Reviews

Gopala Gopala: Of faith and superstitions

Venkatesh and Pawan Kalyan in Gopala Gopala

Venkatesh and Pawan Kalyan in Gopala Gopala  

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Two years before an alien landed in Rajasthan, lost his pendant that was his key to return home, learnt Bhojpuri and went in search of ‘bhagwan’, Kanji Lalji Mehta sued God for destroying his shop. OMG – Oh My God! directed by Umesh Shukla, an adaptation of the Gujarati play Kanji Virudh Kanji (which in turn was inspired by the Australian film The Man Who Sued God), took on superstitious beliefs and Godmen head on before Rajkumar Hirani and Aamir Khan did so with PK. With its taut script and a brilliant portrayal of Kanji by Paresh Rawal, OMG was a small film that grew with word of mouth publicity.

So when one heard that the film is being remade in Telugu with Venkatesh reprising the part of Rawal and Pawan Kalyan playing God in place of Akshay Kumar, there was a hint of misgiving if the original flavour might be lost in trying to cater to an audience that’s used to watching its stars play to the gallery. In Gopala Gopala, the whistles and claps come, partly due to Pawan Kalyan’s presence but more importantly with dialogues that intend to make the audience look inwards.

Gopala Rao (Venkatesh) is an atheist who sells idols of Gods and Goddesses. He prefers to dole out money to help someone in need than offering it to a religious institution. Once, enraged on knowing that his wife (Shriya Saran) and son are at a religious gathering that asks devotees to walk over fire, he barges in and takes them away. He does so by inviting the wrath of Godmen (a conman sadhu Posani Murali Krishna, a sultry sadhvi and the mastermind sadhu Mithun Chakraborty). In what seems like punishment, only Gopala Rao’s shop is destroyed in heavy rains and earthquake. He is rebuked for his lack of faith and turned away by the insurance company that’s unwilling to compensate him for an ‘act of God’. Pushed to a corner, Gopala Rao decides to sue God.

It isn’t easy to contest practices followed over generations through a film. This story (by Umesh Shukla and Bhavesh Mandalia) and screenplay (Kishore Kumar Pardasani, Bhupati Raja and Deepak Raj) does the tightrope walking quite well. A song sung by Kailash Kher makes it clear that the writers are scrutinising irrational beliefs rather than faith. The masterstroke lies in making God a character in the film and having him impart key principles of Bhagavad Gita, Bible and Quran to Gopala Rao, who draws people to his side with logical arguments.

Having already watched Paresh Rawal ace the part of Kanji and put up a performance that makes viewers brush aside the slight niggles in the screenplay, it takes a while to warm up to Venkatesh. But a few minutes into the film, it’s evident that Venkatesh has put aside his star persona and has slipped into the shoes of a middle class man who has to fight to get his family and livelihood back. Pawan Kalyan brings in the flamboyance required for a larger-than-life character without going overboard. As God who wants people to be god-loving than god-fearing, he delivers lines that are bound to be repeated in the days to come. The courtroom drama becomes riveting as Gopala Rao highlights the true meaning of verses in religious scriptures.

Gopala Gopala has some good performances coming in from Shriya Saran and the ensemble cast that includes Posani, Krishnudu, Madhu Shalini, Murali Sharma and Ashish Vidyarthi. Mithun Chakraborty re-enacts the part of an effeminate Godman with aplomb.

Anoop Rubens fills in with an apt background score. A major sore point is the setting of the middle class colony. Venkatesh’s house and the neighbourhood remind one of old-fashioned television serials. Perhaps shooting in real locations would have given it the much-needed authenticity.

To a large extent, Gopala Gopala stays true to the essence of OMG – Oh My God! and it’s heart-warming to see a Telugu film backed by big stars taking up the idea of spirituality versus superstitious beliefs.

Gopala Gopala

Cast: Venkatesh, Pawan Kalyan, Shriya and Mithun Chakraborty

Direction: Kishore Kumar Pardasani

Music: Anoop Rubens

Bottomline: Don’t miss this one.

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