The brighter aspects first. In director Srikanth Addala’s Peddha Kapu 1, set in the 1980s in an Andhra Pradesh village where the fault lines of class, caste and power run deep, a small group of men are digging a pit. Meanwhile, a large group of young men have axed a tall tree and are transporting it to the village. They are crumbling under its weight but the rousing motivational lines of Peddha Kapu (newcomer Virat Karrna), makes them soldier on. It is 1982; NT Rama Rao has launched his political party (Telugu Desam Party) that promises to stand by the common man. The men who dig the pit are almost killed by upper-class men until things take a turn. Chota K Naidu’s camera juxtaposes the verve with which the youngsters race with the tree on their shoulders with the struggle of the rest of their ilk in the village. The flag being hoisted ensures a cinematic high and sets the stage for a power battle and the rise of the new order.
This is the best segment of Peddha Kapu that attempts to depict the shifting class, caste and power equation in a village where the tormented ones no longer want to be submissive. The theme is a marked departure from Srikanth Addala’s earlier family dramas Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu and Brahmotsavam. Addala also directed Narappa, the Telugu adaptation of Vetrimaaran’s Tamil film Asuran. Narappa served as an exercise in a new terrain before Addala set out to narrate a story of power conflicts in the context of Andhra Pradesh. The intention is admirable because these issues are sparingly explored in Telugu cinema, unlike in Tamil or Malayalam. It is also appreciable that Addala narrated this story with a newcomer and not a star.
Peddha Kapu 1 (Telugu)
Cast: Virat Karrna, Pragathi Srivastava, Rao Ramesh, Naren and Srikanth Addala
Direction: Srikanth Addala
Storyline: In an Andhra Pradesh village of the 1980s, the fault lines of class and power run deep. NTR launching his party spells hope. Can a common man rise to power rising above the class and caste equations?
Music: Mickey J Meyer
Peddha Kapu is packed with multiple subplots and several potentially interesting characters. We get an idea of conflicts in the 1960s and a story of a girl child abandoned in the fields. A young girl is tasked with finding a Good Samaritan who will care for the girl child in the village. She finds someone after a long search and in the process, she too grows fond and protective of the child. The mystery of the girl child and her mother is revealed much later.
The village folks are caught between two powerful men with political intentions, played by Rao Ramesh and ‘Aadukalam’ Naren. Will either allow an ordinary man to become a leader in the new political party?
We see the echoes of Asuran in some portions. For example, the fiery mother character (Easwari Rao), who tells her two sons never to cower down, brings back memories of the mother character (Manju Warrier) in Vetrimaaran’s film. Early in Peddha Kapu, Easwari Rao burns the books of her sons and tells them they will have to fight and survive. Midway through the story, something happens to one of the sons that shocks the family and the village, like in Asuran.
However, as Peddha Kapu progresses, it gets voyeuristic in its portrayal of violence. Limbs are axed at will and heads are chopped. The film is rated A (meant for adult viewing) and the makers do not hold back in the brutal bloodbath. The violence per se is not the problem, but the mind-numbing manner in which it is portrayed. There is also a fair share of repulsive sexual violence. The attention that could have been given to character building so that we root for the underdogs is time and again diverted into showcasing more mindless violence. Most of the women become tools for men to show their brute power. After a point, I just wanted the film to end.
Several characters that initially spark interest are eventually lost in the melee — Tanikella Bharani as the village elder who has grown cynical with time, Brigada Saga who looks out for Pragathi Srivastava’s character like a protective older sister, and Nagababu, who hopes that the tide will change. A fine actor like Easwari Rao is made to utter dialogues in a shrill tone throughout. Pragathi does not get much. In some scenes, her lip sync does not match the lengthy lines she speaks.
Anasuya Bharadwaj is the only female character that gets to shine. Rao Ramesh is cast in a character that requires him to be repulsive and menacing, and he aces it. Virat makes a mark and shows that he has potential though he does seem weighed down in some portions. Addala plays one of the bad guys who is bound to the wheelchair but conveys venom through his menacing look.
By the time a crucial character behind the shadows is revealed and things come to speed, it feels like one has endured way too much to want to watch the second part, which intends to showcase the rise of the common man to a leader.