Making movies based on popular novels has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The world of Telugu Cinema, which has always been open for new risks and adventures did not falter to take up this worthy risk. Right from Sharath Chandra’s Bengali novel Devdas, senior Tollywood heroes like ANR and even Sobhan Babu came forward to make movies based on novels. The biggest advantage of having a novel based film is the already gained popularity along with crafting picture perfect characters which challenged the reader’s imagination when in book form!
1970s witnessed many novels being made into Telugu Films but most of these were either love stories or with a strongest social message. In fact, many of these films were targeted towards women audience in particular. Prem Nagar, Jeevana Tanragalu, Balipeetam fall under this category. However, the artistic duo Bapu-Ramana made Sakshi which was “too class” and lacked the commercial punch needed for Telugu flicks!
The end of 1970s marked a new dawn for the dimensions of Telugu films because it started evolving in many aspects of living. While there were those dreamy flicks which had a larger than life hero trashing hundred goons in a go and shaking a leg with the most glamorous actress in town, there were hard hitting realistic films from master directors like K.Vishwanath and Balachander who spoke about the bitter realities of life. The hero was an average guy with issues to solve in life, and at the same time have their own sweet nothings and happy moments to cherish. This trend came into full form with early 80s where some majestic marvels like Akali Rajyam, Manchu Pallaki came into the celluloid.
But the trend of making a super hit novel into a perfect masala entertainer started with Kondanda Rami Reddy and Creative Commercials producer K.S.Rama Rao. It was just when young writer Yandamoori Veerendranath started making his mark in the novels industry by winning hearts of thousands of Telugu book readers in the state. His novels had a striking unputtdownable aspect associated with it and most importantly- his novels had great female lead roles who had equal say as the hero in the book!
It was short of a miracle for this duo to choose the most popular novel Dabbu to the Power of Dabbu written by Yandamoori as the subject for a masala entertainer starring Chiranjeevi – who was making his presence strongly felt in the film industry. The novel is quite racy, satirical and also takes up on the issues which every young graduate of the 80s era would face- let it be unemployment, poverty, or frustration on the government for unable to provide a well paid job.
One of the best aspects of Challenge as a movie based on this infamous novel is that- it strikes a perfect balance between being preachy and at the same time elevating the star image of the hero. The film is like an optimistic tonic which would refresh the viewer about positivity in the worst of times! Despite being typical rags to riches story- the film’s narration and performances along with fantastic dialogues coupled with marvelous background score take it to a new level altogether.
I take the biggest privilege to begin the rebellion series with this amazing film Challenge which featured Chiranjeevi, Vijayashanti, Suhasini, Rao Gopala Rao, Gollapudi Maruthi Rao, Rajendra Prasad in pivotal roles. Let us begin the analysis by digging into the lead role Gandhi played by Chiranjeevi himself..
Our main protagonist Gandhi is a young unemployed graduate with top grades in his academics. Like any other troubled youth of that age, Gandhi struggles to find a job and get his diseased mother treated. Gandhi is such a strong personality that he doesn’t get bogged down by the harsh realities of life. His fighting spirit coupled with remarkable intelligence and skills takes him to new places and adventures throughout the film. In short, Challenge is Gandhi’s journey from an unemployed youth to a successful businessman who also decides to teach an arrogant rich man a strong lesson. His character is one of the most memorable ones in Telugu Cinema for its honesty, quirkiness and a perfect example of a practical thinking youngster!
Rightfully, the film opens with Gandhi running to save his mother’s life. Though this introduction is so typical to many sentimental films of that age- the scene evokes new meanings as it unfolds! The gruesome title score by Maestro Ilaiyaraaja speaks mountains about the difficulties which the hero is going to face as the film progresses. But the overall impact of it creates a positive influence on the viewer thanks to Chiranjeevi’s screen presence and Kodandarami Reddy’s taking.
Gandhi anxiously starts off spotting a lazy and arrogant autowala and tries to get him on hire. The reason for his tension is to take his mother to hospital immediately. When the auto wala starts speaking arrogantly and demanding an extra fare, Gandhi gets frustrated and rushes away in the auto by thrashing the driver aside! The next scene shows Gandhi requesting the medical shopkeeper to spare the medicines as he is having lesser money to pay. Within few minutes of runtime, the director brilliantly establishes the economic condition of Gandhi and his struggle to get his mother alright.
Sadly, his mother dies because of lack of timely treatment and Gandhi naturally feels responsible for it. Gandhi feels helpless for his saddening situation and just when things are already bad, the wardboy (Saikumar) tries to demand a bribe to look after the dead body for the night. This makes Gandhi even more shocked about the terrifying conditions in India where corruption so rampant. As the night dawns to a new day, the ward boy tries to give his “gyan” on the way world is running only with money and shows the example of an influential businessman Ram Mohan Rao (Rao Gopala Rao) who arrives with his wife to get her treated in the hospital.
Ram Mohan Rao’s beautiful daughter Haarika (Vijayashanti) is well educated and happens to meet Gandhi in dramatic circumstances thanks to latter’s clever plan. Gandhi introduces himself to Haarika as a spiritual person who has highest degree of intelligence. Haarika has her own doubts on Gandhi but starts believing he is super intelligent when he solves a brilliant analytical puzzle.
Haarika understands that Gandhi’s mother is dead and should get the last rites and eventually donates Rs.500 for the same. This explains the good nature of Haarika and also marks the first beginnings of a memorable friendship between her and Gandhi.
The director makes no delay in introducing the second female lead of the film namely Lakshmi (Suhasini). Gandhi spots her jumping in the lake and mistakes her to be attempting suicide but later realizes that she is totally contrasting to what he thought about. While Gandhi complains about the flaws in the government about unemployment, Lakshmi is a positive personality who believes in self employment and be financially independent. She even tells Gandhi that only incapable people blame the country or the government for lack of job and if a person is really intelligent, he/she should use their intelligence to earn money and sustain in life. This offers a whiff of positive air about the social conditions of India- with the so called Suhasini touch!
A very special mention should be made for the brilliant onscreen chemistry between Chiranjeevi and Suhasini which started with Vamsi’s Manchu Pallaki. Right from the word go, these two steal the show with their perfect co-ordination in acting skills and body language!
Rightfully, Gandhi finds Lakshmi to be quite inspiring and also requests her to stay in her house because he is homeless. A considerate Lakshmi offers him to stay in her house and shuns off the clichéd norms about a man and woman living in the same house! Incidentally, Lakshmi’s brother is none other than the ward boy who made an early presence in the film!
The film takes an interesting turn when Gandhi spots an advertisement for job from none other than Ram Mohan Rao. The same company offers three jobs with varying degree of salary payment and Lakshmi understands that it was a practical joke on people instead of a serious requirement. This itself shows the arrogance of Ram Mohan Rao and how badly he treats about poor struggling people.
However, Gandhi stuns Ram Mohan Rao by applying for the lowest paid job instead and doesn’t use a stamp for the application. This angers Ram Mohan Rao and he calls Gandhi for the interview not to give a job but to confront the youngster’s indignance. The real brilliance begins with Gandhi arrives at Ram Mohan Rao’s residence where Haarika also is in the scene.
This pivotal scene marks the beginnings of one of the greatest sequences of Telugu Cinema where an unemployed youth gets the audacity to challenge an powerful businessman inspite of having a single penny in hand!
Scene 1: It’s My Challenge!
Gandhi : Good Morning Sir..
Ram Mohan Rao: Nuvvena… Jaathi Pitha Vi (Referring to the father of the nation!)
So.. you are Gandhi?
Gandhi: Kadhu sir.. Kanisam vatti pitha ni kooda kadhu.. pelli avvaledhu kanuka..kondaru matram muddhu ga Nirudyogapitha ani pilustaru..
No sir.. I am not even an ordinary father.. because I am still single! But some people fondly call me father of unemployment!
[Haarika finds this extremely witty and laughs out loud..]
[Ram Mohan Rao tries to chide Gandhi for making such arrogant move by sending application without a stamp. He tries to demean Gandhi by pinpointing his poor condition and tells that he is not selected for the interview. This angers Gandhi and the scene unfolds in an interesting manner now.]
Gandhi: Sir, Nenu mimmalni moodu prashnalu adagacha? Mee nelasari aadayam entha?
Sir, can I ask you few questions? What is your monthly income?
Ram Mohan Rao: Nelaki rendu moodu lakshalu
I earn 2-3 lakhs per month..
Gandhi: Meeru Teerika velallo em chesthuntaru?
What do you do in free time?
Ram Mohan Rao: Ee Ram Mohan Rao lanti business magnate ki teerika, adhi na dictionary lone ledhu..
I never have free time at all!
Gandhi: Meeru rathi ennintiki nidrapotharu?
When do you go to bed?
Ram Mohan Rao: Rathri 10 gantalaki
Gandhi: Ante rojuki padhi gantalu choppuna nelaki 300 gantalu pani chesthe mee aadhayam moodu lakshalu. Padihenu rojulaki Lakshannara, Vaaraniki 75,000, rojuki 10,000. Ante ganta ki veyyi rupayalu. Ante meeru naatho matldina paavuganta lo waste chesina samayam viluva 250 rupayalu. Nelaki meeru naku isthananna jeetham. Ippudu nenu meeku rendu vandala yabhai rupayala aadayanni raakunda chesanannna mata. Ela undhi sir ee tit for tat?
That means you work for ten hours per day leading to 300 hours per month which gives you a salary of lakhs. That means 1.5 lakh for 15 days, 75,000 per week and 10,000 rupees per day. It also means thousand rupees per hour. You have spent interviewing me for 15 minutes which amounts upto Rs.250 – the salary announced for my job. This means I have been successful in not letting you lose the amount. How is this tit for tat?
[This infuriates Ram Mohan Rao to the hilt. Naturally, a penniless youth exhibiting such level of intelligence and provocation that too in front of his own daughter would instigate any person! Moreover, Ram Mohan Rao is already established to be an extra egoistic personality who would go to any length to argue about importance of money. He stops a leaving Gandhi to continue the argument]
Ram Mohan Rao: Intha telivaina vaadivi ee udyoganiki endhuku vachav?
Despite being so intelligent, why did you apply for this job?
Gandhi: Naakante telivaina vallu, churukaina vallu inka TAKKUVA jeethaniki pani chesthunnaru sir ee desam lo..
People who are cleverer than me are working for lesser salaries in this country sir..
Ram Mohan Rao: Ala endhuku jaruguthundhi anukuntunav?
Why do you think it is happening?
Gandhi: AVASARAM, thanaki taanu bratikinchukovalsina AVASARAM..
Necessity, to sustain on one’s own feet and live.
Ram Mohan Rao: Nijamga vallu telivaina vallaithe aa telivitetalatho dabbu sampadichachu kada..
If they are so clever, why can’t they earn money utilizing the skills?
[ The debate goes to the bigger level about the importance of money and passion now. Gandhi now exhibits higher degree of maturity and balance about life by answering Ram Mohan Rao with perfect clarity of mind. This philosophy is most influential and explains about the importance of passion towards profession in life]
Gandhi: Chudandi Ram Mohan Rao Garu.. ee lokam lo prathi vadi lakshyam kevalam DABBU SAMPADINCHATAM kadhu. Okko manishiki okko lakshyam untundhi. Udaharanaki, oka scientist lakshyam edho kotta vishayam kanipettadam. Oka doctor thana vrutti lo edho goppathanam saadhinchalani. Oka rachayita oka manchi rachana chesi prayojakatwam sampadinchalani. Ila okkokka lakshyam sadhinchukovatam kosam manishi tapana paduthu untadu. Ee prayatnam lo kontha mandhiki DABBU kooda automatic ga vasthundhi. Anthe gani, veellaki kevalam DABBU SAMPADINCHATAME mukhyam kadhu. Aa mataki vasthe, Dabbu sampadinchatam goppa vishayam kadhu.. antha kastamu kadhu.
See Mr. Ram Mohan Rao. Not everybody has the ambition of just earning money in life. Every person has their own ambition and passion towards life. While a scientist dreams of inventing something new, a doctor works hard to excel in profession. A writer writes to make a great book sometime in life. In this effort, money comes as an after effect. This doesn’t mean that these people work only for money. For that matter, earning money isn’t a big deal or a difficult task.
Ram Mohan Rao: Dabbu sampadichatam anedhi oka KALA, anntikanna chala kashtamaina KALA. Anni KALALLOKI goppadhi. Adhi cheyaleni vadu tana asamardhathani samardhichukotaniki ilanti vaadenedho chesthu untadu.
Earning money is one of the greatest arts. It is the most difficult and challenging. Only people who are unable to do it make useless arguments of this sort.
[ Ram Mohan Rao goes into defensive mode and explains about the self criticism which people have about what they don’t have in life. He insults Gandhi as well about his poverty and provokes Gandhi even more]
Gandhi: Dabbu leka daridrudini chusi jaali padachu gani, nee lanti oka SAMSKARAM leni daridrudini kshaminchakoodadhu. Chudandi, DABBU SAMPADINCHATAME naa dhyeyam aithe, 5 samvatsarallo yaabhai lakshalu sampadistanu.
One can pardon a poor man but a man without virtues can never be forgiven. Ram Mohan Rao, as you are saying that money earning is tough- I will earn 50 lakh rupees in five years.
Ram Mohan Rao : Picchi Vaagudu Katti pettu.. aidhu samvatsarallo YAABHAI lakshalu? Hatyalu chestava, dopidilu chestava? Bankulani looti chestava?
Don’t talk nonsense, how can you earn fifty lakhs in five years?Will to commit crimes, thefts or bank robbery?
Gandhi: Avi chetha gani vallu chese panulu. CHATTA BADDHAM ga yaabhai lakshalu sampadistha. Oka telivaina vadu taluchukunte dabbu entha suluvu ga sampandistaro niroopinchi neelanti dabbunna vallako gunapaatam chepthanu.
Such tasks are done by incapable folks. I will earn legally and will prove that an intelligent person can earn money easily. I will teach rich and arrogant people like you a big lesson.
Ram Mohan Rao: Nuvvantha goppa vadivi aithe, cheppindhi chesi chupettagalgithe naa kooturuni neekicchi pelli chestanu..
If you are that great, then I will get you married to my daughter!
The scene ends in shock of Haarika and even Gandhi as well. But Gandhi recoups the situation and accepts the brilliant challenge! Gandhi even asks Ram Mohan Rao to get a legal agreement arranged as he started believing only himself from now on.
Watch the pathbreaking scene in the link below:
How does Gandhi begin from literally nothing to a huge amount such a Fifty lakhs?
What does Lakshmi react to this shocking turning point?
What would an individualistic person like Haarika think about this shocking conversation?
To be continued in part 2..