Palasa 1978, directed by debutante Karuna Kumar, depicts the harsh reality of the caste system, violence and the exploitation of the marginalised and poor in a feudalistic society. Explicitly drawing inspiration from the incidents that had happened in his life, the director showcases how little things have changed in all these years.
Set in Palasa, North Andhra, the film traces the journey of two brothers – Ranga Rao (Thiruveer) and Mohan Rao (Rakshit Atluri), who belong to a low caste family that sings and dances after dusk, and work as labourers at the de-seeding cashew unit of the village head Guru Murthy aka Pedda Shavukar in the day.
Mohan Rao has a rebellious attitude, unlike his submissive elder brother Ranga Rao, who dutifully pays obeisance to the Shavukar, and occasionally gets beaten up by the high caste bullies.
One of the interesting characters in the film is Linga Murthy aka Chinna Shavukar (Raghu Kunche), another powerful businessman in the town, who loathes his brother, Pedda Shavukar, and has an illicit relationship with a low caste woman.
The film, a revenge drama, honestly recreates the events from 1978 to 2018. As a debutant director, who narrates a story that highlights the caste atrocities, family feud, and sexual depravity among the upper class, Karuna Kumar has done well.
Also, what’s remarkable about this film is that it is made as accurate as possible. There’s no propaganda and no individual heroes. There are only circumstances that force its people to take up violence to safeguard their lives and fight oppression.
Karuna Kumar, in particular, manages to keep the audience on the hook, while dealing with the socially relevant issues.
The way he illustrated these points effectively in a couple of scenes – when the ostracized people aren’t allowed near the platform to take water from the well and the theatre fight when Pedda Shavukar’s son asks Ranga Rao’s wife-to-be to share the bed with him – deserve a special mention.
The story also touches upon the themes of love, family bonding, and greed. The texture of the film and the language these characters speak brings a touch of realism to the proceedings.
Palasa 1978, in that way, makes all the right noises about discrimination, exploitation, poverty and slavery-like practices. The film has some powerful moments, but it’s so thin on plot and uneven in the pace that the film feels stretched.
The film goes off the rails about ten minutes into the second half and you really have to endure a lot to keep yourself invested. Much of the time and footage is wasted on unnecessary subplots.
To build up the conversation between Mohan Rao and Sebastian’s characters, the director here tries to make reference to many incidents – from Karamchedu massacre to Rohit Vemula’s suicide – and it is where the narrative tends to get preachy. The climax disappoints, and you watch with a sense of detachment.
Every single character seems real, that could be the reason the director didn’t cast established actors. The standout performance in the film comes from Rakshit Atluri, who lends credibility, desperation, innocence and strength into Mohan Rao’s character.
Thiruveer, who rose to fame playing the baddie, Lalan Singh in George Reddy, shines as Ranga Rao in this film. Raghu Kunche as Chinna Shavukar creates a solid yet believable character that’s endearing due to his negative traits.
The film works well when its supporting characters Lakshman, Madhavi, Nakshatra and Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari are at the forefront. Raghu Kunche’s music and background score make the film all the more engaging. Arul Vincent’s lens brilliantly captures the rustic charm of Palasa and the forests near the Odisha border.
Violence is an integral part of the film and the director seems to portray that slashing throats or killing a man with a rock is a solution to the problem. However, the ordeal of the protagonist makes the viewers believe that he has not been left with a choice but to launch a counter-attack on the troublemakers to fight the oppression.
Palasa 1978 doesn’t end with the same promise of the early parts of the film, but it has several moments that are thrilling. Watch it if you are a fan of realistic films.