'Aakashavaani' review: An engaging take on oppression and superstition
Running at just over two hours, the screenplay takes time to establish the milieu, its rules, beliefs (one may call superstitions), and the hierarchy.
It takes time to settle down to the tone of Aakashavaani, directed by Ashwin Gangaraju. As a one-liner, it sounds like a grounded slice-of-life drama, something on the lines of Cinema Bandi. Picture this: long after Independence, a kid hailing from a tiny tribal community isolated from the rest of the world stumbles upon a radio set, which the oppressed and uninformed people are quick to accept as God. I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the idea funny, perhaps due to the caricaturish portrayal of tribal communities we have seen in several films in the past, but Ashwin has other plans. Aakashavaani instead opts for a much serious and harsher tone; the focus is entirely on the tyranny inflicted upon the innocent tribals and their subsistence, and it’s a commendable effort with varying results.
Running at just over two hours, the screenplay takes time to establish the milieu, its rules, beliefs (one may call superstitions), and the hierarchy. In other words, we get a comprehensive picture of the life and oppressive order that prevails in this lawless, ungoverned land. Suresh Raghutu’s cinematography, the production design by Mohan and Sandeep, and the sound design by Raghunath Kemisetty play an equally important role in transporting us to this setting.
We even understand the fears and faith of these innocent humans; the movement of a light that they deem ‘death star’ indicates the passing away of life and this is later debunked in the climax. The sacrosanct norms the tribals adhere to are so strongly established in the initial act that even when their uprising against the oppressor in the climax is compared to Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu, it doesn’t feel ostentatious.
The writing manages to dodge pretentiousness by having a school teacher named Chandram (Samuthirakani, major props for dubbing his dialogues even though the influence of Tamil on the dialect is unavoidable) break the delusions these tribals are fed generation after generation, in a way they can understand – by drawing cues from their own set of beliefs. Does he manage to shatter their reality with a long speech, like Samuthirakani generally tends to? Not really; he rather catalyses them, and I particularly liked that this community goes through a period of disbelief when Chandram tries to mend their belief system.
Ricky Gervais once famously said that “if we take a holy book and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time, that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we destroy every science book, in a thousand years, they would all be back because all the same tests would produce the same result.” Aaksahvaani too propagates something similar and I admired how smartly it incorporated science into the plot without looking indulgent.
However, the film feels overlong and it doesn’t have a protagonist to root for. Just when you feel that a character will take the story forward, they end up dying immediately. Likewise, the intention to establish the lifestyle makes several scenes look redundant. Even after we get a hang of the tribals’ plight, we are forced to witness their hardships again and again. For instance, when Chandram first encounters the forest dwellers, the film once again takes us on a tour to learn their practices and beliefs along with him. While the discovery leaves Chandram astonished, we feel nothing as we are already familiar with this environment. After a point, the film doesn’t have much to communicate but takes its sweet time to resolve the conflict.
Similarly, the writing relegates the film’s formidable villain, Vinay Varma’s Dhora – equipped with a mustache, a sword, and an assistant who tries hard to mimic Allu Ramalingaiah – to a caricature of a tyrant. We hardly feel the sense of dread even when he mercilessly murders innocents nor do we feel sad for the fallen. Perhaps a better-known face could have exalted the one-dimensional villain. Moreover, having detailed their sorrows relentlessly through the majority of the runtime, I wish the film had spent a couple of more minutes to present their improved lives; this would have perhaps made it a more rewarding experience.
In all, Aakashavaani has its flaws, some of them can be in your face, but when a story is told as sincerely as this one, it’s hard to overlook.
Cast: Samuthirakani, Vinay Varma, Teja Kakumanu, Prashant
Director: Ashwin Gangaraju
Streaming on SonyLIV