I was at my library checking out yet another DVD set of Murder She Wrote (it’s the perfect “have the TV on in the background for company while you unpack/blog” show), and there on the “recently returned” shelf was Janatha Garage! So odd! I took it as a sign and checked it out and watched it.
I am going to start with a possibly silly question: when did NTR drop the “JR”? The credits popped up, and he was right after Mohanlal, and I got all confused that they were going to use CGI or something to have NTR’s ghost in the film. And then, nope! It’s that kid from Yamadonga! NTR did a great job in this film, going more or less toe-to-toe with Mohanlal. But it still feels weird to use “NTR” and not mean THE NTR.
Mohanlal is still definitely Mohanlal. Even in a Telugu film. He adds a kind of sadness and depth to his “noble action avenger” character. And he has that distinctive Mohanlal fighting style.
I know this was made as a Telugu film, but in some ways I found it a deeper film than the other recent Mohanlal film I watched, Pulimurugan, which actually was Malayalam. Normally I would expect the Malayalam film to get more into character and motivation and all that stuff. But this film did more of that than Pulimurugan did.
Although still not much. I didn’t realize until I looked it up later that this has the same director as Srimanthudu and Mirchi. But I should have known, because there were similar very confusing family relationships, romances that kind of went into a cul-de-sac and never came out again, and message about caring for people and the responsibility to the community. That last is a good thing, it’s just the first two that I could do without.
Unlike the other two films, this showed how that kind of community oriented spirit can work in a city, not just a village. As someone who lives in a city, I appreciated that. Because we have our own greedy developers and abused workers and so on and so forth, all the problems aren’t in villages.
And maybe because of the village setting, it also shows how this protection can be found in a collective, and without a heritage behind it. Both Mirchi and Srimanthadu dealt with the responsibility of an ancient family to hold up the honor of the village and protect it by birthright. But this film deals with a more urban idea, of people arriving from outside the area and making it their own, building their own new families and communities, and finding their own place in this society, not by birthright, but by what they are best suited to based on their personality and talents.
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I wish I had known this was the same director as Mirchi and Srimanthudu going in. I wouldn’t have wasted much less energy trying to follow all the family relationships. I eventually realized with the other two films that the exact relationships don’t matter as much. There is a patriarch, there are other people who fill the household, they all love each other, and the cousins end up married/in love half the time. And there is a young man who seems to be rebelling, but in fact he is just trying to bring the family closer together and follow the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law. Also, Ajay is there to play a noble quiet henchman of the good guy.
As I said above, the twist is that this isn’t a “family” as we have seen it before, this is a family of circumstances. Mohanlal comes to Hyderabad to start a garage with the backing of his more educated brother. Mohanlal, I assume, is coming from Kerala or Tamil Nadu, to explain his accent and as a knowing nod to his fans. And then there is a quick confusing montage of the various people hired to work with them at the garage, including our usual rainbow of religious backgrounds, Sikh, Muslim, etc.
And then an even more confusing montage of time passing and the garage getting bigger, and I think most/all of the staff members getting married, including Mohanlal? But I never really figured that out, I am only assuming they got married because later they all had kids and wives, so it must have happened at some point.
And somewhere in there, one of their regular customers comes in, all upset about the abuse the local powerful wealthy gang leader type has dished out to him unfairly. Mohanlal, being independent and fearless, and having acquired similarly independent and fearless employees, goes off and beats up the bad guy on behalf of the downtrodden. And that kind of turns into what they do, the garage gets bigger and bigger and more successful as a garage, and Mohanlal and his workers gain a bigger and bigger reputation in the city as people who will defend the rights of the powerless and fearlessly help others.
We come swimming out of the montage just in time to see Mohanlal’s educated younger brother fall in love, and rapidly get his chosen woman accepted into the family, despite her family’s doubts about the safety of her living in this family of fighters. And within minutes/years, they are proven right! After giving birth to a tiny little child (baby NTR), the brother and his wife both die, leaving baby NTR an orphan. Mohanlal, wracked with grief and failing that he has failed in his promise to keep his sister-in-law safe, gives the baby over to her family to be raised, swearing never to see it again.
This is all a very nice set-up for a lot of themes that were explored better in Mirchi and Srimanthadu. The idea of the ancestral child being raised somewhere else, turning into an intelligent and kind person, discovering the dangers of their past, and embracing their destiny, blah blah blah. Besides the urban setting, this film doesn’t have much to add.
It did have a few new ideas, but then failed in making them play out. For instance, the idea that NTR, raised away from Mohanlal’s influence, became his true heir. While Mohanlal’s own son, raised in his household, is resentful of his father. Some big statement about how you have to come to this kind of life naturally and freely as an adult in order to appreciate it, or how growing up with a saintly father would turn you “bad” in contrast. Something or other, instead of just feeling like they wanted to throw in some other young actor for Mohanlal to play off of but didn’t really think it through.
It also felt like Mohanlal, and his wife (when did he acquire her? And where? And how? Who knows!) reacted more to NTR as a son than to their own real son. Lots of motherly love scenes and fatherly chiding and stuff. And it didn’t feel like it was a purposeful character note, more like in some earlier draft of the script NTR was their son instead of their nephew, and then it was re-written and the other son shoved in, but those original scenes weren’t re-written.
Oh, and then there’s the romance, which is definitely “whaaaaa?” In the first half, it is a bit of a hard sell that NTR, who was raised in the same house with his cousin Samantha Prabhu since birth, is now in love with her. But they make it work for me, showing how their sibling rivalry and sniping is just a smokescreen to hide cheerful flirtation and confidence that they will eventually marry, of course. And the way they went around together, and talked, and teased their parents, it sold me on people who didn’t just love each other, but enjoyed spending time with each other.
Only, no! That romance wasn’t going to work out! Because it is a first half romance in a Koratala Siva movie that isn’t Srimanthadu! So, for no particular reason, Samantha and NTR have to break-up, she has to marry someone else after his noble sacrifice, and he has to move on to a second romance. Only, bucking the trend, the second half romance is a lot less interesting than the first half. I love Nithya Menon, but she doesn’t have a super lot to do here. She is the spunky modern girl he meets first in his hometown, and then again after he has joined the garage fighters. And it kind of feels like he ends up with her after Samantha dumps him just because she is kind of there already.
Okay, I say “no particular reason” for him not to marry Samantha, but there kind of is a reason. And that reason is the one kind of original twist to the old Koratala Siva plot. This noble family who protect their “village” are not created through birth and childhood training, but inclination. Mohanlal hired people who were looking for an honest living and a supportive group, and his Garage turned into a collective of defenders of society. His son, raised in this Garage, did not fit in. But his nephew, raised far away, found a home there.
In the same way, Samantha doesn’t fit in. Despite her growing up with NTR, and being closely related to him, she would not be happy in this Garage lifestyle, not completely. And that’s why NTR gives her up. Because family ties, and childhood ties, mean nothing next to having found your own place in the world.