Monday, January 29, 2024

Sapta Sagaradache Ello - My reflections on the two films (Side A and Side B)

I have been a movie buff for a long time.  And I have a pretty good memory of the initial impressions that films created on me when I was young.  And how over time, the same films spoke differently to me.  Even with classics, it would be the same product, of course.  Still the same motion picture of stunning beauty.  Just that the beholder changed, with age, maturity (I can only hope!) and experiences.  Not that good films become bad or vice versa.  They just seem different.  My critical style has evolved too, I feel.  I am not a film critic who looks at a film with a pure, non-judgemental eye, just looking to evaluate the worth of the craft and judge the film solely on the basis of whether the film did justice to the chosen content.  I am just an aspiring writer who likes to write with honesty about what a film did to me, be it making me smile, laugh, cry or just making me ponder.  As I think of Hemanth Rao’s two-film series, “Sapta Sagaradache Ello,” I have a plethora of thoughts and emotions.

First things first.  The films are supremely well-made.  Hemanth Rao’s handling of the actors and his staging of scenes, be it the dreamy moments at the beach, the raging conflicts (both physical and otherwise) or the tender moments, are all reflective of a director who is absolutely surefooted.  The trio of lead actors - Rakshit Shetty, Rukmini Vasanth and Chaithra Achar - all have moments where they bring their characters to life, tearing asunder the screen and leaping into our subconscious.  The three of them have mobile faces that revel in the minutiae of expression.  It would be unfair to pick a favorite, for the three of them are very different as actors.  Rakshit is endowed with a pair of eyes that allow him to convey pain without a single word uttered.  Rukmini is fantastic during the quieter moments where she has to project the character’s quiet strength, yet leave us with no doubt on how she feels about life forcing her to satisfice.  Chaithra is fantastic at delivering her lines, packing them with searing emotion. (There is a scene where she burns down something precious to the Rakshit character.  The way Chaithra expresses her anger, anguish and helplessness all at once, is brilliant.)  

Side A, as a film, worked better for me than did Side B.  The best kind of dramas are the ones where you get the feeling that the film just wrote itself.  The character’s actions just drive the plot with inexorable momentum.  In Manu (Rakshit) and Priya (Rukmini), we have a pair of lovers whom we root for from the get go.  Every act of betrayal by the people they trust almost hurt us on a visceral level.  We go from a light sense of unease to absolute desperation by the end, hoping for them to reunite.  Even as the conclusion of Side A left us stunned speechless, we still anticipated Side B to see what kind of redemption, if there was one, was in store for them.  Even if they did not marry each other, could they somehow find peace with their new normal, after Manu steps out of prison?

Side B is as well acted as Side A, if not better.  Chaithra Achar as Surabhi, has the best of the roles and she turns in an incredibly honest performance as someone who lets the beats of her heart drown out all the rational words that her mind is trying to speak.  To its credit, the film does full justice to the Surabhi character.  And it shows how brutally unfair Manu is to her.  Surabhi’s piercing lines, as she tries to guess Manu’s true motivations and her indignant tirade are all delivered with fiery passion.  In doing so, the director ensures that not for a moment do we even remotely excuse Manu’s behavior towards her.  

But that sense of a character’s actions feeling authentic to them, felt missing in the way Manu tries to create an impact on Priya’s life, but without being transparent about it.  As this part of the plot of Side B unfolded, I felt a bit distant.  Instead of being willingly sucked into - like I was in Side A - Manu’s chosen path to redemption and peace, I found myself observing from an arm’s length, the path he took.  I am not a fan of characters following others without their knowledge, under the pretense of doing them good.  Even the word “pretense” feels unfair because all Manu is trying to do is to somehow regain for Priya and for himself all that he lost in his years in prison.  Even aside my prejudice and bias, just given how familiar we became with Manu in Side A, the road that he takes does not seem like a completely natural extension of the character.  The invisible writing of Side A seemed missing here.  The plot points and twists now seemed a little less organic and more deliberate.    

The climax of Side B though feels just right on many levels.  The desperation, as Manu searches for Surabhi, ensures that the acts of violence do not come across as gratuitous.  The action sequence is tense because we feel like no one is invincible and the stakes are incredibly high.  For the scene to shift from raw action to tender poetry is not a transition that is easy to pull off.  But director Hemanth manages it supremely well.  And by the time the film ended, I felt nearly as drained as I was at the end of Side A. 

In Side B, I may not have felt as swept away by the wave of emotion as I did in Side A.  But as a two-film series, "Sapta Sagaradache Ello" is akin to a ship that takes you through incredibly choppy waters, creating a purposefully intense experience.  You might not always be aligned with the path that it takes.  But it is also a journey that you willingly undertake since you know that the captain and his crew know exactly how to navigate through the storms and bring you safely home.