A long time ago, there existed a philosopher named Karl Marx. He had an impossibly cool beard to go with his impossibly cool name and had a set of impossibly revolutionary ideas. These ideas would be condensed into a political pamphlet titled The Communist Manifesto. It was the work of a man fed up with a system powered by capitalism. He prophesied of a day where the world would be devoid of a class system and called upon working men around the globe to aid him in achieving his vision.
In 2019, there exists a debutant director named Bharat Kamma. He made a movie titled Dear Comrade. His movie tells the story of Chaitanya aka Bobby (Vijay Devarakonda) and Aparna Devi aka Lilly (Rashmika Mandanna). Bobby is the head of Kakinada's student union and Lilly is a player in the South Zone cricket team. Bobby attempts to wrestle with the system for the benefit of the student body and Lilly strives to be a part of the Indian National Cricket Team.
Bobby's and Lilly's paths intersect and subsequently intertwine. They fall in love, they break up, they grow both as individuals and as a couple, and through all this, the movie attempts to send its audience home a tad happier and a tinge more socially conscious. With his writing, Bharat Kamma dares to imagine a world where a mainstream Telugu movie would provide equal importance to both its male and female lead characters. He called upon the youth of South India to support his vision by releasing his movie in four languages.
Nearly a century ago, a man named Vladamir Lenin came to power and prominence in the Soviet Union. His ideology was based on that of Karl Marx, and was pivotal in galvanizing Soviet Russia into overthrowing the Czar. The power was in the hands of the people. But power corrupts. In an effort to consolidate it, Lenin's detractors were eliminated until one voice and one political system rang true. Karl Marx's idealistic views had been distorted ever so slightly.
Noble intentions need noble execution. Noble executions need time and patience. But time erodes even the most immense of mountains. With a runtime of nearly three hours, Dear Comrade has no dearth of time, and with a leisurely paced first half, director Bharat Kamma shows that he isn't afraid of being patient with his characters and their journeys.
During this first half, Dear Comrade makes Bobby and Lilly fall in love with each other, it makes the audience fall in love with them, and finally, its makes the characters and the audience fall in love with the milieu of Kakinada. A few confident camera moves, a soundtrack as smooth as silk and a handful of affable actors mask some lacklustre sound mixing, haphazard editing, shots that begin out of focus, and noticeably bad colour correction.
Post Lenin's demise, Joseph Stalin took over as the leader of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union experienced massive growth in the fields of agriculture and industry. His choice to align himself with the allied powers aided in the defeat of the axis. However, Stalin's methods resulted in the execution of nearly 700,000 people. Dissenting voices were reduced to meek silences, and the truth was fabricated at all times. Anything was true and everything was possible. One man controlling the State, the party and the fate of all his citizens - Marx would be heartbroken. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Post intermission, Dear Comrade's narrative becomes something similar to spreading your bets at a roulette table. With the onus of actually telling a story squarely upon it, the movie tries to go big or go home with each of its many sub-plots. Politics in sports, mental health, holistic sound therapy, a man trying to find his purpose, and many more secondary plots attempt to offer a reason for Dear Comrade's existence. The movie tackles heavy themes in comically over-the-top ways, and in turn, becomes a jumbled mess whose characters experience growth or stay inane based on the requirements of the plot.
The film makes the bold choice of choosing a message over telling its story, and before someone picks up a red flag, the message is not a political one but one of a social kind. It is a message that has been drilled into our collective eyes and ears so much in the recent past that it has almost diluted all of its importance and gravity.
The film uses Vijay Devarakonda and Rashmika Mandanna as conduits to relay its messages, and we can't think of a better duo for the job. They share a stronger chemistry than they did in their previous outing
together, and seem perfect for the roles they are cast for. Devarakonda's unique ability to convey fragile masculinity is par excellence, and his presence alone makes the audience sympathise with a character that refuses to grow or change. Mandanna is at her best when sharing space with her co-star. The highs in her performance come as part of interacting with him, and her lows come as part of her displaying visceral emotion, a facet of acting she is yet to fully master.
When the movie's writing falters, its delightful production design and delectable score and soundtrack take over the job of elevating its actors and their performances. There is a genuine sense of warmth associated with the film's look and feel, and for reasons unknown to us, its editing and editing flow play spoilsports with it.
Dear Comrade is an amalgamation of good ideas and "cool" ideas. The good ideas come in the form of equal weight placed on both its lead characters, sound design, score, some gorgeous shots and good acting. Its "cool" idea conundrum can be explained using its title as an example. By using the word "Comrade" and putting up posters featuring Che, Marx, Lenin, Stalin etc, the movie would have you believe that its philosophical ideology aligns with theirs. However, the connotation here is more in line with that of Webster's dictionary. The film chose the word comrade over the word friend because the former makes for a "cooler" title. The movie says all the right things without ever feeling it in its bones. The lack of honesty results in a lack of staying power.