Direction: A R Mohan
Cinematography: Raam Reddy
Music: Sricharan Pakala
Editor: Chota K Prasad
Cast: Allari Naresh, Vennela Kishore, Praveen, Anandhi, Sampath Raj,
Raghu Babu, Shritej
It was inevitable while watching the trailer for “Itlu Maredumilli Prajaneekam” - portraying Naresh as a well-intentioned Telugu teacher posted for election duty in a remote tribal village - that comparisons to “Newton” or even the wildly popular TVF series “Panchayat” would be drawn.
However, the reluctant protagonists of either Newton or Panchayat are a far cry from the initiative-driven and active problem solver that is Telugu teacher Srinivasa Sripada (Allari Naresh), whom the movie wastes no time in establishing as the kind of exemplary citizen who is firmly resolute in his actions and opinions. Never the one to shy away from a challenge, especially if it is in the service of others, Srinivasa confronts the most cynical and disillusioned amongst us with a kind of disarming sincerity that Allari Naresh embodies with unequivocal ease. When he was posted for the election duty, Srinivasa would not only an eager participant but also the mirror of conscience for the cocky English teacher Parameswar (played deftly by the perennially funny Vennela Kishore) who views their expedition to the remote, inaccessible villages within Maredumilli Hills as nothing more than a paid vacation.
Guided to the election booth by an affable but pragmatic VRO, Babu (Praveen), the trio realises that their task of attracting a 100 per cent voter turnout is not going to be an easy task, especially because of a unanimous boycott of the elections by the locals following a recent tragedy. Constantly unheard and reduced to an inconsequential demographic by the babus and politicians, the tribals turn away the hapless election officers.
What follows are sufficiently scenic, albeit arduous treks through Maredumilli’s forests as the trio begins to understand the plight of the populace for whom voting had become a pointless exercise. The demand of tribals for a new bridge (also a symbol of their autonomy) leads to crisis and tension, which pay off well by the time of movie’s interval, leaving the audience intrigued about what would come next.
The movie is well aware of, and plays to its strengths, moving from one plot point to another. Tightly structured, director A.R. Mohan projects confidence in the handling of the subject even in areas where the movie seems to be stretching the realms of probability. With themes touching on the topics of meaningful participation, social isolation and addressing the rage of the unheard against a wildly skewed system, the movie attempts a sincere examination of the human condition through the lens of politics.
Despite a crisp screenplay with clear markers of progress, it is unfortunately unable to reach the emotional depth that it aspires to as it navigates the “issues” as a checklist of events to be presented. The pacing gets ahead of the movie itself at times, however, and it is difficult to feel satisfied with “resolutions” skimming over the “issues” as soon as they are presented.
The biggest strength of the movie lies in its casting. Allari Naresh has always been successful at portraying empathetic characters, whether in his breakout role as Gaali Seenu in “Gamyam” or his gut wrenching portrayal of a man broken by a corrupt system in “Naandhi”. In this movie, Naresh is firmly positioned as a “saviour” who serves as the compass to the tribals’ resolve like the typical Tollywood “hero” is expected to.
All the key characters deliver notable performances: Anandhi is immensely likable in her sensitive portrayal of a tribal girl eager to be the change that she hopes to bring in the village where she has lived all her life. Shritej delivers a powerful performance as the hot-headed Kanda and keeps us invested in his journey — first, as a catalyst for the events that lead to the predicament of the village, and then as a conflicted participant in Naresh’s plan for the village. Sampath Raj is commanding in his presence as the district collector more concerned with saving face than lending an ear to the villagers. Koteswara Rao delivers a memorable performance along with comic relief as the shrewd but venerable market yard president with a conflict of interest against the villagers’ demands for the bridge. Vennela Kishore and Praveen play off well against each other and provide plenty of well-timed one liners to keep the audiences engaged.
For all its merits, the movie does end up depending on trite observations to drive the point home at places. However, the movie manages to stay away from being preachy. The background score as well as the music in the movie fit the overall tone, supporting the narrative as it flows from one sequence to another. The song “Lachchimi” is easy on the ears and the accompanying visuals fit in beautifully despite the sombre tone of the rest of the movie. Cinematography by Raam Reddy is worth noting, with sprawling forests and hills juxtaposed with tight frames highlighting the characters’ inner conflict and also successfully maintaining the seriousness of the movie even in its lighter moments.
For all its shortcomings, the viewer will find themselves genuinely invested in the journey of the tribals fighting for their basic right to have an access to the outside world and Naresh’s Srinivasa helping them as the informed outsider not unlike Raajkumar Rao’s “Newton” or Jitendra Kumar in “Panchaayat”. Closely following on the heels of the stirring “Kantara”, as the floodgates to many essential conversations around the representation of diverse identities, culture and societies have opened up, “Itlu Maredumilli Prajaneekam” is a timely movie that carries the baton forward in an industry that either is too heavy handed with or shies away altogether from any controversy bordering around politics....