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Opinion: Are we missing the context in commercial films?

Despite the massive success of Pushpa The Rise and Akhanda on OTT, a section of audiences continues to diss commercial cinema for regressing with time

Opinion: Are we missing the context in commercial films?
Akhanda, Pushpa and Bangarraju
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 10.07 AM, Jan 24, 2022

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Films are always made keeping a specific audience in mind; it's not meant to please everyone. Commercial cinema, especially, is built on a tricky bridge between reality and fantasy. In our protagonists, we long to see heroes who fear none, confront a situation head-on, vanquish the wrong doer and emerge victorious. It provides us an unparalleled high to see protagonists unscathed and tackle every obstacle in their way with brain and brawn.

In an era where realism and grounded storytelling are increasingly finding more value, the success of films like Pushpa The Rise, Akhanda (both on OTT and in theatres) and Bangarraju have proved that commercial cinema will always have takers. One common factor that binds the three films together is the maker's understanding of the audience pulse - they've offered something that masses long for and yet managed to surprise them.

Pushpa The Rise, despite catering to the masses, is a slightly different scenario - a story of the anti-hero, a red sandalwood smuggler, who climbs up the ladder breaking all possible rules. The director Sukumar gets us invested in the story of a criminal turning rogue owing to a traumatic past. Not many decisions he takes in the story are exactly heroic but he's someone who cares two hoots about political/moral correctness.

The elephant in the room is of course how Pushpa treats its female characters. A few have voiced their displeasure about sequences where Pushpa stalks Srivalli, doesn't even mind paying her for his romantic advances. Alike the case of Kabir Singh, the issues are about its apparent misogyny, toxic masculinity. 

While there's no doubt that Pushpa's romantic track is bizarre, one must consider the upbringing of an outlaw like Pushpa in judging his approach towards women. It's quite clear that he's hardly talked to women beyond his mother in the story. Neither is he educated nor does he understand consent or the 'morally right' way to woo his romantic interest. 

All that Pushpa knows is money and that was his natural route to grab the attention of Srivalli. One must also notice that in the later part of the story, Srivalli informs Pushpa about falling for him immediately and that she was purposely delaying the inevitable nod. Calling his behaviour problematic only depicts our privilege and that we have not understood the character's socio-economic background that well. 

Akhanda, like Boyapati Srinu's previous films, is one blood-bath of an outing where violence is a celebrated path taken by the protagonist to destroy his baddies. Headlined by a composed Balakrishna, it's a perfect victory of taut storytelling, exquisite cinematography and a top-notch music score. As you may have known by now, subtletly isn't exactly what neither Boyapati nor Balakrishna are popular for.

In the name of dharma, the film even pardons an aghora going on a killing spree. Despite being raved by audiences in theatres and on OTT, the film has had its own share of criticism. In particular, not many are happy with a sequence where a young child is made to see his mother being raped by a bunch of goons. Let's call a spade a spade, the scene is by no means justifiable and makes despicable use of drama.

However, it's not right to see the incident in an individual light. The disgust you experience in the scene is needed to justify why the wrongdoer Varadarajulu must not be spared at any cost. The emotional high you get with the action sequence in the mines, where Varadarajulu is crushed to death, is directly proportional to the impact of that *facepalm* of a scene. Boyapati, still, can no longer away with that sort of treatment to justify the death of the villain. 

These issues apart, Telugu cinema, keeping the pandemic aside, is going through one of its most colourful phases. From reincarnation romances to crime comedies to actioners to rural entertainers - Shyam Singha Roy, Skylab, Bangarraju, Hero, Pushpaka Vimanam and the biggies like Pushpa and Akhanda - there's something for everyone. There's space for all kinds of stories to be told and must we not celebrate it in our little own way?

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