If doom’s day is round the corner, would we still hold on to empty pride that we derive from our wealth, education, caste or societal status? Or will it make us band together with people and hope to make a fresh start once the worst is over? Debut director Vishvak Khanderao raises these questions through the Telugu film Skylab , which is fashioned like a period musical comedy-drama. The film is a fictional tale inspired by incidents surrounding the fear of NASA’s space station Skylab crashing in Karimnagar on July 11, 1979.
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The first few minutes establish why Bandalingampally is a village like none other, filled with peculiar people. Rather than taking the regular route of depicting an earthy, close-to-reality village setting, Vishvak and cinematographer Aditya Javvadi take the cinematic liberty of merging the earthiness with a carefully colour-coded canvas that bursts with bright hues, predominantly blues. Music composer Prashanth Vihari joins in to complete the other-worldly treatment with his rustic-meets-international score.
- Cast: Nithya Menen, Satya Dev, Rahul Ramakrishna
- Direction: Vishvak Khanderao
- Music: Prashanth Vihari
Once you soak into the milieu, it becomes easier to enjoy the languidly paced comedy drama. The characters are diverse — Gowri (Nithya Menen) who cannot write to save her life but is determined to carve an identity for herself as a journalist than live in the shadow of her father’s name, the opportunistic Dr Anand (Satya Dev) who needs money to get his revoked licence back, and ‘subedar’ Ramarao (Rahul Ramakrishna) who loathes the debt he has to deal with but the empty pride of his family’s past comes in the way of him actually getting down to any work.
Several other characters add charm to Bandalingampally. Tanikella Bharani treasures a scooter but will not ride it, a young boy dives into the temple pond to retrieve coins, an elderly Dalit sculptor who is not allowed into the village temple begins sculpting an idol, Gowri’s loyal assistant Seenu (Vishnu Oi) who wants to see her shine, a villager who wants to punish anyone who errs by parading them on one of his buffaloes…
These characters cross paths and lead to laugh-aloud moments that arise from perfectly timed repartees that are sometimes delivered in a sing-song manner. Gowri’s tryst with writing, Ramarao’s frustration on seeing how his mother and grandmother’s acts push him deeper into a financial mess and his unlikely collaboration with Dr Anand at an ill-fated location in the village guarantee fun moments.
The news of Skylab’s possible fall pushes them and the village to an edge. A few events unfold on expected lines, exploring superstitious practices, while others are sharp observations that are relevant today. What is doom for some reeks of opportunity for the others. Take the case of how Gowri stokes fear and is gleeful at the prospect of a cover story.
Before the humour begins to wear thin, the narrative changes course to probe deeper into people’s psyche. The coming-of-age journeys of the three principal characters are effective with poignant moments that linger. But the other aspects, particularly the Dalits gaining entry into the temple, could have been told more effectively.
The film benefits from good performances. Nithya is credible as the aristocrat who yearns for her identity but hasn’t yet worked enough for it and Satya Dev looks every bit the opportunist who later has a change of heart and has a homecoming of sorts. He and Rahul Ramakrishna bring the house down more than once. Talking of Rahul, it’s impressive how he and Vishnu make the rustic and fun portrayals seem so effortless and natural. Tanikella Bharani, Tulasi, Subbaraya Sharma and several others are effective in their parts.
Skylab deserves a pat on its back for moving away from the oft-repeated mainstream narratives. The slow pace might require some patience; but ultimately, this tale of a sleepy village is charming and fun.