancer, Nara Rohit the woman-wooer, Nara Rohit the gaali-spewer, or Nara Rohit the gut-spiller. And the man is in no way undeserving of his spot in the sunshine. He has screen presence, and oozes a certain testosterone confidence that no amount of big-banner-shrill-showmanship can duplicate.
The heroine is pretty, though she's overshadowed by the voice that's dubbing for her. Sayaji Shinde is a treat to watch on screen, as is Rajeev Kanakala.
The stunning background score adds weight to the narrative - there's some old-world charm in the music. The visuals reflect an obvious attention to detail, and they're almost art-house in their starkness.
For the curious, yes, Banam is among Tollywood's better attempts at staying off the beaten and bloodied track. And if 'parallel cinema' sounds like an insult to you, then there's nothing that you should fight at the ticket counters for.