Hep, glossy-haired teenage girls dressed in clothes from the kids' section, and over-confident, scrubbed-clean teenage boys dressed in clothes from, well, Fardeen Khan's wardrobe, all of whom are never seen inside a real classroom but are ready to sing and dance at bubble-gummy college fests that occur at random times of the year, can please step down the stage, thank you. Because college-realism is actually here to stay.
This time, the focus is on real teenagers who converge at those temples of learning, otherwise known as Intermediate Colleges (the corporate kind, which, if they had their way, would insist on kids studying 24 hours a day, by inventing a 30-hour clock if necessary). Kotha Bangaru Lokam captures what love and life are like, before that phenomenal milestone in every Telugu household - EAMCET - and might as well have been a prequel to Happy Days.
Happy-go-lucky Balu (Varun Sandesh), who doesn't know the fine line between being cheeky and being rude, but gets away with it all the time, falls in love with lively and spirited Swapna (Sweta Basu Prasad), both of who study at a residential intermediate college. Playing key roles in the love story of these adolescents are their parents, and the college itself.
Balu's parents, played by Jayasudha and Prakash Raj, are the self-assuredly loving kind, who trust their kid to make his own mistakes and learn from them. On the other hand, Swapna's parents (Ahuti Prasad & Rajitha) are quite the diametrically opposite kind.
One day, Balu and Swapna have a small outing, and there's a small kiss. Now, if you have been an oily, pimply 16-year-old who has lived with concepts like "intensive coaching" and "A-section", at institutions that forbid you to breathe the same air as a person of the opposite sex, you know only too well what a big deal a little kiss can turn into. The college is scandalized, the parents are brought into the picture, and how affairs are handled forms the rest of the story.
The concept behind KBL works well, but as a story, it is not entirely well-crafted. For example, there is a turn of events in the end just for the sake of propelling the story forward. The twist is so overwhelming that the rest of the story gets blurred, as the audience is still coming to terms with what happened. Then, quite a few dialogues are put in just for the sake of saying something wise, and end up confusing the audiences.
Also, KBL wants to convey a point to teens (and their parents), but kind of avoids looking in the eye. The advice keeps switching from "Love Vs Attraction" to "Teen Priorities: Love Or Studies?" to "How To Understand Your Teenager: Parenting For Dummies", and the result is a vague, confused message that doesn't hit you head-on. Given the tricky task of cautioning teenagers (which, if not successful, could have disastrous results), it could well be an effort to preach without being overly pontifical. To its credit, the effort is successful, more or less.
Sweta Prasad (erstwhile child star from Hindi films like Makdee) is perfect as Swapna, and boy, is she talented! Varun Sandesh is eager to do a younger role than in Happy Days, but at times doesn't carry off the look without seeming stupid.
Both sets of parents have quite significant roles to play, and all the actors do a great job. Rao Ramesh also has a pivotal role; he and Prakash Raj serve as the medium through which the film conveys its message(s). And Brahmanandam as the college principal will have headmasters looking for cover.
The music and the visuals fit perfectly into what could be safely called a Happy Days template, and they work. However, the fun of Kotha Bangaru Lokam is in the details that it gets perfectly right - from the average unglamorous Intermediate student's life, agonized as much by ranks as by zits, the drudgery of "study hours", the incessant fear of getting caught for anything, and the ignominy of meeting your parents in the principal's room at the slightest hint of "indiscipline", down to the dressing, the synthetic salwar-kameezes, the oiled and braided hair, and even the dupatta self-consciously worn back to front.
Kotha Bangaru Lokam will have struck a chord when you discover that a) you were one of the characters in the film, b) you know someone who is, or c) both. Chances are it will strike gold, too. Watch the film for yourself to know why it's so endearing.