Review: CAMERAMAN GANGA THO RAMBABU is a Unique Theatrical Experience
The fans turned the film's first local screening into a unique theatrical event, the likes of which I haven't seen since the opening night showing of Rajnikanth's Enthiran.
First, a little background and context. My specialty here at Twitch is one that not many outsiders put much stock in.
Indian cinema gets almost no major media coverage anywhere but its homeland. This is in spite of the fact that it has the largest audience -- nearly three billion viewers worldwide -- of any film industry in the world, including Hollywood. This is in spite of the fact that the Indian diaspora spreads beyond the subcontinent and has deep roots all over the world, from Singapore to Hong Kong to Malaysia to Germany to the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond. As a result, these far flung locations have their own Indian communities, complete with cultural centers and activities, religious celebrations and chambers of commerce. Oh, and movies.
Granted, foreign box office for Indian films, especially regional films, is a very small part of the overall business. However, when major Bollywood releases regularly crack the top 10 at the US box office and big time regional releases can make as much as a million dollars on opening weekend, I'm sometimes surprised that nobody cares. Then I remember why. No subtitles.
Americans, by and large, are loathe to watch films with subtitles. Why, I'll never know. The stock answer I've heard from my Luddite friends is that they want to watch the movie, not read it. I choose to believe that those guys are just fucking with me and that there's actually a better reason. In any case, if it's difficult to get people into subtitled films, it's all but impossible to get them into an unsubtitled film, particularly from a regional cinema with such a unique flavor as Telugu cinema.
I am among the brave few. Even most of my cultured friends fear films with no subtitles, and I suppose I understand that. Depending on the film, it can be quite the detriment. There is that rare occasion, like this summer's Eega, where the lack of subtitles was a non-issue; however, more often than not you do miss a fair bit of exposition when people are giving five-page monologues during the climax. Such was the case with Puri Jagannadh and Pawan Kalyan's Cameraman Ganga Tho Ramabu. However, the dialogue was probably the least exciting part of my screening, as I mentioned above: the fans turned this film into an event like I haven't seen since the opening night showing of Rajnikanth's Enthiran.
I showed up to the theatre about 40 minutes early, having already purchased my outrageously priced opening night ticket, in order to secure myself a decent seat in the auditorium. I figured this would be early enough. The cinema seats 425, and Indian films typically fill in from the back row to the front, so surely I'd have no problem finding a seat. I was a little bit off in my calculations. I ended up in the first row of the mezzanine on the extreme right of the screen, still manageable, but far from ideal. In any case, this was merely the beginning of the mania, as the cinema quickly filled with rabid Pawan Kalyan fans who were ready to rip the seats out to show their devotion if necessary.
About 30 minutes before the promised show time, the audience was buzzing, I could tell it wouldn't be long before they'd begin demanding that the film start regardless of what the clock said. Instead, however, a few excited fans began a chant not unlike what you'd hear at a football match: "ZINDABAD ZINDABAD/POWER STAR ZINDABAD!" Translated roughly, it means "Long Live Power Star!", which is the name given to Pawan Kalyan by his fans (or his PR team, but at this point which came first is a moot point). The chants spread quickly until the entire audience, including yours truly, was shouting at the top of their lungs. The audience wasn't growing restless, they were simply ramping up for what they knew was coming. Complete mania.
About ten minutes before the lights went down, a somewhat clueless Caucasian woman entered the auditorium with a black garbage bag and announced that anyone caught with newspaper would have their ticket revoked. You see, not only is the audience vocal, they also enjoy throwing shredded newspaper, like confetti, at every opportunity, which I imagine is a bit of a pain for the cleaning staff. Poor theatre staff lady was jeered and eventually laughed nearly out of the room, however, before that happened she and her lackey managed to fill two 30-gallon trash bags with contraband newspaper, much to the chagrin of the revelers.
Shortly after making her announcement and trying to make her way out, she was met by the theatre's general manager and scolded for trying to put a damper on the fun. She left, but was followed by a couple of fans who quickly, and hopefully peacefully, recovered their confetti bags to distribute to the faithful. Their return to the auditorium was met with huge cheers, including my own.
When the lights went down, the confetti shower began, and it didn't end until the closing credits rolled across the screen. Any time Pawan Kalyan appeared on screen, confetti. Anytime he delivered a particularly powerful dialogue, confetti. When Pawan Kalyan's older brother Mega Star Chiranjeevi appeared ever so briefly in an archival news clip montage during the opening credits, confetti. The film got quiet for too long, confetti. You name it, the result was confetti, and it was awesome. The confetti was often joined by the above-mentioned chanting, cat-calling, whistling, cheering, and altogether enthusiastic elation of the crowd. In any other theater, this would be cause to call the manager, but south Indian films are often interactive experiences, and you've never really lived until you've been a part of that culture, even for a few hours. The pure joy emanating from the people in the theatre was palpable, and it was an energy I was happy to absorb and contribute to in any way possible.
As for the film, Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu is another story of corrupt Indian politics brought to its knees by a single man, in this case Pawan Kalyan's Rambabu. When Rambabu is spotted defusing a potential riot he becomes something of a folk hero in Andhra Pradesh, and Cameraman Ganga (Tamannah), a newswoman eager to climb the corporate ladder, decides to take advantage of his new celebrity by bringing him on as an investigative reporter of sorts at her TV station. There is tension, suspense, a love triangle, murder, and numerous fights and songs, and it all adds up to what seems to be an above average masala film, and a return to form for director Puri Jagannadh.
Pawan Kalyan delivers a crowd-pleasing performance as Rambabu. His dialogues appeared to hit the spot, as they were consistently met with raucous cheers, and his fight scenes, though a bit sloppy, also earned points for creativity. The final melee in the film features Rambabu taking on a big heap of hijras (kojja in Telugu), or eunuchs/transgendered women, with pretty stunning elan. This was definitely the action highlight of the film. Apart from that, he is a pretty decent actor who knows what masala films demand and he brings exactly that to the table.
Kalyan is joined by a who's who of Telugu popular cinema. One thing that I have found very interesting is the fact that Tollywood uses the same five or six character actors in nearly every major production, usually as comedic relief. In this case we are treated to performances from Ali as one of the muckrakers at Ganga's TV station, Brahmanandam (the Guinness World Record holder for appearing in the most films in a single language with over 900 Telugu films under his belt) as a network exec in charge of reshaping Rambabu and his nemesis through the media, Prakash Raj as said nemesis in one of his patented go-for-broke insane villain performances, and Kota Srinivasa Rao as an organized crime leader, or perhaps anti-labor boss, I wasn't really sure except that I knew he was a bad guy with connections.
Also worth noting is Tamannah's performance as Ganga. A lot of the time in these hero-centered films, women get short shrift and are often stuck in the background, like with last weeks' Maatraan, however, Tamannah shines in her portrayal of Ganga. She's never overly masculine, but she is determined and career minded in a way that heroines in these films don't often get to express. Sure, she does eventually fall in love with Rambabu and becomes part of a love triangle, but it's not as sappy as it sounds, and I was pretty happy with the size of her role in the film.
I can't give you specifics about the dialogue, and my grasp of the plot is somewhat tenuous, however, I can tell you that I had a great fucking time. I know that's not much of an endorsement in this case, but hey, what do you expect? The crowd was wild; the film was big, loud, and fun; and I walked out a happy camper. I can't guarantee you the same experience, but if you do manage to catch it this weekend, you might have a little but more fun than you're expecting.
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