Ahead of Karnan’s release, Mari Selvaraj said, "The culture of cinema and performance art has been an intrinsic part of rural lifestyle for generations. Singing, dancing, and acting are not alien to people from rural regions. It's just that they are not familiar with the very medium that capitalises their lifestyle and stories. I want to break the myth that films and filmmaking are inaccessible for common people." Praveen Kandregula's Cinema Bandi reflects this idea, and just like Mari's speech, this Netflix film too left a profound impact on me.
It’s a sweet slap on the cheek to remind us that cinema is a libertarian artform, regardless of what films and filmmakers may tell. In fact, in Cinema Bandi, when Veerababu (Vikas Vasishta), a needy auto driver finds a high-spec camera left in the trunk of his three-wheeler, his first instinct is to sell the camera to make a quick buck. However, catapulted by a latenight TV program on the financial success of indie films, he veers towards filmmaking, supposing it as the solution to his and his village’s materialistic constrictions. A local wedding photographer Ganapathi (Sandeep Varanasi) becomes the cinematographer for the film. Maridayya (Rag Mayur), the barber who later adapts the screen name Maridesh Babu, and the schoolgoing Divya are the leads.
An elderly village dweller (with a hysterical twist towards the end) is the film’s writer. A local wedding video editor and music band member came on board to handle the film’s editing and choreography, respectively. A young, by-standing kid, fittingly named Basha, is the continuity supervisor. As the unversed crew faces an uphill battle to complete the film even as a bigger threat continues to mount in the background with Sindhu (Sindhu Sreenivas Murthy) setting out on a restless hunt to track her misplaced camera. Sporadically made films about filmmaking — Neninthe in Telugu, Luck by Chance in Hindi, Jigarthanda in Tamil —have solely underlined the travails endured by aspiring filmmakers and actors, and almost deified the medium.
Barring an Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi that came closest to demystifying filmmaking, most of these films only aided in cementing the notion that cinema is an allexclusive, aristocratic medium. Perhaps this is why Cinema Bandi’s nonchalance comes across as a refreshing blow to our perception of filmmaking. Written by Vasanth Maringanti, Cinema Bandi acknowledges the divinity encircling movies and movie stars, but refrains from separating its under-privileged characters from the phenomenon. In short, it never looks down upon them. It is in direct contrast to the mainstream cinema scenes we've watched like the one in Gaddalakonda Ganesh where actor Nithiin (playing himself), playfully says, “Evadu padithe vaadu industry ki vasthunnadu (Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is entering the film industry),” suggesting that not everybody has the ‘standards’ to be a part of cinema.
Cinema Bandi puts a check to this condescension. Right from the film-within-thefilm's hero using his Ganesh Chathurthi dance performances over the years to establish his dancing skills to the taciturn thatha and Veera’s young daughter, Potti (Davani), every character makes you smile, and are allowed to shine. We even see autos becoming camera trolleys and bullock-carts doubling up as cranes. Cinema Bandi reaffirms its tagline "everyone is a filmmaker... at heart" and proves that there is more to filmmaking and acting than just what is portrayed in mainstream cinema.
The film seamlessly nudges the problematic aspects of Telugu cinema as well. Take, for instance, the scene where the film's heroine intuitively fights back at the goons attacking her. Veera asks her to double down because she is not supposed to do the job of the 'hero'. “Why are you thrashing them? This is a film. Wait for the hero to come and save you,” states Veera. Simple, funny, and communicates the point. Cinema Bandi is also about the poignant moment s written beautifully into the story. When Veera's wife is forced to take up a daily wage job to make ends meet, and she gets ready to leave for work, Veera's silence is more telling than any lengthy monologue.
Like Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya, this too is a film that thrives on its landscape. The calming sunsets come with a sense of assurance of a better tomorrow. Set near the Andhra- Karnataka border, the dialogues bear a heavy dialect which, although takes some time to adjust to, becomes integral to the story. Sirish Satyavolu’s soothing music adds to Apoorva Shaligram Dewalkar and Sagar YVV’s simplistic visuals. They wonderfully complement each other.
Be it the shot of Veera's lunch box packing avakay annam in Moodu Sakrala Bandi or the close-ups of the elated villagers in the climactic number, Kasuleyi Linga, Cinema Bandi reaffirms that no detail is too trivial to be captured on film and that every face is equally significant. There are times when just the mere existence of a film makes us happy. Now is a time where people need liberal doses of happiness, and Cinema Bandi, with its innocent and optimistic view of the cinema and world, is undoubtedly one such film that is bound to leave us all with a big grin on our faces.