Varun Tej & Praggya Jaiswal starrer Telugu film ‘Kanche’

Kanche (fence) is a metaphor to show the lines of demarcation in society; lines that divide us on the basis of religion, race, caste and wealth. The narrow mindedness behind the divisions in a small village, Devarakonda, is no different from the urge for supremacy that’s tearing nations apart in World War II. Krish Jagarlamudi is addressing these divisions at both a smaller and larger level. While doing so, he is also breaking the invisible fence that limits the Telugu film industry. Step across the fence to a new world of storytelling, he seems to say. He doesn’t do this like a fence sitter — wanting to push the envelope but holding back for box office acceptance — he just plunges in. That’s what makes Kanche a worthy watch.

In Varun Tej, Krish finds an actor who doesn’t want to be bound by the norms of mainstream cinema and entrusts him to enact the part of Dhupati Hari Babu, a youngster who plays by his own rules in erstwhile Madrasapattinam. Hari is a college student who works part time to make ends meet, and isn’t afraid of falling in love with a ‘princess’ Sita Devi (Pragya Jaiswal) who is hardly seen without her hair, makeup and colour coordinated jewellery in place.

For these extremes to come together, the social divide that runs through the veins of their village will have to be broken. Sita’s brother Eeshwar (Nikitin Dheer) will have none of their alliance.

Years later, Hari and Eeshwar are among the 25 lakh Indian soldiers fighting a war in which they are mere specks. The story goes back and forth, fabulously narrating the stories of the principal characters.

Here’s a filmmaker who doesn’t spoon feed, doesn’t translate more than what’s necessary when a number of lines are spoken in English and German. He trusts the audience to decipher the proceedings in the context.

The leading lady is the driving force behind Hari Babu, the reason why he can summon up courage on the Italian border. Intermittently in the army camp, we see him writing letters to her and share his thoughts on the war, meeting her brother at the camp and why humanity has to triumph above differences.

Varun Tej has remarkable screen presence, breezes through the lighter moments with a twinkle in his eyes and handles the toughest of scenes with alacrity, despite being just one film old. This is an actor to watch out for. Pragya Jaiswal is gorgeous and looks aristocratic, but it would have helped if she didn’t hold herself back in the crucial, emotive scenes.

If we were to pick a bone in Kanche, it’s got to be with the pace that slows down in the latter half. Interweaving the past and the present, which works beautifully in the first half, doesn’t come off as seamless in the latter portions. As a result, some portions don’t make for an absorbing cinematic experience.

The hero wanting to risk everything to be a good human first and then a soldier makes you question if it is indeed possible. But history is probably filled with unknown stories where people, in their limited capabilities, reached out to those in distress.

Krish scores in showing the transformation in some of the principal characters, particularly Srinivas Avasarala, with good help from dialogue writer Sai Madhav Burra. Burra uses nuggets of wisdom without getting preachy. Avasarala’s character brings in a touch of humour. Avasarala is an under-used actor with a knack of making a character seem like an extension of himself; effortlessly.

Cinematography by Gnanasekhar is commendable and so is the music by Chirantan Bhatt. A lot of detailing has gone into Kanche; the war portions look authentic with the use of real weapons of that era, and the frames are filled with colour and earthiness required for Devarakonda. It’s a pleasure to see Sowcar Janaki after long, albeit in a brief role.

Kanche doesn’t stand out merely by being different, but also because it’s earnest.

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