Raju (Subba Rao), in his late 40s, is a kind-hearted attender at a government office of Kancharapalem, a town in Andhra Pradesh. It is a tight-knit community, where everyone knows everything about everyone in the village. Well, almost. The only thing that keeps the entire village on the edge is the sexual orientation of Raju. He is nearly 50 and why he isn’t showing interest in getting married? Is he gay? These are the questions that keep the villagers up all night. The overreaching curiosity of the villagers even threatens Raju with an exile.
Enter Radha (Radha Bessy). She is Raju’s superior officer. She is 42. And she is a widow of 15 years with a 20-year-old daughter. And she is Raju’s neighbour. Very early on, we can predict that they both are likely to like each other. Why not as they seem so compatible as if their match was made in heaven. The only catch in this seemingly grand divine design was before they could find each other, they individually had to endure many tragedies, disappointments and learn the hard truth, which is life is anything but predictable.
The film’s feel-good vibe encourages you to believe that Raju and Radha’s union will be a cakewalk without any opposition. They are no Romeo and Juliet, right? So we may think. Enter ‘what will people say’ debate which in India is notoriously known for killing generations of dreams and desires. It is Radha who proposes Raju for marriage. At first, Raju gives into this age-old social fear. And runs away, literally, from her. Later, Radha’s progressive and apparently feminist 20-something-daughter asks her the million-dollar question: What will people say? And then, Radha’s younger brother who doesn’t think twice before landing a tight slap across the face of his elder sister.
Wait, it is not the story of just Raju and Radha. There is Sundaram (Kesava Karri), a school-kid, who is crushing over his classmate Sunitha (Nithyasri Goru). And we also have Joseph (Karthik Rathnam) who is dating a Brahmin girl Bhargavi (Praneetha Patnaik) and there is also Gaddam (Mohan Bhagath) who is madly in love with a Muslim girl, Saleema (Vijaya Praveena Paruchuri). It is also the journey of a man who is in search of a religion to believe in, a woman to love and a place to live on his own terms.
Director Venkatesh Maha’s writing is made up of the fairy tale stuff and permanent and harsh realities of our way of living. Take, for example, Saleema. She makes a living as a prostitute. In one scene, she tells Gaddam that she needs no hero to rescue her. Still, Gaddam doesn’t stop admiring her and makes no judgement about her profession. He even drops her off to her place of business every day and hands her packets of condoms for her safety. Irrespective of what Saleema thinks, Gaddam is a kind of hero who inhabits the world of fairy tales.
Venkatesh’s writing is also funny and layered at once. When Raju meets Radha for the first time, he welcomes her in Telugu, while handing her a bouquet. And she says, “I don’t know Telugu” in Hindi. “Oh, Hindi-wala,” responds Raju. “No, I am from Orissa.” Radha’s refusal to be identified as Hindi-wala is a testament to the diversity which makes our country as vibrant as this film. Also, it felt like a strong retort to south Indians who constantly complain about north Indians who identify them as Madrasis. The question is can people in the south do better and acknowledge the diverse culture of the north without clubbing everyone there as Hindi-wala?
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The landscape of Care of Kancharapalem is populated by those who did not have any professional experience in the past. And, Venkatesh has put in little effort to extract award-worthy performances from these non-actors. He hasn’t even corrected the actors when they grin in the middle of a performance. The acting is imperfect, and that surprisingly adds to the charm of this film.
Care of Kancharapalem is available on Jio Cinema and Nextflix.