The film directed by Ashwin Gangaraju stars Samuthirakani, Vinay Varma in the lead roles
Set amid a remote forest area in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, Aakaashavaani revolves around a tribal group cut off from the world. A despotic, self-appointed leader of the region Dora, with his assistant Lingayya and a ruffian Samba, take undue advantage of the tribals and wreak havoc in their lives. One day, a kid Gidda comes across an old radio set from a scrap seller and is fascinated by it beyond imagination. Owing to a few dramatic incidents, the tribe believes the radio is another reincarnation of God and is here to save them from their misery. Where will this blind faith lead them to?
Aakaashavaani, on a script level, is a breathtakingly original, ambitious attempt in Telugu cinema. It breaks free from most regular tropes of mainstream storytelling and draws the viewer into a world where superstitions, unusual religious customs and blind faith thrive over logic and common sense. The film discusses the idea of God through an inanimate object like a radio set that's worshipped by a tribe and draws impressive mythological parallels to convey how worldly awareness is indeed a form of empowerment.
The film throws light on the importance of questioning and not accepting anything based on face value alone. The tribals believe that the light emitted out of a tractor (on the move) is a signal of someone's death. They can't point out the difference between an electric pillar and a flagstaff (dhwaja sthambham) for a temple. They perceive that talking truth to power is equivalent to sin. Through burra kathas, they're made to believe that their leader Dora is their only ray of hope. It takes an outsider for the tribe to think otherwise, overthrow the leader and confront their reality.
Director Ashwin Gangaraju doesn't reduce the tribals as cinematic caricatures and in fact, views life through their lens, with innocence, empathising with their little joys and largely sad reality. The material offers immense scope to create wonders. It asks several poignant questions. What does it mean to lead a life dipped in ignorance? What if you don't even want to seek change and stay content in a cocoon? Can faith move mountains? (the story is set on a hill too)
The episodes where the group goes onto worship a radio are hilarious and poignant at the same time - watch out for the scene where the tribals listen to a song from Bullemma Bullodu, Nee Paapam Pandenu Nedu. On a serious note, some of the dialogues make for great self-introspection, especially when an elderly priest asks how different is it to worship an idol and a radio when both are man-made objects? Suresh Ragutu's cinematography is particularly spectacular and effectively tells how the lives of the tribals are intertwined with nature.
The only problem here is that the director and the writers don't know where to stop. The comedy and the satirical elements work only occasionally and the abrupt end to several characters besides the absence of a clear protagonist hurt the film's cause. The sequences lack adequate dramatic value. Once it's clear that Dora is the antagonist and the tribals are the victims, the surprise element in the story is very little and the narrative only comes alive in the pre-climactic stretch. The film repeatedly focuses on Dora's inhumaneness and the subplot surrounding a teacher Chandram is abandoned for a large part of the film (only to be reintroduced in the climax).
Giving credit where it's due, the climax episode is one of the film's major highlights, with Chandram using a radio play about Hiranyakashyapa and Prahlada to explain the reality of the tribals. The supernatural element in this stretch too is given a scientific basis. In terms of casting, it would have made a world of difference had a well-known face been cast in the place of Samuthirakani. Vinay Varma is a terrific choice to play Dora and the intensity, depth in his villainy is one of the film's assets. The other actors who constitute the tribe are aptly cast.
Kaala Bhairava's background score takes the film's essence forward though you wish the makers did a better job at utilising music in the narrative. K Raghunadh's sound design adds lustre to the ambience.
Despite all the good it does, Aakashavaani is a great example to prove why an entire film can't run on great ideas alone. It deserves immense praise for attempting a premise with barely any reference point in Telugu cinema, but that's all you can say about it.