Director Teja Marni looks at the social ramifications of building a humongous statue, through four stories inspired by true incidents
At a crucial juncture in debut director Teja Marni’s Telugu political-social drama Johaar (streaming on Aha), political leader Vijay Varma (Chaitanya Krishna) explains how funds can be gathered, or rather diverted from the allocated budget, with an analogy. If he’s in need of ₹100 and usurps the whole amount from his father, he’s likely to get caught. If he took ₹25 each from his father, mother, and siblings, they may not notice it. Or, they will make peace with it assuming they didn’t have much to begin with.
Vijay needs ₹3000 crore to build a statue in memory of his late father, former Chief Minister of the State. He wants a statue that’s taller than 500 feet, can be spotted from a satellite and will pave way for his father, and him, to become a part of history. For this, funds are siphoned from the budget allocated to key sectors.
- Cast: Esther Anil, Ankith Koyya, Naina Ganguly, Easwari Rao
- Director: Teja Marni
- Streaming on: Aha
First-time writer-director Teja shows the ramifications of such a political move on agriculture, education, small businesses, and sports, through four stories said to have been inspired by real life incidents. It’s an ambitious idea. As the stories unravel simultaneously in Varanasi, Vizag, Rayalaseema and Srikakulam, and the prime characters are shown to reel under the ripple effects of politics, some stories evoke a strong sense of empathy while others fall short.
An ensemble cast breathes life into the stories. Cinematographer Jagadeesh Cheekati, art director Gandhi and music composer Priyadarshan give these four worlds distinct textures.
An upbeat music score leads us into Varanasi and this could well be the story of first love, between tea seller Siddharth (Ankith Koyya) and Jyothi (Esther Anil). However, danger lurks in Jyothi’s home that doubles up as a brothel. It’s a telling story of an adolescent who is aware that she won’t be safe if her mother discovers that she has attained puberty.
A village near Srikakulam is steeped with waterborne diseases. When Gangamma’s (Easwari Rao’s) child asks how water, a life giver, can also take away someone’s life, there are no answers. Like her late father, the child too is affected by a kidney condition. Gangamma’s only hope is her small farm.
In Rayalaseema, a man in his 70s (Subhalekha Sudhakar) holds on to what he learnt as a child from Subhash Chandra Bose and hopes that in new India, there will be a way to provide a decent accommodation for street children.
Meanwhile, Vizag-based street circus performer Bhanu (Naina Ganguly) wants to become an athlete and finds a coach who supports her. It isn’t enough. She needs the support of an academy, which in turn needs government funding.
Esther-Ankith and Naina Ganguly’s stories stand out and the actors shine with credible performances. Both Sudhakar and Eshwari’s stories are predictably gloomy and underwhelming. The actors are earnest but their roles don’t give them much scope to go beyond expressing grief and anxiety. Chaitanya Krishna is good as the calculative leader.
The film presents hard-hitting stories and draws parallels to real-life political happenings. It’s a commendable attempt, even though it isn’t wholly convincing. Tying up all the stories to a political move, and the characters facing a chain of untoward incidents, ends up looking like a force fit.
A quibble about the ending, which is tough to discuss without giving away spoilers, is how easily the silver lining comes through. If it was that easy to spark a change in mindset, the political scenario would have been different, isn’t it?
(Johaar streams on Aha)