Happy Birthday Allu Arjun! Gangotri, Your First Movie

This is one of my Netflix movies, and I have no memory of why I added it to my list.  I’m sure I had a good reason.  Possibly that it was an Allu Arjun movie with Prakash Raj, maybe one of you recommended it, or maybe I knew at one point that it was his first film.  If I ever knew, I’d forgotten by the time I watched it.  And now I can’t believe it!  He was so good!

Not a heck of a lot too this movie.  A sweet childhood love story type thing, with destiny and all mixed in.  There is a kind of nice message about how adults have dirtier minds than young people about what young people might do.  Also, Prakash Raj was great as usual, and Allu Arjun was very impressive for his first movie.  Aditi Agarwal was okay I guess, didn’t really make an impact on me.

The details were a little unique and interesting, but generally this was another childhood magical love story like we’ve seen many times before.  It was kind of cool that there was so much time spent in a religious pilgrimage town.  I kind of enjoyed seeing how the economy of a place like that functioned, the little tea shops that sprung up, and hotels, and community of transients.  I liked that for once the hero was lower class than the heroine in one of these movies.  And that they had a kind of servant-but-not relationship.

I did not like that they were supposed to be playing prepubescents and so clearly were NOT!  That was a big much for suspension of disbelief.  Especially because the costuming and stuff didn’t help with it at all!  If they’d put her in slightly too big school uniform outfits, or even just drapped her saris differently, it wouldn’t have been so obvious that she was fully grown.

And that was also sort of a big point of the film, that they were so young and innocent, they didn’t even understand what love was.  Which didn’t make as much sense when it was too clearly fully grown people saying the lines.  Although, as I said, Arjun did a really great job.  And a big part of that was convincing me that he really was a half-grown boy for much of the film.

Since Arjun is from a star family, I assume this was a carefully planned and coordinated release?  It feels like it is, and it feels like a well-done one.  A good character that lets him play to his strengths as a naive fresh actor, a strong supporting cast around him, and a simple but effective plot.  Something with the potential to be a good strong hit, but not groundbreaking and risky for a launch.


We open with Prakash Raj, a good opening for a launch movie.  Because the audience is going to feel a lot more familiar and friendly towards Prakash than any new hero.  Prakash is the local village chief in the middle of delivering a beatdown to an enemy.  He traps the enemy and then, when he runs, Prakash just glances at his second in command who immediately takes off and chases down the enemy, so obedient is he and so attuned to his boss’s needs.

But, in the end, they don’t deliver the beatdown after all.  Because a servant comes running up with word that a baby has been born at home.  So Prakash lets him go in honor of the birth.

And then on his arrival at home, there was some exposition that confused me a little.  I think they were saying that Prakash had had a lot of children who hadn’t survived babyhood.  But that’s so SAD!  Like, I don’t think Prakash’s household would be this happy and unaware if that were the case, no one would have needed this backstory explained.  So maybe it is a miss-translation?  And it is that his wife had a series of miscarriages?  Which is also super sad, but in a more private and intimate way that not everyone might know about.

Anyway, because of the misfortunes before, Prakash is very nervous about this baby and consults and astrologer.  Who tells him that the baby must have a ritual bath every year and beware of water elsewise, and then she will be fine.  And so the tradition starts of taking her for a ritual bath in the Ganges every year on her birthday.  Which is kind of the “hook” of the movie officially.  It’s where the title comes from, and the interesting setting and all that.

And then there’s Arjun!  At her first birthday, she starts to cry as though in sudden pain.  Prakash gets worried, but then she hears a flute playing and calms down.  It’s being played by lil’ Arjun, who is the only son of Prakash’s lieutenant, the same one who knew him so well he could read just a nod of his head.

This is the twist on the standard childhood love story which I find much more interesting than the whole complicated Ganges bath part of the story.  In all those village chief movies, there is always the lieutenant, the one in the background who gives his opinion on how to do things and who to beat up and all that.  But we never get to find out what his life is like, if he has his own dreams and desires.  His whole life is just being there to serve.

Only in this movie, we get to see that!  Prakash asks that lil’ Arjun be given to his household to keep lil’ Aditi always happy.  And Arjun’s father hesitates, and then his wife steps forward to refuse, because this is there only child.  Instead, they will agree to send him over everyday all day, but he will stay in their house.

There are a couple scenes like this, where his wife calls on him his blind obedience to Prakash, never wanting anything for his own life.  And he keeps saying that he doesn’t have the right to want anything, his family has always served Prakash’s family.  He could never think of anything different.

Now, what happens if the heir to that family is a girl and the heir to the “serving” family is a boy?  That is a fascinating question!  Arjun and Aditi spend their childhood living like Prakash and Arjun’s father.   He is there to serve and protect at all times in every way.  And she joyfully and gratefully accepts his service.

(Also, he cross-dresses at one point.  I think I like him in this hair better than in his Happy hair.)

The first time it seems like there might be a change is when Arjun and Aditi are playing and he hits her on the head with a stone, making her bleed.  Arjun is miserable and guilt ridden. She runs home and he runs after her to apologize and be punished.  And he arrives to discover that she has lied to her father and mother and aunt about the cause of her injury.  Taking her loyalty to him over loyalty to her own family.

It keeps going like that.  Her family continually discounts him as “just” a servant.  A very loyal and worthy one, but still just a servant.  And Aditi keeps doing things that show she thinks he is more than that.  When they go on pilgrimage, she pays to have his name engraved with theirs.  She is miserable when her first period comes and she is shut away from him for the first time.  She insists that he is included in her coming of age ceremony later.

But it’s still not necessarily love.  At least not passionate romantic love.  It’s a boy and girl thing, they have spent everyday together and can’t be happy separately.  But it would never occur to him to think that she could ever care about him in that way, that he would have the right to care about her.  And she is so innocent that any thought of love with anyone would not occur to her.

No, it is her aunt who has the dirty mind!  The loud spinster aunt who can’t understand their pure love and twists it into something dirty.  The children are innocent, it is the adults who can’t understand and drive them to love and rebellion.

The aunt misunderstands Arjun’s innocent visit to Aditi while she is supposed to be in Purdah at home, gets Prakash worked up about it, and Prakash ends up threatening and causing the death of his old friend (Arjun’s father).  Which inspires Arjun to finally grow up and realize that he has been in love with Aditi all along and that he should throw of the shackles of his respect for her father and declare his love.  And, once he declares his feelings, Aditi has no choice but to feel the same, because she also has felt the same all along without even realizing it.

And then there’s a lot of run-run-run separation-separation-separation stuff.  But we get to see life in a pilgrimage town, and that is interesting!  Arjun runs away and goes to the town where they go on pilgrimage.  Because he knows she will be coming there again that year on her birthday and he can plan and elopement from there.  He makes friends with the tea shop owners, the local tour guides, and mendicants.  Prakash puts his picture in the paper and accuses him of theft with a big reward, but Arjun not only convinces his new friends that he is innocent, he gets them to help send messages to Aditi.

Aditi, meanwhile, is pining away and refusing to eat the way woman in love always do.  She finally eats after getting a message from Arjun and her family assumes she is over him.

They take her to the Ganges for her ritual bath.  And then there is a kind of clever action scene, with Arjun popping in and out of the crowd, and playing their theme song to attract her attention.  But it all goes wrong!  The evil aunt spots him and the goons chase him and he ends up jumping in the Ganges and then Aditi does too!  They are both saved, and dying.  But Prakash finally begs Arjun to help, to sing to Aditi like he used to, because his songs always brought her back.  Arjun comes back at this plea, sings to Aditi, and of course she comes back too.

Now, this is mostly a light romance.  But if I HAVE to find a point, I like that in the end Prakash realizes that all his foolish pride is nothing if this is the boy who can save his daughter’s life.  Sure there is some crazy action scenes and magical love song stuff around it.  But that’s a pretty great progressive anti-cast and class message.

Oh, and most importantly, I liked Arjun’s hair!  Maybe because it was his first character, maybe because it was supposed to be a village boy, but it was nice and simple and flattering, no fancy frosted tips or cool bangs or anything.

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