What makes for a good love letter? Is it originality? Does that mean the copycat can't write a good love letter? Or is it decorative presentation? You know, the beautiful handwriting in gold edged paper? Then, does that mean the impatient school kid can't write a good love letter? Or - perhaps this is it - is it sublime poetry? Words that create worlds? Then, does that mean the artless can never compose a love letter that touches a heart?
Valid as those answers may be many times, the real answer is love. When love enters a love letter, the copycat shall create, the impatient shall craft, and the artless shall rhyme. Hold on to that thought, will you? We shall come back to it presently.
Gaddalakonda Ganesh, directed by Harish Shankar, is the official Telugu remake of the Tamil critical success Jigarthanda. It tells the story of a debutante filmmaker Abhilash (Atharva Murali making a complaint-free debut) who shadows a violent gangster Gani - Gaddalakonda Ganesh - (Varun Tej, once again impressing with an unexpected turn) as research for his film script. Gani is ruthless and fearless, making Abhi's research a very dangerous and foolhardy proposition. Nevertheless, Abhi's commitment to his passion makes him persist.
Jigarthanda, immersively and quirkily directed by Kartik Subburaj, isn't a mass film. It ponders on such things as passion and art. It boasts of some incredibly cool shots and out of the world score. And it needed an intense performance from Bobby Simha (who won a national award for the role). The movie is flawed but it is an original, well-crafted and artful film which is not even trying to be a mass blockbuster. All of this makes Jigarthanda an unusual inspiration for Harish Shankar.
This is a guy who took the most nuanced Bhai film (Dabangg
) and remade it into a hackneyed star vehicle (Gabbar Singh
). He took that lovely subplot of Mahesh Manjrekar's and replaced it with a dull cliché for poor Kota Srinivasa Rao. He took the sneaky and competent villain of Sonu Sood's and made him a perennial loser with Abhimanyu Singh. The commercial success of Gabbar Singh is just that - Commercial. It appeared that nuance and subtlety meant nothing to Harish Shankar. He copies, doesn't care much for craft, and most certainly not for art. He is just happy with his blockbusters, and DJ
is as much proof as Gabbar Singh. Then why remake a film that was never intended to be a mass hit in the first place?
So we watched Gaddalakonda Ganesh rather perplexed. At least in the first half it continued to be perplexing. The actors (debutante Mrinalini Ravi steals her scenes) all played to their strengths. The music (Mickey Meyer) and visuals were all as good as you'd expect from a high budget film. The violence was attractively brutal, and the comedy (Satya is in fabulous form) was frequently hilarious. It was all quite entertaining, but the whole thing missed the signature of a fine filmmaker. Even the scenes that are copied almost frame to frame from the original didn't make as much impact. And the redone scenes were often straight out of the cliché textbook.
But something curious happens in the second half. Jigarthanda is flawed because of a major twist in the second half, a rather high-end conceit, which demanded more than the actor and director could deliver. This twist has been completely eliminated in Gaddalakonda Ganesh. In its place we get a more believable, even if clichéd, plot that works well. Indeed, the reworking of the script does wonders for this film. It aims for lesser maybe but it hits its aim spot on. This progression from a merely entertaining movie to a truly engaging movie quickly invalidates any misgivings we may have had about watching it.
And we also understood what prompted Harish Shankar to take up this project. His love for cinema. And Gaddalakonda Ganesh is his love letter to the beloved medium. Even if he took someone else's story, he gave it his own spin. Even if he doesn't have the craft of some other filmmaker, he has crafted it enough to make you feel. And what if he didn't care for poetry, that one scene with Tanikella Bharani is still art. As you watch Gaddalakonda Ganesh, you can be sure that Harish Shankar is in love. And his love letter to the movies is just as sweet as the one you wrote to your love and made them blush.
Gaddalakonda Ganesh begins with a truly cheesy line from Brahmanandam about the attraction of cinema. The cheesiness could make you want to forget it as soon as possible. But as the film goes through with its purpose and as you sit there quite moved at the ending, the same lines play out again and you feel them deeply. The clichés don't seem to matter anymore. Indeed, isn't the most clichéd love letter also one of the most beautiful? You know, that one which simply says, "I love you."