Honest Film That Loses Direction
What Is the Film About?
As the title suggests, Palasa is set in the namesake village of Srikakulam district. The low caste versus high caste power and political battle is the crux of the story. How Mohan Rao (Rakshit) and his elder brother face Pedda Shavukar and Chinna Shavukar (Raghu Kunche) is what the movie is all about?
The brothers are initially cultural performers. How they turn to violence and finally where the hierarchy of the system puts them is neatly showcased in the movie.
How Is Raskhit’s Performance?
Rakshit is given a compelling role in the movie. It is a once in a lifetime part given the action and dramatic arc it contains. However, Rakshit lacks the intensity and gravitas required to make the drama work. There is a lot that has to be depicted, and he does nothing on that score. As a reason, he comes across as the weak link in the entire enterprise.
The good thing is Rakshit doesn’t entirely spoil the narrative despite his visible weakness. He passes through the proceedings while others cover the emotional part. As long as he is part of the actions without taking the centre-stage, it is okay.
Direction by Karuna Kumar?
Karuna Kumar making his directorial debut picks a very raw and hard-hitting subject. He provided not only the story but also the screenplay and dialogues for the movie. Unfortunately, despite his honest intention, the final output doesn’t match the ambition.
Story of the movie is very predictable. We have seen the same setting and the caste wars in the past, as well. But, what makes it engaging, the duration it lasts, is the writing and the screenplay. The raw and hard-hitting aspect of the narrative is what hooks the audience.
The setting of the village and the characters that inhabit are very grounded and rooted in reality. In fact, it is one of the daring qualities of the movie. The director never minces a word whenever possible. He calls a spade a spade and proceeds that way.
The first is especially fine due to the bold presentation of the whole thing. Right from the opening and the establishment of the principle characters, a brutally raw view is presented, be it in writing or the visual. Also, the narrative keeps throwing some surprises here and there, despite an overall predictable arc.
The problem is the crucial moments lack the big bang. Take for example the “Bairagi stone lifting and revolt sequence”. It has a phenomenal mass elevation scope. But, we never get that feel due to the way the whole thing is executed.
Despite such execution issues, the first half is still fine as the narrative itself provides some gripping moments. The interval bang seems like perfect culmination in that regard.
The second half begins well as it continues the momentum build in the beginning. However, when seen beyond the ‘realistic’ prism, nothing is surprising that is happening in this half. The gripping quality starts to fade slowly. As the narrative progresses, it turns a big problem in the second half. Some of the dialogues also get very repetitive.
The final half an hour is the weakest in this regard. It is as if the movie is getting disintegrated as it reaches the end. The basic story is long over, and all we have is revenge saga with a caste angle. Even here, there are no more surprises left. All that is left is preaching.
Overall, Palasa 1978 is an honest attempt. It is less of the titillating variety we see in these kinds of movies. There is an authentic attempt. But, the second half plays spoilsport as the narrative derails and moves into a routine zone. Give it a try if you want to see something raw and realistic from Telugu cinema, otherwise, stay away.
Nakshatra and Others?
Nakshatra plays a regular part of a heroine who loves the hero and backs her. It is a very routine role, but she does her part well, nonetheless. Among the rest of the cast, which mostly consists of new faces, the actor playing the elder brother Ranga Rao, shines. He easily steals the show in the aggressive and intense scenes. The one that immediately comes to our mind is where the character asks Guru Murthy (Raghu Kunche) that he would stand in the election. There are a couple more such sequences for him, and he makes them count.
Raghu Kunche is alright in general when we look at the scope of the character. When seen exclusively among the work he has done as an actor, it is no doubt, the best. The rest of the actors are all fine look wise. However, some of them take the cliché route in the portrayal of the part. It looks so apparent on the screen.
Music and Other Departments?
The songs comprise of folk tunes which are neatly placed. The background score by Raghu Kunche is alright. There is loudness at times, but it is passable. The cinematography is neat in parts, but overall there is always a short film (or digital) feeling, it is well made on that count, though. The editing could have been better. The writing with local Uttar Andhra slang is terrific.
Second Half (after the opening Block)
A film like Asuran offers a perfect alternative take to the movie. With such a casting and brilliant direction, Palasa 1978 itself would have looked different.
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, in parts
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, but with huge reservations
Palasa 1978 Review by Siddartha Toleti