Janatha Garage- Visitor Column

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After watching Janatha Garage and reading reports about its box office performance, I must admit that Jr. NTR (Wikipedia refers to him as N. T. Rama Rao Jr., which I find actually a cool one) has pulled a feat similar to the one Shah Rukh Khan did back in 2013 with Chennai Express. The difference is, Janatha Garage is not a bad film at all, but it swings to the extremes. The film's portions are either too good (like the GHMC episode) or just passable. There is nothing middle.


The story of Janatha Garage has shades of The Godfather (Sarkar to be precise). We have Anand (Rama Rao Jr.), an environmentalist (or something similar) who loves mother nature and its biggest gift, the greenery. Like Nature, he too looks way simple and subtle, mostly ordinary. Should be true, Anand is also a sort of crazy and contradicting character whom one cannot bond with properly in real life. Rama Ro Jr. makes this character an affable one with his restrained, subtle and measured performance. Agreed he does gravity-defying fights, but this can be overlooked considering the film's genre and its mainstream approach.


On the other hand, there is Satyam, the owner of "Janatha Garage" established in the 80's. A character played by Mohanlal with wonderful grace and a dominating screen presence, Satyam believes in helping the weak and right-minded people. He and a bunch of like-minded mechanics form a group and start this Garage, which should ideally be called an additional grievance cell. The film's good moments are between Anand and Satyam, the way they clash, bond, and understand each other. Their bond is reminiscent of the one we see between Rajinikanth and Mammootty in Mani Ratnam's 1993 drama, Thalapathi.


The similarities aren't small enough to brush aside. The interval scene where Anand subtly warns Satyam after locking horns with his son Raghava on a quarry-related issue is reminiscent of Deva's first meeting with Surya post an assault on Ramana. In another poignant moment, when Anand chooses Satyam and his Garage over Dhana, his girlfriend (played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu), Surya's breakup with Subhalakshmi flashes in the mind. Here too, her father is not happy with Satyam's criminal background. But, here is the actual difference. Thalapathi was an intense drama with stronger female characters and was actually a tale of friendship between two strangers, which made the final act believable. And, Ratnam's handling made a huge difference. Here, both Samantha and Nithya Menen get poorly-written roles. Devayani too suffers from bad writing in her part as Satyam's wife, but her grace makes it sail smoothly. There is also a "Chikni Chameli"-type item number by the svelte Kajal Aggarwal who looks good and matches Rama Rao Jr.'s dance moves in a way beyond the initial expectations.


Major flaws are in the script itself, not in the efforts put in by the actors and the technical crew. The villains, played by Sachin Khedekar and Unni Mukundan, could not match the aura of the protagonists and I just can't blame the latter pair's larger-than-life image. Remember how menacing and brilliant was Jagapathi Babu in Rama Rao Jr's previous release, Nannaku Prematho? Scenes like the chief minister dropping a plan upon Satyam's reluctance in a meeting of major political parties, Raghava killing one of Satyam's trusted lieutenants, police seeking Rama Rao Jr.'s help in detecting and defusing the bombs etc. affect the film. There is also an awful wastage of good actors and actresses in minor supporting roles.


If there are such issues, who were the saving grace? Thankfully, there are answers. First, Mohanlal and Rama Rao Jr.'s performances. Next, S. Thirunavukarasu's cinematography which sets the mood of every scene perfectly. The film's visuals make the Garage a character in the film, lets the viewers see the depth of the minds of our protagonists, and manages to redeem the film to a larger extent. The theme of nature love, though given up by Anand in the second half unintentionally, is there everywhere - the brownish tint, the beautiful pots, and the subdued colours of costumes. Devi Sri Prasad's music and A. S. Prakash's art direction were surely helpful to the film in crucial junctures. Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao's editing, well, is a mixed bag. The sharpness is missing in some places, but I cannot blame him solely for that.


Now, finally about the captain of the ship, Koratala Siva. His previous directorial too dealt with social issues, but with much precision and subtlety. Mirchi, despite being an unapologetic star vehicle for Prabhas (Baahubali fame), shed light on class divisions in factionalism-ridden villages and the concepts of forgiving and loving everyone equally. Srimanthudu (starring Mahesh Babu, one of the dominant superstars of Telugu cinema) hinted on the way private enterprises and entrepreneurs could give it back to the society beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Janatha Garage too has something to say: Loving and preserving the nature is a good thing. If our fellow humans too are taken care of, this tiny world shall be actually peaceful. Siva seems to be a responsible filmmaker given his family's communism background, but unlike the previous two films, filmmaking takes a severe beating here.  No doubt, the film is a success currently and has become the second fastest 100 crore grossing Telugu film ever, bringing a smile on the faces of its distributors and inching very fast towards a breakeven. So, the involved parties can be happy. I only wish that Siva shall be more careful next time as a filmmaker and let his cast provide strength to his script. Here, they just bear the heavy weight silently.

subhash rajali
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