What’s it about!
Despite his advanced age, Komarayya (Ketiri Sudhakar Reddy), a family patriarch in a Telangana village, retains vigour and enthusiasm. He is very excited about his grandson’s upcoming wedding. His grandson (Priyadarshi) accumulates debts as a result of his poor business decisions, and when he marries a girl, he hopes to pay them off with dowry money.
Komarayya dies as Sai’s engagement ceremony approaches. His death not only thwarts Sai’s plans, but also exposes the issues his family is dealing with.
The family, as is customary, performs a ritual of “pittaku pettadam” or “pindam” to the departed soul. Crows, on the other hand, do not taste a single piece of pindam, leaving the family members in agony. What would they do if they wanted to please the crows? Or what steps they take to ensure the departed soul’s peace.
The Telugu word “Balagam” refers to one’s kith and kin. Venu Yeldandi’s debut directorial effort “Balagam” discusses the importance of family unity, but this isn’t your typical family drama. One would expect this from a film produced by Dil Raju, who is known for making family films. However, director Venu uses “Chaavu” (death) as a device to emphasise the importance of family unity.
“Rajadhani Nagaramlo Chavu Kooda Pelli Lantide Brother (In cities, even death is celebrated like a marriage),” wrote poet Acharya Athreya in one song. However, there is a tradition in Telangana, particularly in rural areas, of celebrating death with numerous rituals. For 11 days, most non-vegetarian families observe numerous rituals, including serving mutton and alcohol to close relatives for dinner (the more goats are butchered more the rich you are).
On the third day after a death, it is customary to leave out food for the dead and watch as crows pick at it (crows are regarded the departed soul). This is the pivot around which the plot revolves.
Director Venu uses many devices from the genre of dark comedy in his telling of this story. Although the film’s lighter moments can be found in its early stages, the real meat of the drama occurs in the film’s closing minutes. In fact, the romantic thread is not at all effective. Despite the climax being overly melodramatic, Venu’s handling of certain scenes in the second half are touching.
What I liked most about “Balagam” was not the family drama but rather the depiction of the different aspects of death in the villages of Telangana, such as the play of Oggu Katha performed to keep family members awake until the funeral was completed and a singing troupe that extolled the deceased. The changes in the family dynamic after the death of the patriarch are also realistically depicted.
On the downside, the film needed to be concise and deletion of repetitive sequences.
Plus, the film has shades of Raam Reddy’s acclaimed Kannada film, Thithi.
Priyadarshi does a good job of conveying the naiveté of rural youth. Kavya Kalyanram holds up fine. All three of the actors—Ketiri Sudhakar Reddy as Komarayya, Roopa Lakshmi as Komarayya’s daughter, and Muralidhar Goud as her husband—have given very realistic portrayals.
Bheems’s music accentuates the mood. In fact, his songs are the backbone. The camera captures rural life quietly and without being flashy. Director Venu deserves praise for keeping things as authentic as they could be in this telling of the story.
Bottom-line: With death as its foundation, the story of ‘Balagam’ tells the importance of family unity through its resonant theme and believable characters. The frank depiction of funeral rites and the dry wit are both effective. Director Venu’s attempt to tell an unconventional tale comes with some caveats, including overly melodramatic moments and a lengthy running time.
By Jalapathy Gudelli
Cast: Priyadarshi, Kavya Kalyanram, K Sudhakar Reddy, Muralidhar Goud, Jayaram, Roopa Lakshma, Venu and others
Music: Bheems Ceciroleo
DOP: Acharya Venu
Presented by: Shirish
Producers: Harshith Reddy, Hanshitha Reddy
Direction: Venu Yeldandi
Release Date: March 03, 2023