Movie Review | Balagam: From the playbook called life
Deccan Chronicle.| Ajit Andhare
Balagam' is everyman's story, told with no extravagant special effects or a big star cast.
Movies dealing with post-death scenarios generally veer between two extremes - either you have something hilarious or something poignant. ‘Balagam’ is a bit of both. It borrows from the playbook called life to take audiences on a meaningful and soul-searching journey. It tells you to rise above petty quarrels and stay united as a "group" or family.
After a long time, you have a movie that will remind you of masters like Hrishikesh Mukherjee whose stories revolved around one family but contained a message for all.
‘Balagam’ is everyman’s story, told with no extravagant special effects or a big star cast.
As they say, the more local you go, the more universal it becomes. The story is set in a picturesque but nondescript village in bangaru Telangana. In fact, the entire movie is an ode to the quintessential local culture, customs, music, and language. It’s a mascot of rural Telangana.
Komrayya (Kethri Sudhakar Reddy), the patriarch of the family dies suddenly. His death jeopardizes his grandson Saiyulu’s (Priyadarshi Pulikonda, natural to the hilt) marriage which is necessary for him as he plans to use the dowry to settle a debt.
The death brings Saiyulu’s estranged aunt Lakshmi (Rooplakshmi) back to the family who stays back for the rituals for 11 days. Her husband Narayana (Murlidhar Ireni) and Sai’s father Ailayya (Kota Jayaram) have been at loggerheads for years now and are not even on talking terms.
Sai’s fiancée is blamed for his grandad’s death and the marriage is called off. As Sai needs money he decides to woo Lakshmi’s daughter Sandhya (Kavya Kalyanram), his cousin so that he can inherit her property.
Meanwhile, the vital post-death ritual of the crow touching the pind (of Komrayya) doesn’t happen.
It is then that Saiyulu decides to exploit this situation in his favour and also bring all the sparring partners in the family together.
‘Balagam’, directed by Venu Yeldandi is a rich gallery portrait of a cross-section of people and events one is likely to come across in a village.
For instance, take the superbly shot death scenes of Komrayya. It will easily remind you of any funeral you might have attended. Here you will come across people who are genuinely mourning the loss of the departed and also people who put up an unnecessary show to express their grief.
Here you also find Sai who despite his grandfather’s death is busy pandering to his would-be. Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, Narayana and Ailayya are too busy pampering their vain egos. Then you have the local tailor consumed by guilt as he was the last one who had met the deceased and had secretly wished for his death. A bit later you also see how Narayana and Ailayya engage in a game of one-upmanship to show who loved Komrayya more.
It is in this realistic portrayal of characters and situations that lies the strength of ‘Balagam’. Kudos to the writer-director Venu Yeldandi for keeping it simple yet powerful and moving. His matured creation is a humble reminder to one and all that for a good movie what you need first is a strong story and a convincing narrative. It is not the locales or the budget or the star cast that matters. Deft storytelling with detailing is more important than spectacle.
‘Balagam’ might not boast of who’s who in Tollywood but the decent performances by the entire team outshine that of any award winners. They all are natural and perfectly cast. The hero does not flaunt six-pack abs nor does the heroine size zero. But both have a sizzling onscreen chemistry.
In the last 10 minutes of the movie, comes the song which espouses the message that the movie wants to preach. The song makes everyone in the family introspect as it subtly reminds them about their duties and responsibilities towards each other. It makes them realise what they should have been doing instead of what they are doing. It literally tugs at everyone’s heartstrings. It tells them "siblings should always stay in unity and harmony."
The movie champions the crucial message of love, respect, and unity in a family. In one scene as Sandhya says, "We think our elders think about us only when they are alive. But now I have realized they love us even more after they die."
Except for the computer-generated crow, ‘Balagam’ is natural, a slice-of-life film that you can see with your family on Prime Video. Originally in Telugu, it is available with English subtitles. Do watch it in a group, as the name suggests.
OTT: Prime Video
Director: Venu Yeldandi
Cast: Priyadarshi, Kavya Kalyanram